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    Gene Zoo
        Now we understand
    Gene Garden
    Earth Poems

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‘Three very similar genes, called sonic hedgehog, Indian Hedgehog and desert hedgehog, do much the same thing in chicks and people…the transformation of a simple limb bud into a five-fingered hand happens in every one of us, but it also happened, on a different timescale, when the first terapods developed hands from fish fins some time after 400 million years ago.’ Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, Fourth Estate, 2000

‘We never find, for instance, the bones of the arm and forearm, or of the thigh and leg transposed. Hence the same names can be given to the homologous bones in widely different animals.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

‘And look at the half-assurance of the bird,/ which knows both inner and outer, from its source,/ as if it were the soul of an Etruscan,/ flown out of a dead man received inside a space,/ but with his reclining image as the lid.’ The Eighth Elegy, Rainer Maria Rilke

Remembering Our Wings

Birds and people have three very similar genes affecting blunt limb buds – ‘sonic hedgehog’, ‘desert hedgehog’, and ‘Indian hedgehog’, the equivalent of the ‘hedgehog’ gene in flies, a segment-polarity gene for the back halves of wings.

In the total blue when Heaven has left

its door ajar, and a late summer breath

of wind brings pollen-sparkled gold air

to the edge of any height - open space -

shoulderblades ache for lost wings;

hurt of a young stag’s burning nubs

throbs in living fossil-bones - white as tubers

under dreaming genetic dark, root possibility;

muscle stubs bulging under goosebumped,

feather-plucked skin - tendons sprung still

for flapping arms, whooping, wind rushing

through mad, whipped hair; telescopic eyes.

Blunt limb buds remember air; slow bird lives

imprinted - from bat-flicker of spindly wrists,

witchy fingers, to faithful swan husband opening

like a white flower over his ruffled bride - rising

over breathing silver water on a silver morning -

engraved trace messages infiltrate weighty flesh,

bald limbs - partly silenced by Creation’s avalanche;

her wild extravagance, tree of species experimenting,

manipulating the plastic means of life - embroidering

her basic coded patterns with such ecstatic chemistry;

but in stories, dreams, crowded days, we remember -

hovering our bones comfortably in supportive water;

feeling even the undivided fin within the wing, envying

the spiralling birds - thrilled in android bellies of planes.

We hold out our feeble plucked arms, feeling the right shape

still - like trees raising multiple arms to lifting wind - fused

legs wired in tangled ground; niggle our fingers to spread,

sprout - our missing feathers shrunk into useless draughty

hairs, our eagle and osprey, our swallow, impoverished;

our star compass struck out, but scratched on the brain -

where are the preserved skeletons of winged men -

another lost missing link, almost identical structure

under earth-returning muscle, white Da Vinci plan;

just fossilised in air, four billion years of memory -

in our own mythology of loss; feeling ourselves

amputees - bereft - recalling ourselves as angels.

‘The toad and the ousel and the stag of Rhedynfre,/ that has cropped each leaf from the tree of life,/ Are not so old as the owl of Cwm Cowlyd,/ That the proud eagle would have to wife.’ RS Thomas, the Ancients of the World

‘And in that time one eventually wished,/ With the dull swell and fall of the surf, to rise up/ out of oneself, to move straight into the violet/ Billowing of evening as a willed structure of flight/ Trailing feet, or by six pins to balance/ Above the shore on a swollen blue lupine, tender,/ Almost sore with sap, to shimmer there,/ Specific and alone, two yellow wings / Like splinters of morning.’ Pattian Rogers, The Voice of the PreCambrian Sea

‘Life, at the start, fashioned oddities which would be screaming discords in the present harmony of things. When it invented the Saurian, it revelled at first in monsters fifteen and twenty yards long. It placed horns on their noses and eyes, paved their backs with fantastic scales, hollowed their necks intp spiny wallets, wherein their heads withdrew as into a hood. It even tried, though not with great success, to give them wings. After these horrors, the procreating ardour calmed down and produced the charming green Lizard of our hedges. When it invented the bird, it filled its beak with the pointed teeth of the reptile and appended a long, feathered tail unto its rump. These undetermined and revoltingly ugly creatures were the distant prelude to the Robin Redbreast and the Dove.’ JH Fabre, Fossils, 1901

