Starling Mimicry

31 July 2012

Don’t expect anything new.
You know my kind:
          aberrant honeyeater
                    bell miner
We are mock and echo
you say we’ve ripped your song
                                          but that’s another story.
               The isle
is full of noises. Listen.


They have lost nothing from this change
          do the can-can, cancan can
The main thing the ACL wanted was to take out
the mimicking parts of the acts
          says Wendy Francis
          Queensland director of the Australian Christian Lobby
     wendyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy          wendywend
          wen wen wen when when when when when
a civil partnerships system mimics marriage
                    and attempts to set up a marriage-like system

when when when when can can can


In songbirds, the choice of song is learned
but the need to sing’s instinctive.
Maybe for humans, too.
In mountainous parts of the Canary Islands and Turkey
the hill people whistle to talk
across miles of rock and cliff.
A dialogue of trills and warbles
rings out all day, the air filled with the
uncorded, foldless language
of lip and tongue and breath.


(the canary is named after the Canary Islands
which are named after
dogs that might have been seals
but no one knows for sure.
Origins aren’t what they used to be)


Mozart bought a starling in May of 1784.
It sang back to him a scrap of his Piano Concerto No. 17
with a G natural turned sharp. Some scholars say
it wasn’t Mozart who composed it
          but the bird.

When the starling died, Mozart staged a funeral
          and wrote an elegy.
Poems about Mozart’s starling have been written by
Daneen Wardrop, Karl Kirchwey, Robert Cording, and
Ralph Burns.
          Something here about mimicry and love and awe.
Something here about creation.


the mimicking parts
          wendywendy can wendy can wendy can do
do the can-can
show us your galop infernal
          daneeeeeeeeen daneeeeeeeeen
          Love you Queenslaaaaaaand
               Where the Bleijie hell are you?
ralphburns ralpburns ralphburns ralphburns
drop war
drop war


When singing back the songs they have heard
starlings tend to sing off-key
          and to sing fragments only.


How do songbirds transmit vocal motifs?
Researchers report that a starling cried mizu, mizu (Japanese for ‘water’)
             after it flew to the tap for a drink.
Another screamed

after listening to basketball on TV.


Common starlings,
we spread the bridal creeper
we probe and sally and lunge and glean
as each new man comes with nets or traps
or talk or gun or broom.

We speak in more tongues than you can fathom.
Our variations on your song are not
variations on your song.
What came first, theme or variation?
No, think again:
What came first,
theme or variation?


It’s not that we want to be chickens or phones
or humans or alarms
          just starlings
                                                  just us just us
          but we like to talk
and talk back to the world
and chickens speak chicken
phones speak phone
and maybe everything seems like mimicry
if you only listen for yourself.


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