• Vol. 01
  • Chapter 05
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The Factory Explosion

After the factory blowed up we couldn't talk right for weeks. We got the smell over this way like an hour after the bang. While Mam picked up all the broken plates we was up on the tracks at the end a the garden. The trains was all stopped. We watched the smoke growin' and a lot of us wanted a get closer but for the time being we was confined to the garden. The clouds filled up with it and then the stuff comes down. You could feel it on your cheeks if you stood still and concentrated, but not on your hands if you held 'em out.

When we was all rubbing our eyes, Mam looks at us and says you get in now. The baby and me little sister had first dibs on the sinks, Mam splashing water on their faces but she couldn’t stop 'em crying. All the while she’s yelling at us to stop rubbing 'cause she thinks it’s making it worse. When it was my turn and I sees meself in the mirror it’s a real horror 'cause me lids are all swelled up and pink as rasbries.

We noticed the stuff on our tongues when we was eatin' our tea. We was on our own, Mam 'aving locked us in while she was running round all the neighbours'. Our sandwiches didn't taste right. The cheese was all prickly. Like battery tops. We fought the cheese was bad, but when we noticed the same taste was in everyfin, we realised it was our mouths.

In the mornin', our tongues was speckled all over and fat. We stuck 'em out and stared at each other's. We all 'ad monsters in our mouths. It was 'ard work to talk and none of us sounded right. It was freaky what Mam sounded like.

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4 Forms Cast in the Same Mold (?) & a Whiff of Tobacco

Articulating finitude from great expanse, the scalpel cuts dull where
line becomes more dense more thick more arbitrary more a blurring
of distinction ---- aquamarine.

She, there across sky across sea across border and ground and unlike
skin and that one small change, that one tiny blip in the code … & I,

This is the ground enmeshed with weed with root and this is the hand
that is turning and turning it; this is the small sign buried beneath, this
potato and its eye.


Tableau Vivant

throat       soft         wing       free        breath       warm
eye           bright      tail         quiver     plump       breast

head         bent        quiet       sleep       tail           down
plump       breast      bill         curve       soft          white

feather      soft         speckle    breast      chill         lids
pinion       quill        white      down      throat       still

still           breast      quiet       throat     shut          bill
cold          pillow      talons      stiff        pinion       wing


Keeping the Birds in the Air

It’s the eye – cupping my hand around each body,
as I cup my hands to form a tunnel
to mimic birdcall,
I lower my lips to each gaping eye and blow.

The bird is an animal of absence.
Take its ear – a hollow coiled inside its skull,
no surplus lobe –
the emptiness of talons with nothing gripped.

They don’t come to by blows,
a double blink, kick, able
stretch of wing. Rather the whole body thrills
they upright themselves and go.

Its their little cages that keep them distinct –
without them, nestled, embedded,
we’d watch a reverse transmigration of souls,
the tit, the starling absorbed into the blackbird.

Watching a bird litter an open field,
feathers in increasingly dense clumps, we see
the latent ugliness of things not in use – the wing
torn from a playground bird is horrific

but wholesale we get the real thing
a mirror to our own sleeping.
I am tired by my own efforts, to lift
each body close to my lips, then the livening,

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averse elegy

I heard there is a sky that flies us.
I guess that is where you are now.
I must say gravity does not suit you --

you are not made to weigh down on anything.

And it is with a certain reluctance that I write this eulogy:

There is no peace in your stillness.


A Brace of Sleepers

Stacked and preened,
we lie belly to back,
back to belly,
resigned to a heap.

Thrush, Starling,
Sparrow, Warbler,
no more hedgerows,
trees will not house us.

so many plumed sleepers
pictured, in artistic recreation.

A Victorian feast-
a wild menagerie
of depressing wildlife
frozen stiff.

This stacked hill:
comfortable commuters
on an empty train going nowhere.


