Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird that Somehow Got Into My Office

With humble apologies to Wallace Stevens.


Among twenty piles of Critical Thinking exams
The only moving thing
Was a blackbird that somehow got into my office. WTF.


I was of three minds
How exactly do you get a blackbird out of your office? And how did it get in? When?


The blackbird flapped up against the window
But it was closed.


A man and a woman are one
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one
A professor and a blackbird and an office
Are one.


I do not know which to prefer
Running away and locking my door
Or opening my door and having the blackbird fly into the hall
Or calling Bergen County Animal Control.


The blackbird keeps pecking at the window
Barbarically befogged and unwashed
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro
The problem was,
It couldn’t get out.


Hello Bergen County Animal Control?
Yes, it’s a blackbird
Yes, it’s in my office, at Felician University
(Yes, we’re a University now)
No, I can’t open the window because it keeps attacking it
And I don’t want to get pecked.


I know I’m being ridiculous
I’m know I’m being a coward
But I know, too
That the blackbird
Could peck my eyes out like in a Hitchcock film.


When the blackbird flew out of sight
It perched regally atop the statue of an Egyptian goddess
Given to me as a gift by a student from Alexandria
Who miraculously managed to pass Critical Thinking a couple years ago.


At the sight of the blackbird perched away from the window
I feel some relief
Maybe I can open the window now
And let him out. So I do. But now the damn thing won’t leave.


Half an hour later it’s still there
Wait, there’s Animal Control on my cell.
A fear now pierces me
What if the blackbird flies away before the officer sees that it was here?


I am running
Down three flights of stairs to where the Animal Control guy is
Brandishing nets.


It was Sunday all afternoon in Kirby Hall
The sun was shining
The Animal Control guy walked with me to my office
The blackbird took one look at him
And shot with a flourish through the open window.


6 thoughts on “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird that Somehow Got Into My Office

  1. I had a similar experience once with a bat in my apartment. Worst of all, I discovered that it was in the apartment when I went to the fridge to get some beer, grabbed the six-pack, and flipped on the kitchen light; at that moment it flew straight at me, so I ducked (over-reacting, no doubt), slammed the six-pack on the floor, broke all the bottles, and had to clean up a bunch of beer after the animal control guy came and dispatched the bat for me. My animal control guy got to exercise his virtus, though; he walked right up to the thing — which was hanging upside down from my mantle, just like in the movies — with a towel, made one swift maneuver to wrap it up in the towel, and then took it outside to let it loose. I didn’t feel much less courageous than you did, though. And I had to clean up all that beer.


    • Well, that’s why alcohol is haram. I like the parenthetical “over-reacting, no doubt.”

      Now that we’re regaling one another with wild animal stories, I have to tell another one, which has me over-reacting in the other direction: Carrie-Ann and I went camping in a cabin at Stokes State Forest in Jersey back in 2008. When it was time to retire, CA took her contacts out for bed; I then pulled the sheets back to discover a snake in our bed. (It was a garter snake, but I usually try to omit that detail when telling this story.) So I said, “Honey, there’s a snake in our bed.”

      “Stop joking around, you know I can’t see without my contacts in.”

      “No, really–there’s a snake in our bed.”

      “Well, OK, do something about it. I don’t have my contacts in.”

      “What should I do?”

      “Well, something.”

      There was no Animal Control to call in the middle of the forest. So I tried to shoo the snake out of the bed. That didn’t work. I tried to capture the snake. That didn’t work. So for lack of any other alternative, I just ended up beheading it with some metal thing I found nearby. I know this is terrible, but I was tired and didn’t know what else to do.

      Relieved, we turned back to bed…to find another snake there.

      I wasn’t going to behead this one, so I idiotically decided to grab a can of Raid and spray it. It actually snarled at me (I could be confabulating this) at which point, I lost my temper at its rudeness (that I’m not confabulating). All of a sudden, the snake leapt up out of the bed (or so it seemed), slithered across the floor in stereotypical serpentine fashion, and disappeared down a hole. I looked at Carrie-Ann.

      Me: “OK, now what?”

      She: “I’ll stuff the hole up with wet paper towels, and it’ll become like papier-mache, and trap the snake inside.”

      Me: “Oh yeah, McGyver, that’ll work.”

      It did.

