Four and Twenty by Daniel A. Rabuzzi

Hunters catch birds in the hills above the city,
Prize birds from flight and flitting,
Net warblers, woodcock, finches,
Birds no bigger than bees,
Once an eagle even.

Pluttering, see-sawing,
The birds jounce wry,
A tangled calligraphy in mid-air.
Eyes outshine dusk-stars,
Tongues dash in and out,
Scarlet at dawn.

The hunters’ children move from post to post,
Pressing with spider-fingers,
Twisting with thumbs,
Until the eyes set and the tongues freeze
Either in or out.

Four and twenty, four and forty, one gross,
Feathers slayed slantwise, eyes motes of marble,
Bills gaped or clenched,
The caught ones line trestles, pile on tables in the market.

Shoppers fondle birds,
Smooth wrinkled feathers, brush crushed down.
Shoppers feel for hearts within,
Blood still warm within,
Good for sausage and pies.

“Have you more of these?” ask the townspeople.
The hunters smile and say,
“Yes, but not many. Come back again tomorrow.”

In the hills, the birds flee,
Hearts shishing harder than their wings.
But the sky is roofed with nets.

Daniel A. Rabuzzi’s majored in the study of folklore in college and spent two years doing graduate work at the Institute of Folklore Studies at the University of Oslo, Norway. He has collected oral traditions in Norway and England, with results published in journals of folklore in the U.K., Sweden and Denmark. His fiction has appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Shimmer, Sybil’s Garage # 5 and ChiZine.

Image: from The Queen of Hearts, and Sing a Song for Sixpence by Randolph Caldecott (date unknown)