Angela Patten – Whither The Ovenbird

Profile Angela Patten LE Poetry & Writing April 2018

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Whither The Ovenbird, poems by Angela Patten

Angela Patten is author of three poetry collections, In Praise of Usefulness (Wind Ridge Books), Reliquaries and Still Listening (both from Salmon Poetry, Ireland) and a prose memoir, High Tea at a Low Table: Stories from an Irish Childhood (Wind Ridge Books). Her work has been widely published in literary journals and anthologies including Birchsong: Poetry Centered in Vermont; Cudovista Usta (Marvellous Mouth), Drustvo Apokalipsa  (Slovenia); The Breath of Parted Lips Volume II; Salmon: A Journey in Poetry, 1981-2007, Salmon Poetry; and The White Page/An Bhileog Bhan: Twentieth-Century Irish Women Poets, Salmon Poetry. Patten has received grants for poetry from the Vermont Arts Council and the Vermont Community Foundation. She has been Visiting Writer at Stonecoast in Ireland, Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland; Stranmillis University College-Queens, Belfast, Northern Ireland; and The Frost Place, Franconia, NH. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, she now lives in Burlington, VT and is a Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Vermont. More information is available at her website

Ever Since Breaking My Wrist

I’ve noticed that the woodpecker,
hopping from deck rail to deck rail
to reach the suet-cage, looks somehow—
armless—and the raven picking
seeds up from the snow, bright eyes
darting this way and that, appears—
vulnerable—on two spindly legs
like a prisoner in handcuffs
or a card-sharp nailed for dealing
from the middle of the deck.

It is always disarming to see a bird in flight.
The great blue heron, perched on one leg
like a battered armature, takes off,
crying out his cawchee in disgust.

We look up from our fiberglass canoe
to see him suddenly become sprung
rhythm, great wings beating the wind
in a slow disdainful dance.

John James Audubon loved birds so much
he sometimes killed a dozen before finding
the perfect model, then pinned it down with wires
to create a lifelike image of a bird in flight.

And though my Kevlar-covered broken wing
will heal in time, I still rejoice that birds
can take their leave of us without regret
by pulling the ace of flying from their sleeves.

Photograph Alastair Rae from London commons wikimedia
Photograph by Alastair Rae from London, U.K – Black Woodpecker,
CC BY-SA 2.0,

The Thing with Feathers

May morning outside my study window—
two warring bluejays shake a shower
of blossoms from the apple tree.

In high summer the scarlet cardinal
adds a new phrase to his song—
the metallic twang of a mouth-harp.

Three woodpeckers circumnavigate
the walnut tree outside our house.
Red-capped adult on the highest branch.
Young ones below halt their hammering
to grouse about their parent’s blithe
refusal to continue feeding them.

At birding class I learn the early Colonists
killed and studied countless shorebirds,
then lovingly bestowed the familiar names
by which we know them today.

For instance, the Northern Harrier
used to be called a Marshhawk.
I wonder what name he might
assign for himself and his kind?

This morning blood and feathers in the snow—
remains of a hawk’s midday meal
that we unwittingly catered with our menu
of sunflower seeds and suet.

A rapacious starling at our feeder
seizes all the seeds for himself.
Yet in a murmuration of thousands
he will ascend almost to holiness.

Whither The Ovenbird

Because I too come from
a long line of nobodies
and he is a small warbler
with insistent voice
and inconspicuous plumage.

His song rings out in summer
hardwood forests—
as if imploring academics
to lay down their dusty books,
their medieval regalia.

The ovenbird has no time
for such artifice.
His olive-brown feathers,
spotted breast and rufous crown
blend with the woodland palette—
tawny soil, peaty sod,
grey green of mosses,
autumnal camouflage.

Extravagantly creative yet practical
as bread, the ovenbird builds
a leafy dome like a Quebeçois clay oven,
part of his elaborate courtship ritual,
his industry an open invitation—

come join me in my humble labor
and help leaven it with song.

© Angela Patten