‘In reflecting on them, everyone must be struck with astonishment: for the same reasoning power which tells us that most parts and organs are exquisitely adapted for certain purposes, tells us with equal plainness that these rudimentary or atrophied organs, are imperfect and useless.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

‘Applying the same principles to the birds, we find that the limit to their size is soon reached. An angel whose muscles developed no more power weight for weight than those of an eagle or a pigeon would require a breast projecting for about four feet to house the muscles engaged in working its wings, while to economize in weight, its legs would have to be reduced to mere stilts.’ JBS Haldane, Possible Worlds and Other Essays, Chatto & Windus, 1927

‘I presume that the ‘bastard-wing’ in birds may be safely considered as a digit in a rudimentary state.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

‘...And/ saying “freak” of them can’t naysay what the gill and ape hair/ stages of the womb mean: everybody’s wagged the tag-end of a fish/ in the motherly waters. Do we know it, do we dream. The dreams of penguin, ostrich, rhea, kiwi, cassowary,/ moa, rail, kakapo: all, birds for which flying’s/ a pair of muscley nubbins itching the living flesh.’ Albert Goldbarth, Vestigial

‘We may thus account ever for the distinctness of whole classes from each other – for instance, of birds from the other vertebrate anmals – by the belief that many ancient forms of life have been utterly lost, through which the hearly progenitors of birds were formerly connected with the early progenitors of the other vertebrate classes.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

Homo Avis

Where is the missing link of  the winged man,

Homo Avis - for who could give up blue skies

who once had flown - could bump down to earth,

even incrementally, eased into centuries landing;

a stilted heron bulking colossal elephant legs -

porous bones gaining density, clanking weight;

thickening into heavy scaffold, now grounded,

slowly shedding coloured feathers, one by one,

like the saddest, most reluctant autumn flower;

losing the correct muscles, aerial calculations,

until only storing our genetically-folded wings

like a decomposing wedding dress, diaphanous

still, but withered in the cluttered jar of ourselves;          

our shoulders’ stitched sockets healed over, blunt,

dusty with crumpled quills, crumbled fossil-bones.

But muscular still in dreams - unfurling from bone

roots like enormous swan wings; white salutation,

celebration of gravity’s unforgotten mathematics -

who was the one that chose; this survival, driven

by what imperative to be permanently on earth –

the leaden hunter with a spear, a city, boundaries;

a biological longing that will haunt us all forever.

Children’s Wings

Human and Angel genome

must be almost the same -

our dazzling wings stubbed

to dreams under fossil bone;

pterodactyl skeleton, bat-fingers,

hummingbird blur, summer eagle

dissolving to bright white feathers

in angels - inhabiting imagination -

and watch a child’s naked back,

sparrow shoulders, in sunshine,

you will see shimmering there,

ghost wings of preserved light.

‘My feet are locked upon the rough bark./ It took the whole of Creation/ To produce my foot, my each feather:/ Now I hold Creation in my foot// Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly.’ Ted Hughes, Hawk Roosting

‘Before anything had a soul,/ while life was a heave of matter, half-inanimate,/ This little bit chipped off in brilliance/ and went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.// I believe there were no flowers then/ In the world where the humming-bird flashed ahead to creation.’ DH Lawrence, Birds, Beasts and Flowers, 1923

Blunt shoulders

Blunt shoulders hurt with unsprung wings,

as hot chestnut buds bulge plump - sticky,

aching to burst into air, unfurl fresh green,

shining, as our white swan wings might come.

Icarus angels - we know how we would look;

when we jump, remember how it would feel.

