In order to study the syntax of birdsong—
phonology, instincts, templates of learning—
they cupped beak-speakers, delivered to plastic boxes
in separate rooms. Worried that even egg-crackers
might know too much, they ushered unhatchlings in too.
Wide-eared machines waited with eager hearts
to chart the change between swamp- and song-sparrows.
Years passed as black ticks marking days by the hundred.
They began to wonder.
They willed to wipe away their sound,
deafening the ballad-bearers, and found
that to produce the song of its fathers, a bird
must be able to hear her voice.