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Mozart’s Starling

by Robert Cording

        A little fool lies here
        Whom I hold dear—
                        —Mozart, lines of a poem for his pet starling

None of his friends understood.
A poem for a bird?—
and a funeral, and the ridiculous
request that they dress in formal attire.

But when Mozart whistled a yet-to-be
fragment of a piano concerto
in the marketplace, the bird
may have sang it back to him—

the starling appears in his diary
of expenses, May 27, 1784,
along with a transcription of its song.
What fun they must have had,

he whistling a melody, the bird,
a virtuoso mimic, echoing it back,
interspersed among its clicks
and slurs and high-pitched squeals.

Music to Mozart’s ears,
that dear bird who sang incessantly
for the duration of its three
short years in Mozart’s company.

His little fool was wise indeed—
it could hear a squeaking door,
a teapot letting off its steam,
a woman crying or rain pinging

in metal buckets and gurgling
in gutters, even a horse’s snort
or Mozart scratching notes,
and sing it back until Mozart, too,

could hear the cockeyed,
nonstop music in the incidental
bits and pieces of the world going by,
the exuberant excess of it all.


Robert Cording teaches English and creative writing at College of the Holy Cross. He has published five collections of poems, including Life-list, which won the 1987 Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award, and most recently, Common Life (CavanKerry, 2006). He has received grants in poetry from the NEA and the Connecticut Commission of the Arts. His poems have appeared in The Nation, AGNI, Poetry, DoubleTake, Orion, Paris Review, New Yorker and many other magazines. He lives in Woodstock, Connecticut, with his wife and three children. (1/2007)

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AGNI Magazine :: published at Boston University ©2008 AGNI