Zebra Finch at Petco

Karen Holmberg Click to

Karen Holmberg’s second book of poems, Axis Mundi, won the John Ciardi Prize and will be published in the fall of 2012 by BkMk Press. Her writing has appeard in Southern Poetry Review, West Branch, Cave Wall, Black Warrior Review, and Cimarron Review. She teaches in the MFA program at Oregon State University.

Holmberg Zebra Finch at Petco

The male tweezes a bald millet stalk
off a sahara of graveled paper.

The pert watch movements of his head
ignite a ember on each cheek, buff bright

the beak’s rose hip hue. His elderberry eye
subjects this meter cubed of universe

to further scrutiny. The struggles of
a downy filament attract him.

With these two finds he alights, caresses
the injection-molded branch. But there is

no flaw to catch on, no way to make a start.
A problem he sets aside for the moment,

pinning it down with his foot. In the dusky
corner his mate dangles off brass wires,

mobile as a chandelier earring.
Extending her wing, she makes him

more to find, fussing
a small snow from the hot and pearly hollow.

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2 Responses to Zebra Finch at Petco

  1. Beth Wellford says:

    This poem is fueled by the precision of its imagery. The opening lines are so delicately exact and thus entirely appropriate for the subject matter of the zebra finch. The details are also colorful, and I enjoyed lines such as “the beak’s rose hip hue” and “his elderberry eye,” for their subtle alliteration, a similarity mirrored in the shades of pinks and reds. With the behavior of these two birds, and as is true in engaging poetry, the subtle movements indicate much larger gestures.

  2. Cam Higgins says:

    As my professor, poet Lesley Wheeler explained how critic Northrop Frye’s understanding of poetry centers around the use of “babble” (word play) and “doodle” (visual construction). In Holmberg’s “Zebra Finch at Petco,” a relatively standard-looking free-verse poem written in couplets, draws from the wide range of verbal possibilities “babble” brings to the table. I love Holmberg’s phrase “ember on each cheek, buff bright/ the beak’s rose hip hue. His eldeberry eye” precisely because of its rich alliteration and the continuity of sound between words. “Zebra Finch at Petco’s” babble surfaces throughout, from the repeated -ear sound of “chandelier earring” to the closing line “fussing/ a small snow through the hot and pearly hollow.” The movement afforded by the alliteration and emphasis on flowing diction drives Holmberg’s densely imagistic poem along, and keeps it from falling into a quagmire of disconnected, though well-wrought images.

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