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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

A Word for that Sound

By: Russell Willis

“Flapping” won’t suffice

for the sound of scores

of Grackles fleeing from

over there behind those trees to

somewhere else beyond the house

that blocks my view.

Fleeing what, I’ll never know, but

accepting “flap” to evoke

that moment simply

will not do; leaving me to wonder

if there is a word in English

for that sound, knowing with

certitude that there are languages

that do, or at least did, for

such language is often dead to us

along with those who spoke of

such things with awe and reverence

in a world passed by

by those who have no time or

reason for such thoughts,

and, therefore, no such words.


Russell Willis won the Sapphire Prize in Poetry in the 2022 Jewels in the Queen’s Crown Contest (Sweetycat Press) and has published poetry in over thirty online and print journals and twenty print anthologies. Russell grew up in and around Texas and was vocationally scattered as an engineer, ethicist, college/university teacher and administrator, and Internet education entrepreneur throughout the Southwest and Great Plains, finally settling in Vermont with his wife, Dawn. He emerged as a poet in 2019 with the publication of three poems in The Write Launch. Russell’s website is

"The first seven lines of 'A Word for that Sound' were written in one of those rare times when I was sitting in my backyard in Northeast Vermont with my writing journal. Out of nowhere, I heard a loud rustling. But it was a strange sound that conjured no memory or meaning. Even as that thought formed, a shadow passed over me, blocking the patch of blue sky that separated the canopies of the 60- and 70-foot live oaks and maple trees in my yard. As my eyes focused on the scene, the shadow broke into individual blackbirds, very large Grackles. But it was over before I could even think about what I was witnessing. The incredible sound dissipated as the flock of birds disappeared behind my house.

Being a poet, I captured this moment in a poem. That poem ended with 'Fleeing what, I’ll never know.' I read it a couple of times and really I liked it. It was good, short and sweet, the kind of imagist poetry I had come to enjoy and was beginning to emulate.

Yet immediately after completing the poem, I started to consider what I had heard. I began to search my memory for a word for that sound. I came up blank but also thought that the native peoples of this part of North America probably did have a specific word for that sound that was nuanced and evocative. I thought of the many different words the ancient people of the arctic circle had for what we English-speaking people clumsily call 'snow.' These thoughts led to the rest of the poem.

But for several months I did not submit the poem. Afterall, the first several lines were a very nice imagist piece. I didn’t want to 'ruin' it with extra words and thoughts. On the other hand, the rest of the poem added a meaning I found compelling to share (did I mention that I used to teach anthropology?).

Viola - 'A Word for that Sound.'”


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