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By Alfred Nicol


The Montréal Review, June 2023



“The value of a commodity…depends on the quantity of labour which is necessary for its production.”

—David Ricardo

Now, bitcoin mining—that’s another thing.
Where do they dig? What are they digging for?
Don’t bother looking in the deep heart’s core
for some rare object lodged there, glittering,
or darkly precious, like poor Gollum’s ring.
Let me explain: it’s guesswork, nothing more.
Calculate the hash: a sixty-four-
randomly-selected-digit string—
a leggy thing, and like the centipede,
tailored to no apparent human need.
You’ll need IT: the naked mind would fail
to ever apprehend that abstract tail.
It usually takes 300 trillion tries.
That’s proof of work. Therein its value lies.




1) Robin

Disguised by its familiarity,
its habitat collective memory
(near AM radio and Wonder Bread),
the robin is a bird you hardly see,
out on the lawn with Bobby Kennedy,
its breast a faded Campbell-soup-can red.


2) Black-capped Chickadee

This cheery, hospitable chatterbox,
who flits about with friends in little flocks
twittering all year round about what’s new
—where snowmelt trickles, sightings of a fox,
or when to keep an eye out for the hawks—
gives great advice to migrants passing through.


3) American Crow

A crow utters hello as if it coughed.
A crow prefers the jagged to the soft.
For cherubs, clouds; for crows, a broken limb—
the crow is disinclined to stay aloft,
nor can it lift its voice to join the hymn.
Who hasn’t worn this darkness? Graceless, grim.

4) Red-winged Blackbird

Miles of rippling grass, and who would guess
that here are parcelled lots? At each address
a settler stakes his claim to half an acre—
earth, stream and sky—and not a cubit less.
Perched on a cattail, watchman, early waker,
he clings to what he fiercely would possess.


5) Herring Gull

Avatars of appetite, they soar
above the parking lots of Burger Kings,
or hover over party boats offshore,
ravenous for mackerel heads and gore;
a churned wake draws a turbulence of wings
and frenzied cries that translate: More! More! More!


6) Saltmarsh Sparrow

Pst! (a secret!) Chip! chip! sputter, wheeze,
throat giggle, snorer’s whistle, clink of keys…
This bashful sparrow’s soloing suggests
the prattle of our grandchild in her nest
of pillows. Happy those soliloquies
whose Hamlets never doubt to be is best!

7) Wild Turkey

Deep chestnut brown with purple fripperies,
dandies seeking higher elevation,
wild turkey cocks roost near the tops of trees.
This love of heights survives domestication,
but dims with each succeeding generation.
The colors too. Such is a life of ease.


8) Bobolink

Think Zelig. Or, a Forrest Gump that flies
twelve thousand miles a year through nighttime skies.
No telling where this stylish bird will be:
in Lincoln’s campaign songs of liberty,
in recipes for antebellum pies,
in Amherst, skipping church with Emily…


9) Red-tailed Hawk

Like Euclid on a limb, eyes cold and clear,
he rises from his stately perch to trace
great circles in the air and, cleaving space,
extends infinity a wide embrace—
then dives! The hawk’s red shriek assaults the ear.
His vector strikes its endpoint like a spear.


10) Snowy Owl

Shawn Klush, world’s greatest Elvis wannabe,
can trace his glitzy showman’s pedigree
to candelabra-flattered Liberace—
his coat of ermine purring Look at me—
and to the Snowy Owl, whom paparazzi
bottleneck the island road to see.


11) Great Blue Heron

This striking bird that Audubon depicted
as contortionist, folded to fit
color-plate 211, looks a bit
self-conscious, like an awkward teen who’d quit
whatever box they’ve put her in, afflicted
with uniqueness. No escaping it.


12) Bald Eagle

A grey midwinter morning. A clean slate.
Perched on a floodlight pole, this magistrate
leisurely eyes the stadium for small game,
unburdened by the emblematic weight
of victory and empire, wealth and fame,
and looking pretty regal just the same.


Alfred Nicol was the recipient of the 2004 Richard Wilbur Award for his first book of poems, Winter Light. His other publications include Animal Psalms and Elegy for Everyone, and his poems have appeared in Poetry, The New England Review, Dark Horse, Commonweal, The Formalist, The Hopkins Review, and The Best American Poetry 2018. Nicol’s translation of One Hundred Visions of War by Julien Vocance, published in November, 2022, has been called “an essential addition to the history of modernist poetry.”


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