Word for/ Word

Libby Hart

Branwen’s bidding
Sturnus vulgaris

When your heart is eager and your muscles ready,
catalogue all you know.
Glean a screech of barn owl, a burr of tractor,
and echo the butcher’s fury--of how his fist pummels bone.
Muster these soundings inside your throat,
repeat them with me.

Then speak his name, ring it true.
Call to him, as only his sister calls to him.
Look for him in cloud and on wave. Look for him.

Seek him out when landfall comes, in city and on field.
Then rest against his overcoat
and mimic me, speak as only his sister speaks.
Unfurl this coiled letter I bind to wing
and swell to ruffle of flight feather,
to a glint of purple catching the light.

Note: Branwen was a Welsh princess who married a High King of Ireland. Her marriage was happy at first, but through a series of wrongdoings by her half-brother she was sent away and forced to undertake gruelling work as a form of punishment by association. As part of her punishment she was to be beaten by the butcher every day. Branwen took in a starling and trained it to mimic her so it could locate her older brother, Bran, and deliver a letter that detailed everything she was enduring.