by Roberta Hill Whiteman

“Hi, guy,” said I to a robin
perched on a pole in the middle
of the garden. Pink and yellow
firecracker zinnias, rough green
leaves of broccoli,
and deep red tomatoes on dying stems
frame his still presence.

“I’ve heard you’re not
THE REAL ROBIN. Bird watchers have
agreed,” I said.”THE REAL ROBIN
lives in England. They claim
your are misnamed and that we ought
to call you ‘a red-breasted thrush’
because you are

He fluffed up. “Am I not
Jis ko ko?” he cried, “that persistent
warrior who carries warmth
northward every spring?”
He seemed so young, his red belly
a bit light and his wings, still
faded brown. He watched me
untangling the hose to water squash.

“Look who’s talking!” he chirruped.
“Your people didn’t come
from Europe or even India.
The turtles say you’re a relative
to red clay on this great island.”
Drops of crystal water
sparkled on the squash.

“Indigenous!” he teased
as he flew by.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  Jis ko ko is the Iroquoian name for Robin. In the story, he is a young warrior who confronts the old man of winter. The old man uses ice and brutal winds to keep Jis ko ko’s warmth away from the earth. When the old man shoots him on the chest with an arrow of ice, the young man bleeds and transforms into the bird. Even as a bird, he continues his purpose, bringing warm rain and growth—green leaves, flowers and fruit.

SOURCE: “Morning Talk” appears in Roberta Hill Whiteman‘s collection Philadelphia Flowers (Holy Cow! Press, 1996), available at

IMAGE: “Harbinger,” watercolor by Betty LaRue. Prints available at


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Roberta Hill Whiteman is a poet of Wisconsin Oneida heritage. She is known for the collections Star Quilt (1984) and Philadelphia Flowers (1996). She received the 1991 Wisconsin Idea Foundation’s Excellence Award and has a PhD from the University of Minnesota.