The Stonechat Listens
at the Asylum Window

I fear I might mistranslate what you said
And lose the very essence of your words.
May I record you as I do the birds:
The warbler, shrike and wren, red’s wild-combed head
Who can’t fly straight because his wings are strained
By his erratic breaths—the young cock quail
Who only knows four notes, the nightingale?
Perhaps the mockingbird who has profaned
The puerile bluebird to his detriment?
I listen to them all here in the field
Or from the house, the wood, the swimming pond,
The deer-stand in the right-of-way, the tent
I hid in, hunting, while my body healed—
As you well know, from wreckage and its rent.
You are the bird of paradise; I’m fond
Of you beyond compare, despite your squawk
When you were ill with me, the bedroom talk,
Too colorful for feathers to respond.
But when you left, it was the hardest thing,
This separation. Distance has allure,
It surely does. Migration’s not a cure.
These days, your speech has turned to twittering.
I asked if you were lonely; you said, no.
I wondered if I heard you nearly right.
I am the red-winged blackbird’s gulping tone,
The swallow, swift, the collared dove, hoopoe—
No, not the Merlin, hunting late tonight.
I am the loon, I am the loon, alone.



Charles Southerland is a farmer who writes poetry and short stories. He also makes and sells walking sticks, canes and shillelaghs. He has been published in The Blue Unicorn, The Lyric, The Dead Mule, Measure, Trinacria, The Pennsylvania Review, The Hypertexts, Expansive Poetry Online, The Journal of Formal Poetry, The Ekphrastic Review, First Things and numerous other good poetry journals. He is American by birth and Scottish by heritage. He can trace his recent roots to the 1600s in Dunfermline and Torryburn in County Fife, Scotland.

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31 Responses

  1. Gerry Poster

    Congratulations on a marvelous achievement. This poem (both its splendid versification and multilayered ideas) remained stuck in my head, as do the best, for quite some time. I hope to read more of your work; thank you for this gift.

    • Charles Southerland

      You are very welcome, Gerry. I hope to have some more poems in the near future. And a book of poems come Spring.

  2. Sally cook

    Dear Charlie –
    I would expect nothing less from you than this —
    a fine poem in every way.

  3. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    This poem is hauntingly beautiful on many levels. I love the language of the birds and you have captured these avian wonders’ ethereal splendor in some soaring lines. I particularly like: “Too colorful for feathers to respond.” – so much in so few… just like the title and the closing line… it leaves this reader wanting to know more, much more. The onomatopoeic close is a stroke of poetic genius that has left my heart aching. An exquisite poem that fires my senses and makes me burn to pick up my pen. Thank you, Charles!

    • Charles Southerland

      Susan, there are a good many lines in this poem that are autobiographical. but not the asylum, though. The poem took a few days to write because of research and the proper sound/wording. I’m tickled you correctly pinned the final line down. It took a day all by itself. I had to look up the birds of Paradise. Down there in Texas, you have the Texas Bird of Paradise. Beep, beep.

  4. Cynthia Erlandson

    I agree — this is quite a gripping story, especially the last line, but also “These days your speech has turned to twittering.”

    • Charles Southerland

      Hi, Cynthia, the twittering line was about the birds twittering but it also worked for Twitter, which I thought of later. Thank you.

  5. Julian D. Woodruff

    It seems every tool of poetry is within your reach; you select judiciously, use to best effect, and place the results unerringly, as your imagination leads. Enviable!

    • Charles E. Southerland

      Julian, I work very hard to put out the best poems possible. Thanks for reading my work.

  6. Paul Freeman

    Such a human poem, of pain and strained relationships that can only be expressed ornithologically (if that’s a word) – at least that’s my take on the poem. The stonechat’s call, sounding like two stones knocking together, seems to reinforce my thoughts.

    Beautifully written, too, Charles.

    • Charles Southerland

      You are right, Paul. Strained is an understatement. Thanks so much for your comment.

    • Charles Southerland

      You are right, Paul Freeman. Strained is an understatement. Thanks so much for your comment.

  7. C.B. Anderson

    It’s good to hear from you again, Charlie. I’m sorry we’ve been out of touch these past couple of years.

  8. Cheryl Corey

    A beautiful poem. This brought to mind a poem I once read by Christopher Cranch (1815-1892). I thought you might enjoy it, so I’m sharing it here.

    Bird Language

    One day in the bluest of summer weather,
    Sketching under a whispering oak,
    I heard five bobolinks laughing together
    Over some ornithological joke.