‘When Philomela, e’er the cold domain/ Of crippled winter ‘gins t’advance, prepares / Her annual flight… who then’s her pilot?…. Her science is the science of her God./ Not the magnetic index to the North…She heav’n-taught voyager, that sails in air…’ Christopher Smart, 1722-71, On the Omniscience of the Supreme Being, Bird Migration

‘Natural selection has taken care to equip migratory birds with a star navigation system that is not fully assembled. Because of the precession of the equinoxes, which gradually changes the direction of North, it is vital that birds recalibrate their star compass in every generation through learning.’ Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, Fourth Estate, 2000

Bird Star Maps

In the opening blue-black pages of first night,

birds read ancient silver languages of stars -

pricked on the frozen shell of Heaven,

written in antique light, flashing neon

signs for winter sun; in far random galaxies

detecting flexible celestial runways - flags,

Olympian torches - navigational batons

of dusty light made at the birth of Earth.

Illuminated paths marked, shining in frosted air -

where we see join-the-dots, imagination pictures,

an immoveable Hunter in a random clutch of stars -

rustproof plough hammered from Norse god swords;

blurring, divine fingerprint of Celtic-spiralled silver

Milky Way – their wings are guided, skilfully flown

through blinding clouds, dust and storm - icy skies

gritted with speckle-stars; psychic arrows shooting

fluttering hearts to warm lands - star compass plotting

living zodiac, materials of sky myths, stories, poems -

while we who have moulted our wings, look up desperately,

to find some pattern, clue, easy answer among space-clutter;

junk wishes, detritus of messages, signals, wavelengths -

poor lost creatures born of stars, wandering the heavens

with eyes to be as wings; desiring to re-calibrate our shared

genetic grids, such avian guidance - a true sense of direction. 

Sunny Day Angel

In the passing players of today -

I recognised one or two strangers,

as you do from time to weird time;

so we smiled at the mystery of this,

but walked on as you do - without

exploring this mutual realisation -

but I swear this other person had wings,

just squeezed under his suit, bulging up

at each shoulder, his bright halo shoved

beneath his hat, leaking blond streaks,

white sparkle, fizzing in brilliant sun –

squinting I could just about see white

light smiling on his teeth, as if striking

water, now evanescing from his mouth;

blinded now, but inhaling as we passed

something perfumed, golden, warm,

spreading like the fiery amber spirit

of a Single Highland Malt downed -

even to my starry, tingled fingertips -

autonomous muscles of upturned lips

engaged in slightly demented smiling,

like blind and deaf faces who really know

how to laugh, unconsciously as children -

delight in a sudden current of happiness. 

All day I was joyful - simmering bubbles

rose from some charge to my heart, burst

through my eyes - infectious, short-lived.

‘..where lip-like/ folds stretch across the vestibule,/ small and tough/ they flutter, bend like birds’ wings, finding just the right angle to say airborne; here the cords arch/ in the hollow of this ancient instrument,/ curve and vibrate to make song.’  Alice Jones, The Larynx

‘It may surprise some, but alongside the rat, mouse, and monkey, bird brains are increasingly used as model subjects in which to study brain function. As Fernando Nottebohm says, "I don't think any other model system reaches into so many universes but at first blush looks so provincial." Linda Wilbrecht, The Burgeoning Biology of Birdsong New York Academy of Sciences, 2004

'Importantly, the circuitry that evolved to allow song learning also allows the transmission of information from one member of a species to another. And that transmission occurs not through genes, but through experience and interaction. The peculiar ability of birds to learn a song may thus shed light on the evolution of human knowledge and human culture. Pretty good for a bird brain.’ Linda Wilbrecht, The Burgeoning Biology of Birdsong New York Academy of Sciences, 2004

‘Not of men but of birds whose note bade man’s soul quicken and leap to light;/ And the song it it spake, and the light and the darkness of earth were as chords in time.’ Algernon Charles Swinburne, 1837-1909, Ode to Music

‘Here’s the mould of a musical bird long passed from light, /Which over the earth before man came was winging.’ Thomas Hardy, 1840-1928, In a Museum

Song Birds

(On the discovery that the brain patterns of birds suggest they rehearse their songs while asleep)

The singing birds have sung their final song, now rustling

like an orchestra in reverse, fussing themselves to sleep –

among limpening leaves drooping cool palms, black-beaded

heads crooked under zip-hook wings like tender angels’ arms -

snappy brown shins articulate, fold worryingly brittle as twigs;
flickering hearts incandescently burning hot, short red calories.

