The Cuckoo and the Warbler
by Alan Toltzis
The monotony of wings, of water, of life churrs
everywhere, when hunger coaxes a reed warbler
from her nest for a few moments.
Just like that, a cuckoo lays her dead ringer
of a speckled egg among three sister eggs.
Off she goes. And the warblers?
They suspect nothing. Minding four eggs
is as easy as three. But in two weeks
all hell breaks loose. The cuckoo hatchling
is first to crack out of its shell.
Each time the warblers leave their nest,
to collect food, the hellion’s ungainly body
and greedy soul transform into a bald,
blind, and feeble Sisyphus—rolling, pushing,
grappling with the eggs, one, by one, by one.
This murderous combination of disloyalty
and disguise will not be denied until the first egg,
perched on its scraggly scapulae breaches
the top of the nest. A final crazed push
hoists the first of the warbler eggs up and over.
It plops into the water below and bobs away.
Each egg of betrayal becomes easier to toss.
With one mouth to feed, the cuckoo dwarfs
its parents, full-grown in two weeks.
Still, they continue to feed their demon
until the nest’s integrity overflowing with deceit,
collapses under the burden of deception.
Alan Toltzis is the author of two poetry collections—49 Aspects of Human Emotion and The Last Commandment—and two chapbooks, Nature Lessons and Mercy. His poems have appeared in numerous print and online publications and he was runner up for the Thomas Merton Poetry Prize in Poetry of the Sacred. Alan serves as poetry editor for Dark Onus Lit and Poetica Publishing. After a lifetime in Philadelphia, he now lives in Los Angeles. Find him online at alantoltzis.com; follow him @ToltzisAlan.