Ken Cormier
_________________________________________________________________________________________ ../ writing../ radio../ bio ../ contact


Today, I've decided to write a song about birds. I put on the kettle for tea and sit at my kitchen window, where I can see the birds that visit the feeder on my deck. I watch them every day from this window, but today I pay special attention to their behaviors and their movements. I have my notebook so I can write down ideas for lyrics. Two chickadees come to feeder, and I notice that they puff up their head feathers when they land. I write in my notebook:

How you peck at your bird seed Fricassee.
Puffed up like feather-brain royalty.
Do you think you're better than me, Chickadee?

I imagine that one of the chickadees looks straight at me and nods his head, yes. That's strange.

Then a tufted titmouse hops onto the deck rail. He has round, vacant eyes, and his little head darts around nervously. I write:

Titmouse, oh titmouse.
You can't come into my house.
You're up to no good.
You're strung out and dizzy.
Titmouse, oh titmouse,
go find yourself a crack house,
and leave me alone.
Pull yourself together, oh titmouse.

I look up from my notebook. The titmouse and the chickadee are now perched on my window sill, twittering to each other. They glance at me and my notebook, shake their heads, and fly off into the treetops. What are they shaking their heads about?

I move closer to the window. Looking down I see a bunch of dark-eyed juncos on the bulkhead, pecking at rust and seeds. I jot down more lyrics:

Put on your Junco pants.
Do the Dark-eyed Junco dance.
You don't have to go to France .
If you want to do the Junco dance.

One of the juncos turns its head in my direction and gestures with its wing. Then all of the juncos turn and join in. I've never seen anything like it. Are they signaling to me? Is that a nice gesture?

Suddenly, a white-breasted nuthatch flies straight into the window. Without thinking, I run for my coat, pull on my boots, and rush out to the deck. Stepping out into the cold winter air, I immediately feel uneasy. It's eerily quiet out here, and I can't see a nuthatch passed out on the deck. It couldn't have flown off, not after that kind of impact. But where can it be? After a minute I give up looking and turn to go back in. I stop in my tracks. A lone chipping sparrow stands like a sentinel in front of the door, blocking my way into the house. I look up and, there, a white-breasted nuthatch perches on the rain gutter above me, chirping in some kind of weird rhythm.

My head spins. I begin to put it all together. The chickadee's condescending nod, the titmouse's secret twittering, the juncos' odd gestures. There's something menacing about these birds. I dash down the steps to the dirt driveway and head for my little car. A drive might do me some good, I think. But there, on the hood of my car, a surly-looking bunch of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. They chirp and chip and hop up and down like a West Side Story gang ready to rumble.

I turn from the car and run at top speed through the length of my yard, scattering a sinister cabal of mourning doves and plunging into the woods. I weave through a maze of slender trunks. The forest is rife with brown creepers, and I can hear downy woodpeckers drumming their beaks into the tree bark. Common redpolls to my left, Carolina wrens to my right. A red-tailed hawk circles high above. I dart this way and that, flapping my arms wildly, but it's no use. The sky darkens. In a matter of seconds the ground all around me turns black and iridescent with an angry swarm of grackles. I lose my footing and plunge into the chaos of feathers and shrill squawks. I writhe and thrash around like a spastic snow angel. I think, is this it? Is this my fate, to be pecked to death in some kind of absurd, Hitchcockian bird attack? Who am I? Tippi Hedren? Rod Taylor? I feel myself sinking into the ground, buried beneath a blanket of beating wings. I can't move. My body goes limp. Then there is a burst of air, a loud whooshing sound, and as suddenly as it began, it's over. The grackles are gone, disappeared into the blank sky. The woods are silent.

I pick myself up, brush off the snow and dirt, and walk back to the house. Inside, the kettle is boiling now. I pour myself a cup of tea and sit at the kitchen table.

As for writing a song about birds, I've decided against it.