Road Diary: Atlanta Mockingbirds

I once almost visited Atlanta — made it to a vague part of what I recall to be the northwestern outskirts — in 1972. It is an enduring memory, fogged as it is with the exhaustion and anxiety that attended the episode and a certain amount of lingering regret.

You’d like to hear more — exhaustion? anxiety? regret? — but I’m not going to go into all that right this minute.

I’m in Atlanta for real now for the wedding of a former KQED colleague. And while I have not done a lot of exploring as of yet, I can say that I like the woodsy corner of the city I’ve landed in. The neighborhood is called Kirkwood, adjacent (or at least close) to Decatur in Atlanta’s northeastern quadrant.

One notable finding when I walked to breakfast late this morning — a discovery that may be entirely commonplace to the locals — is the profusion of mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) hereabouts.

Checking my own mockingbird history, I see I have posted on them before — in 2014 and again last year. So there’s something about the birds, including the poem “Thus Spake the Mockingbird” and my memory of how brilliantly Kate reads it, that stops me and makes me listen. A passage from said verse:

…I am Lester Young’s sidewinding sax, sending that Pony Express
message out west in the Marconi tube hidden in every torso
tied tight in the corset of do and don’t, high and low, yes and no. I am
the radio, first god of the twentieth century, broadcasting
the news, the blues, the death counts, the mothers wailing
when everyone’s gone home. …

So, here is a Kirkwood variation on the mockingbird’s never-ending solo.

Urban Mockingbird

There were three mockingbirds flying from tree to tree and from post to post in the neighborhood on the Spring-Ahead morning. I got out my audio recorder but they flew on before I got much. Then we went out for a walk with The Dog, and on the way back encountered another mockingbird setting up a determined racket along the old Santa Fe right-of-way. I say “racket,” but there are few bird sounds (I hesitate to say “songs”) I enjoy more, especially when you’re watching one of these birds jumping straight up and down atop a telephone pole or TV antenna (yes, there are still some of those around). The northern mockingbird is Mimus polyglottos; that is perfect — a polyglot mimic.

A few years ago, Kate discovered a poem, “Thus Spake the Mockingbird,” by Barbara Hamby (worth checking out that link). It captures the energy and life-force in the mockingbird’s song. It ends:

… Open your windows, slip on your castanets. I am the flamenco
in the heel of desire. I am the dancer. I am the choir. Hear my wild
    throat crowd the exploding sky. O I can make a noise.