BIRDS

 


 

PREFACE

 

I am no twitcher and certainly do not pretend to be an ornithologist. The poems in this collection are just personal reactions to a variety of bird species I have had the privilege to come close to and observe. They are clearly associated with a number of places visited during travels in the northern British Isles and continental Europe.

I believe animals, and birds in particular, have much to teach humans. That at least one saint has supposedly preached to the birds I find absurd. What could animals learn from the Church? More probably, saints have entered into a natural communion in which they understand the language of animals and may communicate to them on their own terms. This is certainly what happened in the cases of certain Celtic anchorites and the Buddha, who could exchange long conversations with deer and other quadrupeds.

While not aspiring to this supernal level of comprehension I hope the following collection will at least communicate something to the reader.

 

FLP March 1998

 


CONTENTS


 

 


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PUFFIN

 

Sentinel of the cliffs, you rise

on waves like a sea scout;

harlequin of waters and skies

you make our hearts sing out.

 

Your yellow, blue and bright red beak

fits mask-like on your face;

gauche on land, your diving technique

is filled with mermaid grace.

 

I walk the bluff’s sea-spattered lawn

past your hidden burrows

as northern sun spreads its cold dawn

and lights the sea’s furrows.

 

Your presence brings precious relief

to unrelenting lands

where old memories stretch their grief

over dark rock-thrown strands.

 

And when in desolate places

I can find no way out

your bright, happy image chases

away any black doubt.


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THE GANNET

 

On the boat to the rocky bay

we saw a gannet fly,

then quite suddenly fall straight down

ninety feet from the sky

 

into the sea to rise again,

silver fish in its beak,

winging wide to the cliff face:

with expansive technique.

 

Pure white body with black wingtips

and yellow painted head,

solan goose of the farthest waves,

precipice born and bred;

 

I still hear your deep whirring croak

as you cling to the cliff

in multitude of kin feathers,

while we watch from our skiff,

 

guarding your lonely green-blue egg

with quickly darting bill

and keeping safe your dark brown chick

on its perilous sill.

 

Protector of the northern seas

you take souls on your wing,

ancestral ghosts beat within you

and oceanic tongues sing.


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CORMORANT

 

You roost in the garden of thorns,

sinister, still waiting;

your reptilian appearance warns

of strange omens you bring.

 

Perched on a decayed river pier

by the ferry landing

year after year what leads you here

from crags where you are king?

 

Motionless, you dry your feathers

on scale-like outstretched wing.

Out-running Atlantic weathers

ancestral rights you sing

 

when you received a royal name

in the house of the king,

where fishing was a courtly game:

around glossed throat a ring

 

so you couldn’t swallow the prey

but before Master fling

caught salmon which might not allay

insatiate greed, mean thing!

 

Torpid, you stand upon the wood,

Christ’s cross’s deathly sting,

stripped tree that bares the supreme good

while white fish bones you fling.

 

Now we see you skim the river

its swell almost touching

with your coal wings, dusky quiver

outlined by rays’ setting.


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STORM PETREL

 

Ever on the wing, gale-tossed bird,

on your midnight return

to precipice burrows we heard

sounds we could just discern.

 

So above human pitch they were -

darkling choir of lost souls -

lone mariners’ ghost-ridden whirr,

resonance that consoles.

 

Smaller than a sparrow you face

the sea’s great hurricane,

skimming mountainous waves apace,

thrown back yet returning again.

 

Do you ever rest little bird,

give up unsettled heart?

Ocean laments are yet unheard

as from the cliffs we part.


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BONXIE (GREAT SKUA)

 

On the island’s frost-worn moorland

you make your home

and defend it with a winged hand

far from sea’s crashing foam.

 

Clear tuk-tuk-tuk-tuing rings out

from dark brown white-patched span

lording it as you swiftly rout

kid rabbits from their clan.

 

Strong hunter, dipping and diving,

commander of the waste,

fearless beak’s arrogant tearing

weak prey is your sweet taste.

 

We duck cowed heads as you swoop past,

webbed feet grazing our hair;

you truly are that film’s star cast,

bold pirate of the air.


