The Blackbird Whistling

By Linda Bamber

Featured Art by John Frederick Kensett

I do not know which to prefer,
         The beauty of inflections
  Or the beauty of innuendoes,
           The blackbird whistling
                             Or just after.
                    —Wallace Stevens


1. The Beauty of Innuendoes

Meaning in poems comes and goes
like a car speeding down a tree-lined road
sun-shade-sun-shade-sun-shade . . .

Poems’ secret places:
fleeting, hidden, close.

Closer yet I approach you, Whitman warmly says;
and then,
We understand, then, do we not?—never saying
what it is
we understand. As I understand a poem
by my friend
                         but mustn’t tell him
what about the poem makes me feel so
             not alone.

2. The Beauty of Inflections

             Yesterday I called my friend.
He was in a peaceful mood
(which he would be the first to say is kind of rare).
As if bubbles of CO2 some clams or scallops had exhaled
were calmly rising

in a steady/wavering
                                         surface-seeking

kind of way

up through his contentment
effortlessly rose some words of praise for me. Plain

and unadorned; clear; direct.
                                        The blackbird whistling,

you might say.
                                          In fact,

if my friends didn’t tell me plainly that they

love me
              sometimes,
I wouldn’t understand a single thing
I try to read at all.


Linda Bamber is a Professor of English at Tufts University. Her poems, fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in The Harvard Review, Ploughshares, Cimarron Review, The Kenyon Review, The Nation, The New York Times and elsewhere; her poetry collection, Metropolitan Tang, was published by David R. Godine. Her fiction collection, Taking What I Like, also from Godine, was an NPR “Best of 2013.”

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