The thirtieth of December, 2010: bird verse


Widgeon (for Paul Muldoon)

It had been badly shot.

While he was plucking it

he found, he says, the voice box –

like a flute stop

in the broken windpipe –

and blew upon it


his own small widgeon cries.

By Seamus Heaney. Because, like Nabokov (who used his lectures at Cornell to explain to students the layout of Bloom’s Dublin and exactly what kind of beetle Gregor Samsa metamorphosed into), I think precision of content is important, here is a wigeon (anas penelope) and here is a wigeon cry.


December took us where the idling water

Rose in a ghost of smoke, its banks hard-thatched

With blanching reeds, the sun in a far quarter.


Short days had struck a bitter chain together

In links of blue and white so closely matched

They made an equipoise we called the weather.


There, the first snowfall grew to carapace,

The pulse beneath it beating slow and blind,

And every kind of absence marked the face


On which we walked as if we were not lost,

As if there was something there to find

Beneath a sleep of branches grey with frost.


We smiled, and spoke small words which had no hold

Upon the darkness we had carried there,

Our bents and winter dead-things, wisps of cold.


And then, from wastes of stub and nothing came

The Kingfisher, whose instancy laid bare

His proof that ice and sapphire conjure flame.

By Peter Scupham. Both of these poems were found in the Clutterbuck Christmas stocking, between the covers of The Poetry Of Birds, Simon Armitage and Tim Dee eds. (Penguin, 2010) – thank-you, Clare.

The above has put me in mind of my friend and fellow writer Davy Rees, who was generous/indulgent enough to spend an English lesson discussing my story Priory Street with his fifth-formers – complete with a presentation on the black redstart, birdsong and all.


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