I’ve been enjoying trying to get better at poetry. It seems to me that you can get better quite quickly in this form. Changing one word, or a line break, can have a transformative effect on the whole. But there’s getting better, and there’s being very good…and there’s also knowing why you’re doing something in the first place.
Ted Hughes offered a ‘why’ that resonates: The inmost spirit of poetry, in other words, is at bottom, in every recorded case, the voice of pain — and the physical body, so to speak, of poetry, is the treatment by which the poet tries to reconcile that pain with the world.
I’ll take that ‘why’, for now. Till I find a happier one.
A Wing And A Prayer
It seems to be plastic at first
some kind of toy or bird scarer
like the stone storks that permanently
drink from garden ponds.
It moved! my son squeals.
Ten types of horror.
A pigeon is sitting on the back door step
paralysed, but winking.
The cat gives it a wide berth
pretending to be innocent of the sprayed
white feathers fluttering and
failing to escape the lawn.
We can’t have a pigeon in the house.
Flapping in my face
its beak in my eyes
wings trying to break the ceiling.
(What kind of dark childhood place
brews fears like these?)
The eye winks again.
Half its pigeon backside is fluffy like a chick’s
feathers plucked by another species
which wasn’t even hungry.
It shunts its tail painfully sideways
away from the drain, revealing
a pile of bird shit panic.
Bring it in, the phone voice says, wearily.
I ask our neighbour to come and pick it up.
We watch from the other side of the
closed glass door.
My son seems impressed I have a plan.
Our neighbour, a doctor, jokes about throttling
nuisance birds on his allotment.
His wife says Oh, it’s a wood pigeon!
There might be babies…
Ignominiously housed in our cat basket
we take the lopsided bird to the vet
over the railway bridge, the closest it will ever
come again to sky.
It’s a bit wobbly, says the vet’s assistant.
My son needs to use the loo.
Later, when we go back to collect the
basket, I have to ask.
‘It didn’t make it,’ she says, her eyes elsewhere.
I make practical noises to my little boy.
Afterwards, as we walk on the heath, he suggests
‘Maybe when we die, we come back as new people…’
And I look down at his face
his eyes bright with life and fear
And I remember the bird
shining with shock and the understanding
that in our hands was its ending.