Gettysburg Review
Gettysburg College | Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Lyrebird

Lyrebird

i.
The lyrebird’s on his tumulus again, scratching
out his song
made all of mimic-music, the strung-

together mating chirrs
of butcherbird and honeyeater.
Midwinter,

their mating’s long
over so they’re muted now
(fled is that music)

and the winter-breeder
lyrebird makes the snatches of his song
out of their diminished things,

their beak-snaps and feather-beats,
kookaburra’s chortle, scraps
of echolalic trill: lifts

the sinuous
lyre-bow shape of his plumage
and buries his drab turkey-like body beneath

the silver shock of its underfeathers
and lets burst
loose from that shimmer his spoils:

whipbird whipcrack catbird screech, the cockatoo’s green
freedoms of improvisational
innuendo. Winter

is icumen in. Cuccu
nu. Sing cuccu. Nu cuccu. Jug
jug. Tereu. Lhude

sing.
Lewd-sing. Al-
lude-and-loud sing. A lied’s
what’s sung. An air’s a song, and what the song moves

through, polyglot
and monomaniacal. Make me thy lyre. Bare ruin’d choirs
where late the lyrebirds lied.

ii.
Listen, the song’s all over,
even in ornithological dissertations:
“There may be some lyrebird-specific macrostructure to mimetic song”:

s o m e  l y r e b i r d-
s p e c i f i c
m a c r o s t r u c t u r e  t o  m i m e t i c  s o n g . . .


But split
the lyrebird and you’ll find
no music (silver-rolled) only

filaments of feather, and a lyre-
interred, self-secreting face.
Lyrebird, what thou art

we know not, so many
other melodies involved
in what we know: mellifluous

cacophonies
of simulacrum. Teach us
what scherzos

and staccatos might be
pilfered and still
all thine (be thou

me, bethou me): hail
to thee, blithe duper, to
thy lyre-bedraggled plumes.

iii.
He drags them through the dirt
on Mount Mistake, dug-
up grub-litter

on the mating mound he’s scratched
open like a tomb
while the lyre-hen

watches tail-shimmer
and vine-yank till the forest shakes,
and the “lyrebird-specific whistle’; intermerges

with rapid-rip of mimicry
(The tangled bine-stems scored the sky / Like strings of broken lyres) . . .
One hypothesis says he shrieks

the most strenuous songs he’s heard to show
his mastery of syrinx
muscles’ hard striations,

but what she wants with such
vocal virtuosity
no theorist can tell. Mimicry

itself may be, one says,
of no evolutionary
relevance after all. Darkling,

still, she listens. The achieve
of, the mastery of the thing.

The bird would be as

other birds. Singing
not to sing. His melody
absorbs into itself each frequency:

camera-shutter, car-alarm
dingo-bark and chainsaw-shrill
so all his mind’s mimesis and the mimed

fall irrecoverable into
all-encompassing hymeneal song.
I was single

and pervious in my mind
like a mound
on which there was one lyrebird

who mimicked of winter, in full-
throated ease, trilling
the inflections

of a locomotive’s
chuff and steam whistle, a baby’s
caterwaul, and the long declension of all my silence afterward.


Bruce Beasley is the author of seven collections of poems, most recently Theophobia (BOA Editions, 2012) and The Corpse Flower: New and Selected Poems (University of Washington Press, 2007).  He teaches at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

“Lyrebird” appears in our Spring 2013 issue.