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