 

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FRIGATE BIRD

 

Our yacht sails through a mirror sea

towards the unseen isle,

sharp reefs defending its pink shores

with palms born to beguile.

 

Landing at the tumble-down pier

the headman drives us to

an enormous brackish lagoon

which the outboard skims through

 

to reach a half-submerged forest,

nest of the frigate bird.

Its vast wings span every tree,

anyhow its mews heard.

 

The little ones have not yet fled:

a big-throated courtship

has blossomed like deep red orchid

in life’s thalassic trip.

 

Motor silenced, the boat is pushed

through knee-deep rivulet,

children’s laughter on board mingled

with nature’s salt roulette.

 

Magnificent bird, sky’s corsair

uncontested you glide

across the southern ocean vasts,

steal my heart to your side.


grebe.jpg (4194 bytes)

GREBE

(LAGO D’ISEO)

 

I pitch my tent by the lake shore,

it is the close of day.

The placid dipping of an oar:

as boat slips into bay

 

I dive in the limpid water;

around dark mountains rise

while the setting sun ignites a

rose flame upon the skies.

 

Mother grebe sinks under water

her little frantic chicks

swim about trying to find her.

Is she up to her tricks?

 

She surfaces and they spin round

in dance of tufted joy.

How could they think she might have drowned

rising just like a buoy?

 

I watch this game over again

until my soup is cooked

and, hungry, no longer remain

yet still their game is brooked.

 

The chicks’ meal is feather and fish;

excellent digestive

for difficult to swallow dish

of trout: most refined sieve.

 

Tucked in my downy sleeping bag,

waves lapping me to sleep,

into dreamland I slowly sag

as grebes play on the deep.


cangoose.jpg (16893 bytes)

CANADA GOOSE

 

A tiny lake hidden between railway

and golf course: centre of your coterie,

leafy club where you dapperly display

your elegant plumage with liberty.

 

In black neck and white cravat you parade

along the leaf-strewn waterside path,

exchanging frozen prairie for the staid

suburban garden and its cosy hearth.

 

Shipped with slaves to grace and serve the estate,

you took your leave of the Palladian lord

and waddled straight out of the finialled gate

to public parks and the finished greensward.

 

For some a nuisance, yet fit for hunting

in wild-fowl areas they took your sight,

but, unworried by the threat of shooting,

you flapped languidly from arboreal height.

 

The big cracks remarked "not very sporting"

and so you quickly turned ornamental.

That autumn dusk we saw your wings beating

for the warmth and got quite sentimental.

 

It seemed as if you were waiting for us,

passengers congregated by willows

exchanging news and eager to discuss

in which way the southerly wind billows.

 

For as we arrived your plangent whoopings

voiced migration and, taking to the air

just like a squadron of hurricane wings,

you began your journey with jazzy flair.

 

And our eyes melted at the forlorn sight

of a tarn become quite silent and bare

abandoned to the winter’s cruel light

and humanity’s unending despair.


snowyowl.jpg (9742 bytes)

SNOWY OWL

 

Icy disdain on your harsh face:

unmoved you stare at us

(hushed phalanx of binoculars)

and wonder why this fuss?

 

What weird current flew you down here,

our northernmost island,

so distant from that nesting place

on snow and fire forged land.

 

Your partner is gone five summers,

the old nest is quite sere,

so what does keep you coming back

again, year after year?

 

Those deep golden eyes hypnotise

from the whitest plumage

and candid form defines wisdom

of a honeyed lost age.

 

We retreat leaving you unmoved

and still you watch over the moor;

your cold beauty is so extreme

it scares us evermore.


stork.jpg (21634 bytes)

STORK

 

Had you lost your way, mistaken

a wind-tide when I watched you

among Celtic hills far away

and alone in the blue?

 

You’re quite in the family way

through the Burgenland

we passed few chimneys near the lake

without your nesting stand.

 

Untidy heaps yet loved the more

for talismanic force

no house could be conceived complete

without your vast resource.

 

Loveable bird, bringer of life

in European plains

Healer of wounds, ender of strife

through you all earth sustains.

 

Did you ever then find your way

back to the lake of reeds,

return to favoured chimney stack

appease our inmost needs?

 

 


 

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