      So I have one story of me as an academic sissy, and another of me as a mindless proto-ISIS brute, but no stories of my finding the mean between them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I would simply have squealed a lot and then left the cabin to go back home. My fear of snakes makes Indiana Jones look like an ophiophilist. If I didn’t just run away, I’d certainly have killed it, likely in a lunatic rage. If I then found a second one, I would certainly have left. Until eight or nine years ago I wasn’t even able to watch videos or look at pictures of snakes without being seriously creeped out. The only time that I have come close to seriously contemplating killing someone was when a guy I worked with brought his boa to the office and insisted on teasing me with it by shoving it in my face; if I’d had a sharp implement at the time, I might have ended up in jail. I am terrified now just thinking about your story. I might have nightmares tonight.

        Liked by 1 person

        • My colleagues who’ve read this piece are now sharing wild animal stories–bats, birds, etc. trapped in the building, heroic efforts to let them out. Rather deflating to learn that what seemed a sui generis blackbird experience is a mere commonplace of academic life.

          A student who read the post suggested that the episode must surely have given me insight into why the caged bird sings.

          A pedantic friend with an unhealthy fixation on zoological taxonomy points out that the photo depicts a minah rather than a true blackbird. Sounds a little bird racist to me, but hey, what do I know? Let be be finale of seem. The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.


  2. OK, since no one has mentioned it, Mr. Khawaja’s poem, while adopting the Stevens poem as template, also significantly alludes to Poe’s raven, who

    Perched upon a bust of Pallas just
    above my chamber door–
    Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

    Cf. It [IK’s blackbird] perched regally atop the statue of an Egyptian goddess
    Given to me as a gift by a student from Alexandria

    The use of “perched,” plus the use of a goddess sculpture as the bird’s preferred perch, is proof of the allusion, whether consciously intended or not. Allusions, as we know, are not merely in-group toys of the poets’ guild but semantic signifiers. Without getting in too deep, I suggest that the incident described in IK’s poem has a symbolic resonance comparable to that in Poe’s: viz., the blackbird/raven has a supernatural provenance (i.e., Mind writ large) and conveys, like angel or demon, a message, to wit (too-hoo, too wee): Pallas Athena and the Egyptian goddess Isis represent female wisdom, much needed by male consciousness, dominated as it is by the will to power and control (my genderological reading of Nietzsche) . The urge to kill the bird, to damn it, to see it as a threat, is to succumb to the Ancient Mariner fallacy. The Animal Control agent has the proper attitude: capture gently, then release.

    In Poe’s poem, the narrator is a scholar, pondering, “weak and weary,/ Over many a quaint and curious/ volume of forgotten lore–.” The “ebony bird,” alas, was subject to no extrication by an Animal Control agent of the state:

    And the Raven, never flitting, still is
    sitting, still is sitting
    On the pallid bust of Pallas just above
    my chamber door.

    Here it is clear that the bird is a demonic projection of the bereaved scholar. He is locked inside his own head. The scholar in IK’s poem, however, made a healthy choice: to enlist the assistance of an expert in things ornithological.

    How this interpretation relates to The Maltese Falcon is a topic for another day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s almost frighteningly on-target. I hadn’t planned on mentioning this, but an earlier version of the poem had a reference to my wanting to kill the blackbird for interrupting my reading of Richard Ashcraft’s Revolutionary Politics and Locke’s Second Treatise, despite the fact that I was getting sick and tired of Ashcraft’s historicism and his reductionist tendency to bury Locke’s theory in the tedious details of Restoration politics. And the reason I wanted to kill the blackbird was precisely that it wouldn’t get off the damn statue and let me get back to the forgotten lore of Ashcraft’s quaint and curious book.

      Another taxonomically-inclined colleague of mine, Kristen Abbey, points out that the bird was most likely a starling, “a totally invasive species, not belonging in your office or anywhere in North America.” Evidently, starlings were introduced to this continent by one Eugene Schieffelin:

      In 1890, he released 100 starlings into New York City’s Central Park. He did the same with another 40 birds in 1891. Schieffelin wanted to introduce all the birds mentioned in the plays of William Shakespeare to North America.[3] He may have also been trying to control the same pests that had been annoying him thirty years earlier, when he sponsored the introduction of the house sparrow to North America.[4]

      European starlings were not native to North America. Schieffelin imported the starlings from England. Scientists estimate that descendants from those two original released flocks now number at more than 200 million residing in the United States.

      The starlings’ wildly successful spread has come at the expense of many native birds that compete with the starling for nest holes in trees.[5] The starlings have also had negative impact on the US economy and ecosystem [6]

      His attempts to introduce bullfinches, chaffinches, nightingales, and skylarks were not successful.

      So maybe I should have killed it.

      Liked by 1 person

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