Daniel Tobin

Anthem and Under the Sun
January 20, 2023 Tobin Daniel



Meleagris galopavo


Through the backyard of a shuttered home
the birds have come, an almost emblem
of the young Republic, more respectable
Ben Franklin believed than the bald eagle


that was like, he said, a man who lived
by sharping and robbing, a rank coward,
driven from the districts by little more
than sparrows; perched up in dead trees or,


too lazy to fish for himself, off to pursue
the self-won catch of the diligent osprey,
snatching it from hatchlings in their nest—
“Is this not the perfect token of injustice?”


Not like these, the hen with its fledglings
scanning the remnant grass to scavenge
nuts and seeds, heads lifted, is it proudly,
as they catch you watching them, wary


with their onyx eyes, but nonchalant,
legs in the attitude of a ballet dancer’s
to take the slightest step? Just weeks ago,
one might have seen behind a window


children’s faces in a room given over,
eyes wide to the roving interlopers,
their coppery feathers garnet-dusted
in sunlight, the belated saurian heads


daubed with a pink and blue impasto,
as if Pollock’d spattered dollops for show,
or they’d just frittered onto the canvas
unknowing. Unlike holiday carcasses,


the big, snooded toms are brighter still:
paint-splashed totem faces. The flush wattles
hang like blurry fritillaries below the beak,
and should you seem a threat they’ll strike—


a bird of Courage, Mr. Franklin believed,
who wouldn’t fear to seize, being native
to this continent, some British grenadier
who’d flagrantly transgress the farm yard.


All spent, nearly, it’s good they have returned,
the conifer forests thinned, to this urban
habitat, the emptied house, the family gone—
the dream some contractor will purchase for a song.




The redbud sprigging
in a garbage patch
by the service road


also supplicates the breeze,
like trees in palace gardens
beloved of the emperor


murdered in his sleep.

Daniel Tobin is the author of seven books of poems, most recently Belated Heavens (winner of the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry), The Net, and From Nothing, as well as the critical studies Passage to the Center and Awake in America: On Irish-American Poetry.  He is the editor of The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Light in Hand: Selected Early Poems of Lola RidgePoet’s Work, Poet’s Play and The Collected Early Poems of Lola Ridge (Spring 2017). His awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.