Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen,
and is become the habitation of devils, and
the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of
every unclean and hateful bird.
—-Revelation 18:2, KJV
“Use black sunflower seeds,” my mother said
as we filled the birdfeeder in her yard.
“If you use small seeds, you’ll get hateful birds.”
Bald Knob, Arkansas, where my mother lived,
and fallen Babylon were far apart,
in distance, years, but not in utterance.
Old phrases lurk in memory, brought by
the old-stock settlers who had ferried them
across the sea and spoke them as they walked
the Carolina mountains and the sloughs
of Arkansas. Elizabethan words
still shaped their speech. It sounded on the day
my grandfather gave me a wooden stake
and said to me, “Go stob this in the ground.”
The hateful birds were ones who ate the seed
broadcast on fresh-plowed furrows – those you scared
away by banging sticks when they came down,
to eat the tithe of grain saved for planting.
Even the Bible chose to mention them.
My mother said to me, on colder days,
“Be sure ye wear ye jacket when ye go.”
David Landrum teaches Literature at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His poetry has appeared in Evansville Review, Measure, Three Drops from a Cauldron, Antiphon, Blue Fifth Review, and many other journals and anthologies.