Now dreaming as night smokes silver clouds, coughs glittering

dust of irritating gritty stars, not of bird children yolked still in

cradled eggs - Icarus flights for sun-straws, Cirrus-down to line

shining gold nests - of mad-red berries machine-gunned on trees -
bursting plump seed; chill pink succulence of summer-fat worms,
but of music. Bird music. Firefly patterns pulsing in thread veins,

miniature walnut brain - living scores on electric synapse staves,

signature flesh; scales sleeping in sealed beaks, melodies folded

in the resting beat of recording wings. Notes, sharps - from high,

pure blue sounds of postcard skies, harmonious blood of water

pouring over stones, to lakes opening their cobalt summer eye;

flats summoned from beer-gut clouds, booming black, swollen

with whole rain undropped, until bursting into particular silver

envelopes for earth, millipede cargoes discharging H20, singing

harmonies with soil, seeds, the blind, thirsty worms in the dark.

Broken chords of flower and rock, colour and grey arpeggios -
clashing cymbals of sun flashing the world’s polished surfaces,

whistling piccolo wind blowdrying twittery green leaves, lifting

their cruciform wings like parents scooping whooping small children

underarm - manipulating gravity as Plasticine, not deadly medium –

transparent hooks, invisible burns, rapids of rushing air – translating

what it is to fly; what it means in music. From hearing in jittery, short,

pomegranate hearts, winter unfold its grim grey cuffs, dandruff collars,

needling high Cs of frost embroideries that might sew them into death.

All tuned, composed, conducted in the musical spirit of the bird…

they are rehearsing now, silent in the bigger night silence of this

star-gritted navy sky, perfectly domed as a snowstorm souvenir,

when even gossipy spring water lies possum-dead in breathless beds,
deaf to the sudden ghost of snowy owl murdering the hunting mice -
as we will sleep now, and our beating hearts go on rehearsing love,

keeping organic time as bloody metronome - in scribbled writing

of red and blue veins, letters linking, words stringing, like picking

endless flowers from earth carpets, sourced at our dreaming feet -

our human music - that mostly dies on paralysed teeth, concrete

tongue, brick lips; not freely given, like the gift of singing birds,

now rehearsing the open air concert of tomorrow, curtain at dawn.

Today I saw a crow flying by with a piece of toast!

Today I saw a crow flying by with a whole piece of toast!

What’s next - hedgehog out to forage for porridge,

fox with a box of Coco-pops? Clam with a ham -

cleg with an egg, ostrich with sausage, heron with melon,

snakes with cakes, bran flakes; flea drinking a cup of tea?

I hear that birds are starting to imitate mobile phone ringtones!

What’s next - ‘quiet trees’ assigned in the park?

Hellish chorus at break of dawn, mutant music,

even worse sung by birds - McFly soaring into the sky -

or Dove trilling Love, owl who howls, confirming fears,

Britney Spears; cockatoo doing U2 - thrush singing Lush,

or Rush; Chris Martin sung by a melancholy housemartin?

A metal heron singing Gill Scott Heron - Eagles into Eagles?

Crow screeching Sheryl Crow, Status Quo? A rockin’ robin?

(The hummingbird always humming something unknown,

but intruding into the blurred world of honey and flowers.)

And after that - some foal that’s into Snow Patrol?

Skunk that’s a punk, or into funk - a hip-hop frog,

louse into house - sheep bleating Ronan Keating,

chorus of mice singing Posh Spice? A mod cod,

rappin’ marten? Though I’d like to see a tuneful gnu

do a duet with a shy shrew; a penguin and hen attempt

Eminem – a rock n’ roll vole, thrash metal mole;

bats or rats singing selected extracts from Cats -

kiwi in a Panama reciting Dame Kiri Te Kanawa,

pilchard gurgling Cliff Richard, or Little Richard -

just never a cub, seagull, skunk, eating leftover burger,

junk; as twilight comes, ruined nightingales rehearsing

Crazy Frog - like Shakespeare ghostwriting for Tim Rice -

nothing very nice; oyster-catcher reading wicked speeches

by Margaret Thatcher. In the music that comes to fill Earth’s

morning and evening silences - her evolved notation of stars,

her choir is polluted, natural notation altered, discordant;

a cacophony emerges - that has never been heard before.

‘The ascent of the lark is/ invisible mending.’ Ian Hamilton Finlay

‘I have, also, reason to believe that humble-bees are indispensable to the fertilisation of the heartsease (Viola tricolour), for other bees do not visit this flower.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

‘Just as we understimate the degree to which human brains rely upon instincts, so we have generally underestimated the degree to which other animals are capable of learning. Bumble bees, for instance,  have been shown to learn a great deal from experience about how to gather nectar from different types of flowers. Trained on one kind, they are incompetent at another until they have had practice; but once they know how to deal with, say, monkshood, they are also better at dealing with similar-shaped flowers such as lousewort – thus proving that they have done more than memorise individual flowers, but have generalised some abstract principles.’ Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, Fourth Estate, 2000

‘What shall we say to so marvellous an instinct as that which leads the bee to make cells, which has practically anticipated the discoveries of profound mathematics.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

Bumble Bee Learning about Flowers

Bumping home on random kerbs of air,

through summer’s late, cloying light -

glistening, sticky with slow silver flies,

the fat bumble bee, drunk on siren saliva,

sugar sucked at tongues of flower mouths,

where he has entered and entered endlessly,

struggling fur into trumpet tunnels - purses,

upturned umbrellas, pursed or pouting lips,

swollen felts and velvets of red wine roses;

diving, swimming into long reluctant gloves,

persuading - squeezing into beginner buds -

belly-flopping into slattern daisies, akimbo

as can be - but entering the austere white lily,

sexy nun-flower in demure milk-wimple, her

virginal open throat, like the doors of a church.

Fumbling nectar addict - banded with gold

rings enough for every last flower, wedded

to his symbiotic, fertilising visit, mutual lust;

adding vocabulary to his hourly sugar-need,

until evening closes blackened throat-eyes -

flower ghosts hang droopy heads on flagpole

emaciated shoulders; creaking green hinges

raising leaf palms to welcome evening chill,

resting of summer mechanisms - chemicals

of panting photosynthesis - sugar factories -

offspring of light, earth; beauty as principle

of evolution singing colours to beguile bees,

now luminous, emanating moon-glow - dead

sunlight etherised by sweated fumes like saints

dazzled at night by their own haloes, holy stinks.

Droning drunkenly with a slovenly buzz,

golden-snowed - pollen burden bulging -

Bumble Bee hauls along, bouncing slowly

from hammock to electrified air hammock,

just clearing the aching pull of earth, sleep;

to return to the frantically gossiping hive -

fat furry duke, torpid with sugar liquor,

in waggling dance, circling sugar-maps,

tells his stories of a hundred days spent

corpulent, dizzy with scent, sunshine -

puffing along on his silly sliver-wings, 

silver splinters whirring rotund bulk -

wild among the androgynous flower sex,

temptation, seduction, moist sugar-ooze - 

fur belly rubbing, dusting his gouty, gold,

bulbous thigh - among drugging haloes

of calculating perfume breath, learning

of pattern, system, repetition; mastering

symmetries of petal art, remembering for

metamorphosis of gold light into honey -

more bees and flowers; plump apostle of

Summer’s presence, tiny disciple of sunlight.

How bitter our days - the taste in our mouths;

jutting impotent blades - even a wing splinter

gone, but for fossilised bone, desire or dream;

never learning the Bumble Bee’s determined

trick of cheating gravity, undoing theorems of

possible flight - but succumbing to earth,

her magnetic charms - thundering around,

lumbering, crushing everything underfoot;

as anti-Midas, everything we touch is turning

to ash, metamorphosing into extinction, death;

our Earth harmonies are lost - a forgotten tune

that haunts the head, irritatingly beautiful;

a broken poem that keeps reciting verses -

shining still amid sophisticated knowledge;

while the weary bee, his endless task of fertilising

the world done for another day, sobers for summer

evening’s final labour - his act of simple alchemy -

nectar into viscous gold, mathematically

chambered; understanding some patterns

of the Universe, operating in Bee World.

‘Thus I can understand how a flower and a bee might slowly become, either simultaneously or one after the other, modified and adapted in the most perfect manner to each other.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

My heart is a bird

Caught in a white cage of bone,

my heart is a stunted red bird -

whose fluttering, beating wings are folded,

no longer struggling on red and blue wires.

The lightness is amazing,

just papier mache weight -

like a mouse’s skeleton,

a dried up summer rose;

how could this ever have conducted

so much solar energy, mangled star-

dust; all that bright, frenetic passion

running through - as burning white

liquid, electrified current as the closest

translation of unnamed energy, power.

How can it ever have accomplished

the metamorphosis of original love

into red blood - siphoning the means

of ethereal chemistry from water, sea.

How can it ever have known inspiration

to power flight, been a symbolic muscle.

Good Morning, Mr Magpie

‘Good Morning, Mr Magpie’, I always say now,

after someone told me I must, as single magpies

mean sorrow unless you do, and hastily; so if I

never walk under ladders, throw salt over my left

shoulder and all that stuff, then why not - even if

superstition is due to some primaeval, buried gene,

it still feels real; meaning fear and reassurance both.

And I also realise that me and Mr Magpie -

and presumably Mrs Magpie even more so,

still share some genes; it’s clear, in our love

of shining, glittery things, deep in the DNA.

Why did it come? Why did it stay, as advantage

in us, with our jewellery boxes spilling like pirate

chests; their sparkling nests full of sweet wrappers,

milk bottle-tops, ring pulls, coins, cubic zirconium

prizes. One day, as I sat on ridiculously bright green,

manicured grass, I took off my jangling jewellery as

the jingling was irritating the sound of my book, and

a magpie swooped like a black and white bomber –

missed, as I, shocked, jumped up, spouting expletives;

but he stood his hopping ground, eyeing me greedily

like an armed thief, his beak poised, sharp, eloquent -

such avaricious eyes. So I threw him a cheap earring,

like giving up my purse to a knife-wielding mugger -

and he caught it up, with love in his round black eye,

which for a moment flashed thanks, quite as brilliant

as the glass jewel in his exciting gold; recognising our

mutual gene - preserved most weirdly in his covetous

avian heart, in uncurtailed pleasure at the human heist.

Why do we both covet these things in the world -

maybe because they attract light; or tether light?

Light comes down to them, alights; lives on such

hard skin, we can keep it near, like shattered water

sparkles our eyes into peace - diamonds have some

light inside that belongs to original stars, just like us.

‘Scotland's seabirds are having a "disastrous" breeding season, according to RSPB Scotland. It said mid-season reports had found cliffs, where there should be thousands of birds, almost empty. Parts of Shetland, Orkney and Cape Wrath in the Highlands were among the worst affected. RSPB Scotland said climate change appeared to be disrupting food supply, but added that more research would need to be done. The charity said Scotland's coastline supported 45% of the European Union's seabird breeding population… Common terns and guillemots were doing badly, while kittiwakes were holding on in the south and east. Norman Ratcliffe, seabird ecologist with RSPB Scotland, said chicks were not getting enough food. He said: "Some cliffs which should be packed with birds are just about bare as adult birds abandon the nest once their breeding attempt has failed. This is all linked to food availability, which can be disrupted for a number of reasons. "We're fairly certain that on the east coast, rising sea temperatures are leading to plankton regime shifts, which in turn affects fish like sand eels - a major food source for seabirds”.’ BBC News, 2007

‘…it is probably that organs which at a very ancient period served for respiration have been actually converted into organs of flight.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

Lungs are internal wings

Lungs are internal wings,

still skilled at utilising air,

though enclosed - caged -

flying in such small darkness,

unstarred space, warm wind –

even we will have flight, any

freedom - entrapped, landed

by natural selection in heavy

flesh, for our own good, then;  

will never surrender our genetic

dreams of sky, even now welded

to earth; each sigh another landing.

‘Parastic cuckoos are an oddity, and a fascinating one from the point of view of the Genetic Book of the Dead.’ Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow, Penguin, 1998

‘I believe the strange instinct of our cuckoo could be, and has been, generated…according to Dr Gray and some other observers, the European cuckoo has not utterly lost all maternal love and care for her own offspring.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

Cuckoos really say ‘Cuck-oo’!

I didn’t know until now that a cuckoo really says ‘Cuckoo’!

‘Coo-coo’, ‘Coo-coo’ -  like a cow actually saying ‘Moo’,-

instead of ‘mnnnnnnnnieu’ or something - a horse really

saying ‘Neigh’ instead of ‘niiiiiwhi’ - a cat ‘Miaouw’ not

aeeeeow’; dog coming up and going ‘Woof’, instead of

nrrrrufff’ or something; and I’d love to hear a pig saying

Oink’, ‘cos it’s a great word - but nothing like ‘offrrrum’.

And it’s an insult to that spooky throated oo-ing of an owl

to describe it as - ‘Tu-whit, too-woo’ - though other birds

nearly say ‘cheep’ I suppose, or ‘eep’ anyway…But this is not

onomatopoeia - cuckoos really sayCoo-co’, just imagine that!

Nor did I realise that she is the consummate comedian, the joker

with only one joke that always gets a laugh; timing, content,

delivery honed to hilarious perfection - she needs a good one,

this crazy mother, maternal love gone horribly wrong - feather

aberration, motherhood perversion leading to infanticide,

abandonment, deception; and what a start in life for baby

cuckoos too - they need a psychologist, not an ornithologist.

No wonder it’s a joke that’s taken millions of years to perfect.

‘Chee chew chee chew chee/ chew- cheer cheer cheer/ chew chew chew chee/ - up cheer up cheer up…’ Transcription of a Nightingale’s Song, John Clare

‘So little cause for carolings/ Of such ecstatic sound/ Was written on terrestrial things/ Afar or nigh around…’ Thomas Hardy, 1840-1928, The Darkling Thrush

‘And salted was my food, and my repose,/ Salted and sobered, too, by the bird’s voice/ Speaking for all who lay under the stars,/ Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.’ Edward Thomas 1878-1917, The Owl

‘And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!/ And he is no mean preacher; Come forth into the light of things,/ Let Nature be your teacher.’ William Wordsworth, 1770-1850, The Tables Turned

‘This name suddenly is cried out to me/ From somewhere in the bushes by a bird/ Over and over again, a pure thrush word.’ The Word, Edward Thomas

‘Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!/ Bird thou never wert,/ That from Heaven, or near it,/ Pourest thy full Heart/ In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.’ To a Skylark, Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792-1822

‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.’ John 1, 32, The Bible 

God Sent a Thrush

God sent a thrush to cheer me up.

Cheer me up when nothing else could -

he came like a light switched on,

fluttering out of nothing -

looked at me

as if there was someone in there

who had come as a bird –

a poet maybe.

Sing for me, thrush, sing -

beautiful thrush

with your speckled breast

grand as a leopard,’

I said, pushing my luck -

but he had come, hadn’t he,

miracle enough for any day;

plump with potential song -

puffed with unsung music.

And it seemed as he opened

his feathered score of notes,

unzipped his beak instrument,

pure green notes from the start

of the world rose up into leaves -

filled the open mouths of flowers,

as frilled cups of liquid music,

with silvery water; mercury beads

I once imagined was angel sweat

from creative labours about the world -

before dawn, during rain; myriad jobs

on evolving Earth - polishing rainbows,

frothing waves, watching lost children.

And now in the wet garden, evidence

of the brewing of sublime chemistry;

notated smell of incandescing green,

coaxing the earth to sing underfoot -

and it seemed I could remember

thrushes everywhere as a child –

singing in our rose gardens, cherry trees;

before we ruined them - extinguished

embodied song in avian ermine,

his princely familiar warbling - 

or maybe that was just the way

babies can see angels, ghosts

over your shoulder; children dance

with wind and water spirits, burning

red souls of wild autumn leaves,

then forget how - or no longer

notice the thrush or the leaf,

clutching at time like snow.

But today, God sent a thrush to cheer me up;

cheer me up when nothing else could -

into silence came song,

a hymn to wet morning;

and the poem of the thrush singing

printed our molecules, eye to eye.

Poem of the Swallows

The source and the poem will not tease apart.

The poem of the swallows stays live.

The swallows are their own poem

and have no need of me as anyone can see.

The swallows are their own perfect poem.

The swallows will not give up their poem to me.

The poetry of swallows, the right words to cage,

kindly, swallows on a page; to fly them in other

people’s hearts, stay locked in my hand and eye - 

though I feel them the way strawberry jam starts

to set in an old brass pan - coagulation, clotting

in swimming red; search parties of cells, neuron

prickle - that reaching, as swallows hurtle into perfect

Highland blue, just for the hell of it; internet whistling,

umbilical connection like a silver twister - a blind man

groping, almost touching - like fishing in the night

for Jesus; fear, anguish, coveting love of that perfect

little word, somewhere in an unknown place - eyed,

winged, fluttering; shy - elusive as the wild creature

it might best describe; and passion for a phrase lifted

fresh into existence - as all babies are absolutely new

though made from the same ancient ingredients,

endless power of genetic description, as organic

poetry stemming from the original words of life.

Jersey-milk bellies, backs of dully polished lead -

I never see their faces in this showy-offy swoop

and flicker; nearly mad, unnecessary but glorious,

so it is art - and only with art’s silver nets will they

condescend to capture - daring me lasso them if I

want more than the lost art of eye, heart, memory.

Touching tuning-fork tails - pinball birds zapped

by spring current powering through leaf and blade,

crackling sky - that star-atomed blue Highland air

breathed straight from God - bombing the flashing

burn, lightning imprisoned on earth in liquid, as ice

cages the soul of water - crazy light-snake pinned –

but struggling, electrocuting the landscape; so fired

hither and thither, electrified, exhilarated, they have

given themselves over as we have forgotten how to do,

always that solidifying, thinking ‘I’ in the background;

            a stake, forever conscious – always the shoulder blade,

never the wing - when even trees, which cannot move

their legs, lift up their arms - each new leaf shrieking

shrill green Hallelujahs! - still damp, shining-palmed

with the bright mark of spring, her light fingers; even

flowers cry out - singing from open black mouths -

the lambs in the field bounce and wriggle in woolly

operas of urgent milk, warm mothers, abandonment .

But look, in the white space, the unwritten galaxy

of a page – bright spider-eye, haired with thought,

conspires to spin a winkled word or two, now loop

a silken ink-string, raw materials of scribbling;

black letters tying their hands and feet at last –

and more will try to spin a web, crochet, knit -

sniffing the flying bird, reeling the bird though

it twitches, jerks - laughs like a kite - resisting

such cunning nets - adjectives, verbs, attempts

on its being, assaults on swallow essence, rigor

mortis of a bird in two dimensions on a page –

but I see the mother bird has tufts of gold grass

in her beak; I know their nesting site –

and for a moment, know that feeling

as she zooms and tumbles in the wind.