    What the fun was I couldn’t discover.
    Language of birds is a riddle on earth.
    What could they find in whiteweed and clover
    To split their sides with such musical mirth?

    Was it some prank of the prodigal summer,
    Face in the cloud or voice in the breeze,
    Querulous catbird, woodpecker drummer,
    Cawing of crows high over the trees?

    Was it some chipmunk’s chatter, or weasel
    Under the stone-wall stealthy and sly?
    Or was the joke about me at my easel,
    Trying to catch the tints of the sky?

    Still they flew tipsily, shaking all over,
    Bubbling with jollity, brimful of glee,
    While I sat listening deep in the clover,
    Wondering what their jargon could be.

    ‘Twas but the voice of a morning the brightest
    That ever dawned over yon shadowy hills;
    ‘Twas but the song of all joy that is lightest,—
    Sunshine breaking in laughter and trills.

    Vain to conjecture the words they are singing;
    Only by tones can we follow the tune
    In the full heart of the summer fields ringing,
    Ringing the rhythmical gladness of June!

  9. BDW

    Mr. Southerland’s “A Stonechat Listens at the Asylum Window” is a remarkable sonnet arabesque.

    A Southern Man
    by Cause Bewilder
    “I am the red-winged blackbird’s gulping tone,
    The swallow, swift, the collared dove, the hoopoe—”
    —Charles Southerland

    I picture him in plaid, a rimy Whitman from the South,
    a white unwieldy beard, a taste of bile in his mouth,
    a feral hog upon a sharp, ridged hill, from Arkansas,
    who showed some of the symptom’s, but did not have Parkinson’s.
    He was too real. I couldn’t take his diction for too long.
    His language was too rich, too filled with life, I couldn’t yawn.
    I longed to flee; he kept reminding me of character,
    and what it was to be a poet in America.
    Good Lord, a stupid hoopoe. Who, who, who, o, who is he?
    Not Poe within primeval wood, nor Faulkner in a tree.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Parkinson’s/Arkansas is brilliant and so is character/America.

      Charlie is everything you say, and more.

      • BDW

        I notice that recently Mr. Anderson is loosening up in his rhymescape. Is it about time?

    • Charles Southerland

      Dear Bruce, how am I supposed to reply to that? I don’t even know where to begin. Thank you from the very bottom.

      • BDW

        Not an Apostrophe to Charles Southerland
        by Cause Bewilder

        As I scan poetry in English in the NewMillennium, I have felt the need to write a tennos on Mr. Southerland’s poetry for some time, which I both admire, and dislike, for so many reasons. As I have pointed out some of my complaints elsewhere @ SCP, I shan’t do so here. “The Stonechat Listens…” was particularly interesting to me after writing “Coronal”, which was infested with Texan birds, having left the Pacific Northwest and its bird flows in the previous decade.

        First, and foremost, the poetry of Charles Southerland is so good…comparatively. I cannot think of another present-day writer who does as much as he does with English; and part of it is that he is just so damn American, not internationally and historic’lly, like Mr. Yankevich (whose syllabics were among the more interesting of the NewMillennium), but rather targeted, like Mr. Anderson’s verse, or the prose of Mr. Thoreau.

        In fact, while reading and rereading “The Stonechat Listens…” I thought time and again of Mr. Thoreau and the birds, not Mr. Audubon (but particularly the loon of “Walden”), and only secondarily of Mr. Roethke’s verse. What I thought was most striking about the last line, was its Keatsian note. [And though I do admire the work of Keats, I do not share the enthusiasm for Keats of writers, like Canadian poet Mr. Gosselin.] I wanted to include Thoreau in the lines of “A Southern Man”, but I didn’t want to disrupt the final line’s major pun. There were many other things I wanted to include; however, not the apostrophe, which was inadvertently left in.

  10. Janice Canerdy

    Such a vividly descriptive, deeply meaningful poem! To me, it expresses the theme, “I become a part of all I appreciate and understand.”

  11. Charles Souherland

    Sorry for the delay in response. The snowstorm knocked out our power the past four days. Still working on repairs. Thanks for all your kind comments. I will respond to each in kind soon. All my best, Charlie.

  12. Monika Cooper

    I asked if you were lonely; you said, no.
    I wondered if I heard you nearly right.

    How to live with an answer like that? The poem haunts and hints of many things, things that lie between the speaker and the once-close distant one. It protects its spaces. A overheard conversation, with resonances but a heart of mystery, like the voices of birds.

    • Charles Southerland

      Monika, those two lines are the premise of the entire poem. Very astute reading. Thanks.


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