“Most days back then I would walk by the shrike tree,/ a dead hawthorne at the base of a hill,/The shrike had pinned smaller birds on the tree’s black thorns/and the sun had stripped them of their feathers.” from Shrike Tree, Lucia Perillo


I am not sure why I had never heard of shrikes until now, when I read about it in a poem by Lucia Perillo,  The shrike is a predatory songbird, not unlike a small falcon, although without talons. Instead, it captures its prey (frog, insect, small bird) and impales it on a thorn or barbed wire. Shrikes can be found all over North America. The world is always serving up poems to us. Predatory songbird. shrikeimpale

“Some of the dead ones hung at eye level/while some burned holes in the sky overhead./ At least its honest,/ the body apparent,/ not rotting in the dirt.” from Shrike Tree, Lucia Perillo

Butcher bird, meat on display. “At least its honest”. What?  Nature, poetry? Good poetry I would say, is honest- its easy to see if someone is faking it, including myself. Especially myself. Maybe honest is not the word, maybe “true” is better. A poem can lie and be absolutely true. An honest poem can be fake. 

Lucia Perillo, poet, McArthur fellow, began her career in wildlife management. Her poems are an close and surprising observation of the natural world, including the internal and external wreckage of human ecology. You can find some of her poems in American Poetry Review this issue, or here:  http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/lucia-perillo

You can hear the voice of  the Shrike along with 165,000 other songbirds in the Cornell audio archives. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Loggerhead_Shrike/id#similar

There’s an archive of poets, the other predatory songbirds, reading at Pennsound http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/