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The Song Thief, By Yusef Komunyakaa

July 04, 1999

Up there

in that diorama of morning

light through springtime branches,

how many feathered lifetimes

sifted down through green

leaves, how many wars sprung up

& ended before the cowbird figured out

laws of gravity in Cloudcuckooland,

before the songbird's egg

was nudged from its nest?

Maybe a flock followed a herd

of heifers across a pasture,

pecking wildflower seed

from fresh dung

when the first urge of switcheroo

flashed in their dirt-colored heads.

What nature of creature comforts

taught the unsung cells this art,

this shell game of odds

& percentages in the serpent's leafy

Babylon? Only the cowbird's mating song

fills the air until their young

are ravenous as five

of the seven deadly sins

woven into one.

From "Thieves of Paradise," by Yusef Komunyakaa (Wesleyan University Press: 128 pp., $19.95)

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