Viewless Wings

Mark Ford

What aileth thee now, that thou art wholly gone up to the housetops?
– Isaiah 22:1

I (gulp) had
to have a certain operation, and as
I went under, found
myself assailed by a flock
of hostile pigeons, by a whole
parliament of fowls, cooing
hysterically – blackbirds
and ospreys
and screaming gulls. How daft
are you! mocked
a jackdaw, jabbing
its beak at my groin. Vile droppings
filled my mouth
and throat, while swallows and wrens
and magpies settled
on my midriff … aghast, barely
able to breathe, I stretched
forth a hand and seized
a cormorant’s quill
that I plunged
deep into the breast
of a hapless nightingale, all
the while chanting aloud the poor
bird’s ode; which, to my surprise, worked. Oh I felt
like Orpheus when their harsh
cawing hushed because my pumping heart
ached – I squawked
and clucked and preened and burst
into song, tra-la, at which a malignant
crow keeled over, drowsy,
numb. Maaaghkk, screeched a brilliant
green parrot
in my ear, but nothing followed, no
salacious wit. I caught
and caressed a downy gosling – it squirmed
and scratched at first, but soon
enough curled up, a ball
of quivering fluff, and its tiny
heart stopped beating. How
perplexing – for now
I was Orpheus in the underworld, surrounded
by the dead, and my long-sought
Eurydice was a moulting eagle
shrieking at me to turn
around, to let
her be. Twisting,
sliding, I flapped
my leaden wrists and arms and tried
to look ahead, but heard
as my own requiem an owl
hooting mournfully to its mate – who – who – who –
killed Cock Robin? … he lies
here forlorn, dew
dabbling his breast, down
and out. Let
others mourn and peck, respectfully, at his
remains: we ask – tu-whit
tu-whoo – why
was it his cœur triste the arrow
pierced, and why
did he not spy
with his gimlet eye, the impending
peril. Out
of all
he thought might count, this
pinch of dust is about
how much got counted. Therefore
strew larkspur, plant gloomy
sharp-needled evergreens to moan
and sigh when evening’s
breezes stir, and ruffle
our feathers as we stretch
our wings and our saucer-
eyes swivel, and these claws
extend, retract, extend and the moon
rises, and we wonder – does he wake
or sleep?