Melpomene and Me

Melpomene and Me: On Writing and Robins
Wendy Ralph

It snowed again, at least three inches this time. Everything is frozen. Several different varieties of birds, more than a hundred in all, are ravaging the red berries of the Cotoneaster tree outside my window. The Robins and Cedar Waxwings are the most beguiling with their alternating smears of yellow and orange. I stop typing the gibberish I’ll only erase later and collect my camera. The mirrored glass of my window allows me to photograph the birds undetected, or mostly undetected. A few times, the birds seem to catch my shadow or hear my movement and when they do, they all shift in a large, choreographed wave to my neighbor’s tree. But ultimately, it is my tree that still has its berries and before long, a few bold Robins instigate the pilgrimage back to the promised land.

Last week, before the flock arrived, a lone Robin feasted here for days. I should say that I knew her to be alone for she, most certainly, did not recognize her singularity. Every so often, she’d catch sight of her reflection in the glass and thrash herself against the window in an attempt to peck her own eye out or worse. The echoing thud of impact unnerved me. Many times, I got up from my desk expecting to see a lifeless body in the snow, but my Robin never managed to deliver the fatal blow. Instead, she’d wait some seemingly random amount of time…two minutes or forty-three. She’d wait, presumably, until the precise moment I forgot her, then dramatically dash herself against the glass again.

I found myself thoroughly unable to work. I began talking aloud—yelling even. “STOP it!” I screamed. “You’re killing yourself!” I said. And I was.

This went on for days. Each morning, I returned to the Cotoneaster to sing my heart out for a little while, but before long something would catch my eye—the flutter of a wing, the glint of an eye, and I’d forget my song altogether and return to the habitual and unbecoming game of “chicken” I knew too well.


A friend suggested a paper cutout of a raptor might do the trick, but I wasn’t sure I really wanted to scare my Robin off. When she wasn’t attempting suicide, and perhaps even when she was, she was pathetically loveable in her fierce approach to nesting—or the protection of her right to do so. Wasn’t it also quite cruel to banish her from an abundant food supply during an unnaturally long winter? None had more empathy for the hungry than me. And what sort of dull creature might take her place? God knows I’d seen some uninspiring little grubbers. If nothing else, Robin had passion—gusto. Her stirring and rare display of tenacity moved me; I grew to admire her sick resolve even as my stomach turned with each new impact.

On the fifth day, today, the other birds arrived. With gluttony, they demolished the berries Robin neglected in her unproductive days. The Cedar Waxwings grew drunk on the fruit as Waxwings do, and they took turns bashing into my window in their intoxicated stupors. The sloppiness was entirely unromantic and I quickly grew impatient. It was time.

I traced an Eagle on black cardboard, cut out the silhouette, and taped it to my window. The birds did not return. A few lonely berries remained on the Cotoneaster tree, but it was mostly barren, the circumference of its trunk a wasteland of spoiled fruit and littered remains.

I returned to my desk and work. Though I was finally free of the racket of her frustrations, I missed the song of the Robin each morning. I looked for her, longed for her. I swore I’d become a better translator, a more astute listener, a better friend, if she’d only return. But she never came.

I tried hard to settle back into the space that is quietest just after noise. I started a new chapter, then a new book entirely. I closed the shade—blocked out the now naked tree. For a while that helped, but every so often, just on the periphery, I swear the cold eye of an Eagle (or is it a Buzzard?) is still watching me. Even so, I add another twig here…a bit of yarn there. In the name of Melpomene.