The Opalescent Swallow (A Poetry Prompt)

In Randy Laney’s field, the grasshoppers and katydids rubbed leg against forewing, and wing against wing; their songs were the rising crescendos and falling diminuendos of one thousand cabinet doors creaking opened and closed, and opened and closed again–all in rhythm, ad infinitum. In the center of the field, from the knee-high grass, rose three poles, which climbed some twenty feet to their terminus where the Purple Martin tenements balanced. The homes were white-washed over winter because, as Randy Laney said, the miniature siding was beginning to splotch green with age and the Purple Martin is a well-to-do bird, a passerine with no fancy for the unkempt.

The male Martin perched on a white-sheathed wire connecting his condominium to the next, the opalescent swallow gleaming as if freshly oiled, as if being greased to slide through the remarkably undersized front door of his summer home. He clung to the line, chippering and cheeping toward us. It was a welcome, not a warning. His voice rose. “Watch this,” he said, and he pivoted forward, released, and dove at a breakneck angle, turning his oiled back toward us so that the sun’s reflection created a rainbow of purples. The Martin darted downward, turned a right angle before touching the tips of the field grass and barrel-rolling upward, spinning like a sidewinder missile.

Aerial insectivore, he rose and fell with the chorus of the katydids, caught flies, mosquitoes, or the occasional honey bee, he was the dancing deathtrap to the lesser evolved. The female joined him in the feeding frenzy, appeared as if a present apparition, as if from nowhere. White-breasted and slighter in the wing, she was equally acrobatic and perhaps more voracious in her feeding. The two were a lethal pair, and the the insects might have thought them to be grim reapers, that is, if insects were the thinking sort.

Randy Laney and I watched the Martin mates as the sun began its lying down behind the western ridge in the distance. “They are wonderful birds,” Randy Laney said as the pair made a synchronized pass. “Yes,” I said, taking a swig and a swallow of lemonade from my red Solo cup, and adding with a hyperbolic flourish, “they are, maybe, the most perfect of all creation.”


Poetry Prompt: The purple martin is my favorite bird of the swallow family. What about you? Maybe you love the barn swallow, or the cliff swallow. This week, we’re penning poems about swallows here at Tweetspeak. Would you join us?

Tweetspeak’s May Swans, Swallows, Phoenix Poetry Prompt:

This month we’re writing poems around the theme “Swan’s, Swallows, Phoenix.” How do you participate?

1. Consider a swan, swallow, or Phoenix (the bird or Arizona; we’re open to all interpretations). Listen to our monthly prompt-themed playlist. What images, emotions, metaphors, or allegories do they conjure? Do the birds (or does the city) stir any memories? Do you have any thoughts regarding the particular poetry prompt of the week?

2.  Compose your own poem around the theme.

3. Tweet your poems to us. Add a #TSSwan hashtag so we can find it and maybe share it with the world.

4. If you aren’t a Twitter user, or if you’d rather, leave your poem here in the comment box.

5. At the end of the month, we’ll choose a poem to feature in one of our upcoming Weekly Top 10 Poetic Picks.

Do you want to have your work highlighted here at Tweetspeak? Join us this month as we explore the theme “Swans, Swallows, Phoenix,” and maybe we’ll highlight your poem in the coming months.

Last week, we had some wonderful coming-of-age poems relating to our prompt, “Honk if You’re a Teenage Swan.” My favorite was a simple offering by L.L. Barkat. She wrote:

in the shape of me
the swan.

Her poem indicates how the awkwardness of adolescence shapes adulthood, how our histories shape who we are. It’s amazing what one can conjure with relatively few words.

Now, let’s write some poetry that’s not hard to swallow.

Photo by  Jenny Downing, Creative Commons via Flickr. Post by Seth Haines


Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $5.99 — Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In May we’re exploring the poetry theme Swan, Swallow, Phoenix.

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