Jan. 2, 2007

Thus Spake the Mockingbird

by Barbara Hamby

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Poem: "Thus Spake the Mockingbird" by Barbara Hamby, from Babel. © University of Pittsburgh Press. (buy now)

Thus Spake the Mockingbird

The mockingbird says, Hallelujah, coreopsis, I make the day
     bright, I wake the night-blooming jasmine. I am
the duodecimo of desperate love, the hocus-pocus passion
     flower of delirious retribution. You never saw such a bird,
such a triage of blood and feathers, tongues and bone. O the world
     is a sad address, bitterness melting the tongues of babies,
breasts full of accidental milk, but I can teach the flowers to grow,
     take their tight buds, unfurl them like flags in the morning heat,
fat banners of scent, flat platters of riot on the emerald scene.
     I am the green god of pine trees, conducting the music
of rustling needle through a harp of wind. I am the heart of men,
     the wild bird that drives their sex, forges their engines,
jimmies their shattered locks in the dark flare where midnight slinks.
     I am the careless minx in the skirts of women, the bright moon
caressing their hair, the sharp words pouring from their beautiful mouths
     in board rooms, on bar stools, in big city laundrettes. I am
Lester Young's sidewinding sax, sending that Pony Express
     message out west in the Marconi tube hidden in every torso
tied tight in the corset of do and don't, high and low, yes and no. I am
     the radio, first god of the twentieth century, broadcasting
the news, the blues, the death counts, the mothers wailing
     when everyone's gone home. I am sweeping
through the Eustachian tube of the great plains, transmitting
     through every ear of corn, shimmying down the spine
of every Bible-thumping banker and bureaucrat, relaying the anointed
     word of the shimmering world. Every dirty foot that walks
the broken streets moves on my wings. I speak from the golden
     screens. Hear the roar of my discord murdering the trees,
screaming its furious rag. The fuselage of my revival-tent brag. Open
     your windows, slip on your castanets. I am the flamenco
in the heel of desire. I am the dancer. I am the choir. Hear my wild
     throat crowd the exploding sky. O I can make a noise.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century, Isaac Asimov, (books by this author) born in Petrovichi, Russia (1920). He's the author of several science fiction novels, but most of the more than 400 books he published in his lifetime were books about scientific subjects for laypeople.

It was 515 years ago, on this day in 1492, that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella captured the city of Granada, the last major Muslim stronghold in Spain, bringing to an end more than 700 years of Islamic influence on that country. Muslims from North Africa had first invaded the country back in the year 711, capturing most of the major cities and then ruling without challenge for three centuries. They turned the city of Córdoba into their capital, and it became one of the biggest and most diverse cities in the Western world, rivaling Constantinople and Baghdad. It also became home to the third largest mosque in the world.

But starting in 1085, Christian military leaders began to push back into the land controlled by Muslims. After centuries of war, the Muslim kingdom was pushed into the southern part of Spain. The sultan built a fortress in the city of Granada called the Alhambra, where Moorish rule continued for another 200 years. But in 1469, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella got married, uniting the two major kingdoms of Spain, and they set out on a campaign to capture all the remaining territory of the peninsula.

The Alhambra was never captured in battle, but the Muslim ruler surrendered it on this day in 1492 after Ferdinand and Isabella promised not to convert or expel any of the Muslims in the city. They didn't keep their promise. Instead, there was a campaign of forced conversion under the threat of torture and prison. Speaking Arabic was outlawed, and Arabic names for children were forbidden.

Ferdinand and Isabella chose to take the Alhambra as their own royal palace. When they rode into the city, one of the people following the royal procession was a man that had been hounding them for eight years. A few months later, he finally got a hearing with the royal couple in the Alhambra, where he laid out his plan to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. And that was Christopher Columbus.

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