Grackles, to Be Sure

A poem by Rebecca Gayle Howell:


An isosceles of birds arrange themselves.

Two in the yard, one in the lowest branch

of a cedar weed. The first looks up at the second;

the second and third, at each other.

Rat crows. Their aurora borealis bodies.

Their oil spill down and glint. I hear

they eat trash. I hear they nest in trash.

On my way to the bridge I see them and stop.

Not one of them looks at me. All I can think is

I want one to look at me.

Of course, anyone who’s even vaguely familiar with my writing on this blog knows that I have a soft spot for grackles (I also have a soft spot for roaches—the palmetto bugs: the ones in the trees, you know what I mean—unless, that is, they sneak into my apartment). Grackles, like other “trash animals”—animals people associate with filth, or with infestation—suffer reputation-wise only because of their adeptness at thriving in human-made habitats, like sewers, alleys, and, in the case of my beloved grackle, supermarket parking lots.

So why should these kinds of animals be demonized, when, after all, the unsanitary conditions they’re associated with are human constructions? Grackles didn’t fabricate the chicken-like product or the now-greasy box it came in; they simply swoop in on it after some human has tossed it on the faded pavement, presumably on their way to some infernal (and noxious) internal combustion engine, i.e. a pickup truck.

In the same copy of Oxford American where I found this poem, there is an article about large-scale snake hunts in Florida, organized by local wildlife organizations in order to keep the Burmese Python in check. The article starts with a local group explaining to amateur snake hunters how best to kill for sport (er, protect the ecosystem):

“Two things separate us from a lot of other animals,” Fobb [Jeff Fobb: one of the stars of Swamp Wars, a reality show on Animal Planet] announced. “We have enormous brains. Big, big brains for our body size. Turn it on, use it. and keep a nice calm presence.”

…”Yeah, we don’t want it to suffer,” Fobb said. He began describing how to destroy a python’s brain by running a metal rod up its severed spinal canal into its cranial bulb. But nobody in the crowd was interested in learning how to euthanize an animal so reviled that the state was giving out prizes to slaughter it en masse. People trickled away to the display tables, snatching up snake identification brochures, bumper stickers, and free snacks made from other invasive species endemic to Florida: caiman chili, snakehead tacos, iguana ragu. Fobb coaxed the python back into the sack and tied the drawstring. He never got a chance to address the second thing that separates humans from other animals, aside from our enormous brains. But if I had to venture a guess, I’d say that we’re the only animal exempt from being classified as invasive.


2 thoughts on “Grackles, to Be Sure

  1. Grackles moved here because we created an environment that works for them. And they work for us. I welcome seeing them on all those stupid lawns that only seem to support pest species. Remove the grackles and the population of Japanese beetles would explode. Plus, they are clever and beautiful. Why not enjoy Them?

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