The Language of Birds
The sides of the hill
are stubbed with fire-pits.
The sky is paraffin blue.
A pigeon’s heart swings here
on the kissing-gate, withered,
stuck through with pins,
while out on the estuary,
beaks of birds needle
to the wind’s compass,
the sky’s protocol.
Swans go singing out to sea;
the weather is changing cold.
In the elm above me, a magpie chuckles
and turns the magic wand of itself
away, towards the light.
I climb to the seeing rock
high over the pine trees; a blown squall
of rooks rises and settles like ash.
I saw the hay marry the fire
and the fire walk.
The sky went the colour of stone.
The cattle sickened:
what milk that came
came threaded, red as dawn.
Down below, in the grey fall
of heather and gorse,
a swithering flame.
Hooded crows haunt the highway,
pulling at roadkill;
their heads swivel to watch.
I’ve seen them murder their own:
the weak or the rare, those
with the gift of tongues.
I keep an albino one in a box;
I can’t let go of it
till it tells me its name.
The vessel he has carried for so long
his eyes have run out of light, and are
looking beyond us to the far distances,
My own eyes fill, and star.
His great priest’s face
taking on a cast,
becoming immemorial, a man
becoming something else:
a ruined shell, a wasted king
amongst the debris; a mask.
The slow shutting down of the machine,
till it felt like hours between each breath,
trawled, heaved up,
each from a greater depth.
We listen to his heartbeat’s muffled drum
until the drumming stops.
A poor likeness. Pen-and-ink. Not him
at all. We are mourners sketched
at the death-bed, in a trompe l’oeil room
of personal effects: his toilet-bag and shoes,
his watch, his cigarettes; and the drawn skull
of my father, dispersed.
Waking up the next morning into a wet
brightness and hugeness of day,
the miniature figures
going to work, and the world around them,
I can hardly walk, I am so frightened.
These days are scored through, one by one.
The ward-plan wiped clean for another name;
another man lies in the bed behind the glass.
My mother struggles with the singular;
we all must learn to use another tense: