Jehanne Dubrow

Field Notes on Mobbing

          Mobbing among birds and mammals should not be seen as a metaphor for what
          happens among us humans. It should instead be recognized as the same thing,
          the same bursting forth of two instincts at once: the instinct to join with others in
          an unusually cohesive group, and the instinct to destroy a target.
                    – Kenneth Westhhues

The ivory tower is a perch
          for fowl that like the altitude.

A beak is articulate. It speaks
          through the dirt of worms.

There are birds of prey and birds
          that are preyed upon.

The pecking begins before
          the body knows it.

The first point of blood
          provides pause for inquiry—

figures tilt their heads
          to study the wounded throat.

What next? The crest, the chin,
          the chest with downy specks?

Some prefer to watch the work
          from a rocky distance.

Note: this also is participation.
          No flurry of rescue,

a wing now bent at broken
          angle, the back stippled red.

To pluck bright plumage
          is both pleasure and survival.

Shrieks resemble laughter.
          This is true in rooks and shrikes,

the more domesticated too
          who feed from a hand.

Empirical evidence shows
          three ways this will end—

First, the tail so torn
          as to no longer delight.

Or else, a change of weather
          permits swift escape.

Last but less likely,
          a clawing back

alters the direction of attack,
          the mob turning its eye

toward a new set of feathers.
          See: Diagrams C through E.

Research is needed to say more
          about the mottled eggs

of cruelty, what happens after
          to the flock, the brace,

the cast, the convocation,
          the exultation,

the murder, the siege,
          the wreck, the circling wake.

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Field Notes on the Muted Brilliance of the Female

Beside the male, we say
          she’s brown instead

of red, her crest less
          like a swoop of flame

emitting from a body
          made of flame

than mud or dirt perhaps,
          in winter less

like bloody feathering
          on snow, than scab,

the dried complexion
          of a wound.

We hear his voice, the ever
          what-what-what,

and know that he’s demanding
          from the world

response. There is no answer
          for his appetite—

the seed he wants,
          the maple sap he sips

from holes, the blossom
          beaked from elms.

Beside the male, she’s modest
          in her hunger.

But in the nest,
          she’s audible at least

a note or two,
          his song the interruption of

her throat, his song
          repeating louder

what she sang,
          as if the melody were his,

like winterberries
          stolen from a branch.

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Jehanne Dubrow is the author of five poetry collections, including most recently The Arranged Marriage, Red Army Red, and Stateside. Her sixth book of poems, Dots & Dashes, won the Crab Orchard Review Series Open Competition Award and will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2017. Her work has appeared previously in Diode as well as in Southern Review, New England Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review, among others. She is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of North Texas.