Lessons Before Daybreak from Kwish-kwishee, the Steller Jay

Photo: NPS / Jacob W. Frank, Public Domain

I Do Not Blame the Steller Jay

-a poem by Vincent Hostak-
I do not blame the Steller Jay
for all my frenzied sleeplessness.
She seems enamored with concerns
pecking by the window ledge.
l'm grateful for her restlessness. 

Within her anxious struggling
there works a skillful sorceress 
enchanting from these toughened hulls
abundance in each shell concealed.
It's not her fault - my busy mind.

Now rise into a cobalt plume,
break from the guard you've fastened here,
and heave all husks into the air.
Disturb and nourish others, Jay,
who cry for lifted hearts today.


Steller’s Jay is an American Corvid found in the North American West, particularly in the Rocky Mountains. Sociable and intelligent, they can be observed easily in these parts. Pairs nest for life. Female and male Steller Jay’s are not easily differentiated, as all have the same bold colors, similar loyal behaviors, and an color appearance of graduated blues across the body to a blacker head with the same distinctive crest. They may be characterized, far too generally, as “aggressive.” Protective of nests, their family and social groupings (flocks) are probably more accurate, and less judgmental, perspectives. They have been known to flock with other species, so “territorial” doesn’t fit and, in my opinion, is a holdover from patriarchal biases in the language of natural history. They are non-conforming in many ways that we humans tend to categorize all inhabitants in this world: how they look, gender roles, behavior in groups, and even how they sound. Songs are at one time “harsh” and another “melodious.” They can channel the sounds of other birds, even raptors. Call them Kwish-kwishee, as named by first peoples of the Pacific Northwestern Coast, the Makah. There is a context of “rakishness” connecting these birds appropriately to the original mythologies of the continent. Look up: how Kwish-kwishee got it’s crest.

Published by Vincent Hostak

Vincent Hostak, vmh, is a writer, podcaster and filmmaker. His poetry has appeared in Sonder Midwest, Tejascovido and the Langdon Review of the Arts. Vince is Executive Producer of Crossings-the Refugee Experience in America Podcast.

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