Mute Swans


Are not completely so––I hear them across the cove

yipping like puppies, and they grunt, snort, 

hiss shrilly.  Around here, the population is 

dangerously out-of-bounds.  A breeding pair 


resides on every reedy cul de sac.  Last week 

I counted twenty-nine moving indolently 

along Middle Cove, gliding with calm aplomb––

tangerine orange bills and that single black knob, 


S-curved necks––upriver and down, preening, 

dipping, flapping, and occasionally, a body

rearing up on massive wings then whipping 

a froth into a spume of spray, scuttling 


forward in a racing skim.  I love to watch 

down caught in melon or rose light––

dawn, dusk––shadows deep grey or dark blue.  

Twice I saw a swan lift up completely and fly, 


its wingspan almost eight feet across, 

a lumbering thwop-thwop, then a sigh-

ing whistle as wind weaves through

wing feathers on each downward stroke.


We must slash their number by two-thirds 

and quickly: an adult eats six pounds 

of aquatic plants daily, yanks them up 

by the roots or rhizomes, wastes twice 


that much. “Eat-outs” ecologist call such 

complete destruction: no regrowth.  

In this way, they’re rather like us: 

mucking up habitat for the rest.  Around


1910, a few wealthy Americans brought the first 

pairs from France to grace estates on the Hudson. 

Now they range from Maine to Oregon.

A mystical shimmer, I’m convinced, wavers 


inside our bodies when we watch swans glide,

so we love to see them, yet this bird will scare 

the fertility out of terns and black skimmers; 

kill mallards, Canada goslings, attack kayakers 


who come too near.  A pair breeds for life, 

and if one dies, the forlorn survivor won’t leave 

the nest in case the missing one comes home. 

We all know the feeling . . . . The myth is, 


of course, that it sings before dying a final 

exquisite, magnificent song––a wavering-voice 

frail Judy Garland singing Over the Rainbow––

a swan song––because the Greeks believed 


the soul of Apollo passed into a swan, 

but the lonely swan simply grows weaker 

and starves to death, the way some bereft

humans do who have lost the will to go on. 

                                                                                        from The Banquet: New & Selected Poems