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The Bird-HauntHarry Clifton
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Vol. 22 No. 14 · 20 July 2000
Poem

The Bird-Haunt

Harry Clifton

238 words

They had changed their throats and had the throats of birds.

W.B. Yeats

Soon enough, they will come to me,
The birds, as I hunker here
In a wooden blind, on the shores of Lough Neagh,
Alone and cold, but never lonely.
All the souls will come to me,

Their given names changed
To Mallard, Moorhen, Mandarin, Merganser,
Chooking in among the reeds
Or a blatter of wings on the water
Of an absolute take-off.

Half the world has gone south –
It’s winter now. Self-insulated,
Deathless, last of the early Irish hermits,
I lift the hatch like a desktop
And light floods in,

A giant scriptorium,
Sky and water. Antrim to the east,
Its reef of lights. And the dot-dash-dot
Of a pollan fleet, on the far horizon.
And the planes, the trajectories,

Flickering endlessly in and out
Of Aldergrove airport.
An hour from now, it will be dark
And arctic. November –
The month of the long south-westerlies

And conning the lists of the dead.
Brent Goose, Whooper,
Seagull, Diver, even a notional Grebe,
Their high, piping cries
Barely audible

In the uproar of the world.
On a carpet of blackened leaves
I blew in here. And now, suspended,
My mind amphibious
Between two elements,

With the dry cough of the wildfowlers’ guns
In my ears, they return to me,
Desmond, Essie, Michael, Margaret, Charles –
Crossed over, gone but still watched for,
Dark against the water.

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