Til we tumble

I am the bird at the bottom, lie on me, I beg, there is no pain in it, my loves. I am the bird at the bottom, cannot see above, further than the bird atop my chest, I breathe, and breathe best when there is something pressing down. I am the bird at the bottom, there may be anything below, there is no way for me to know unless we fall, unless we all are tumbled. But til then, I am the bird at the bottom, breathing, breathing.


Ma never liked me killing birds. She preferred to hear them singing. Or watch them gliding through the sky. But Goody and I? We killed them for fun. It was something we did in the springtime when the trees were coming into bud and the birds had flown back, reclaiming the branches for their own.

Goody – I called him that ‘cause his aim was so good, well, he pretty much slung shot the lot. Warblers, hawfinches, robins, chiffchaffs. He’d pull back the stone and release it at a speed, biting his lip and holding his breath until he made impact, sending feathers flying like smoke. I’d collect the dead. Silent beaks and broken wings.

Ma, she thought it was cruel, but it wasn’t really. It’s just what happens in life. The bigger things conquer the small. Fox kills sheep. Cat kills mouse. Cancer kills man. And woman. On it goes.

If you’ve ever held a dead bird before you’ll know that they’re lighter than light. It’s a wonder they don’t get battered half to death by winds, especially up where we were – The Shetlands. The wind ripped through the air at a pace in Yell, howling past the windows. It used to sound like screaming. There was a lot of screaming back then.

In those days I used to take the wee birds home, and sit under the big tree outside our house while ma was bed. Stuck in her room with the stale air. I’d examine their bodies and stroke their feathers, sometimes plucking them free sending them sailing away on a breeze.

Goody did it for sport, but I liked to keep the bodies. I’d cut them open and peel away the insides, slipping out the pink flesh like a jewel, and hooking out the gristle - taking out the bad and stuffing the skin with cotton. Once I’d finished sewing them up they looked like new.

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In the past tense, it was a bird.

Whodunnit didn't matter, whether it was 'I, said the sparrow,' or the snowy-, or the barn-, hoo-ever. Who lays the blame on top of each other like that hand-slapping game for two? There's never a winner: pull the bottom one out - the whole thing beetles over.

By the cliff's edge, we'd not thought to find a dunnock, a sparrow, like, with those markings. It was way out of its neck of the woods. Seabirds live on those cliffs in vertical colonies without the hazards of horizontal pairing. It might have been one of them that did for it. The Country Code says 'cliffs have inherent dangers,' but that's a horse of a different feather. When I picked it up, its neck flopped back. It was only recently dead.

I didn't know the name 'til after, but that was where we were, outside Dunnet, a village in Scotland with its Mary-Anne's Cottage Museum of Crofting Life, its C H Haygarth & Sons Scotland's Oldest Practicing Gunmakers, its family-run hotel with twelve bedrooms and two bars, its church whose history dates from 1280 - but like I said, who's counting?

When something's gone it's gone. I'm only winging it through here.

All writers are itinerary. And all books look the same in the dark.


Songbird Soup

Songbird Soup
Collecting at dawn
calm after the savage of storms.
Flat-footed he walks. Silent.
First, the starling,
a multiverse upon his chest,
placed reverently in hessian.
A scarlet-hatted cardinal comes next,
discovered beneath pre-religious pine.
A twig cracks
and those that live cloud to the skies.
Jay has already died,
mocking ceased
by wind and rain
and tumultuous wrath.
Barefoot treads the wood-strewn path
floating above discarded needles
he feels no pain.
His search now is for Dear Kitty
believed drowned in hail.
Bag full, he lays them to rest as he prepares the pot.
Some he’ll bake,
some will sing again in bubbling broth.

How to Stare into Space

From a first date using fifty pence to buy her ham
and tomato sandwich wrapped in polythene
you then split by the canal, watching the starlings
wheel over the railings, and the green hands
of deadfall, twigs, up to the lip, float
down stream as she gracefully talked the difference
out of love and back to being friends.
And later, she became friends with you
a phone call to say she was in town, the cuffs
not dry on your shirt from laundry day, off
to meet her on the bald wooden chairs
eating sweet mayonnaise and black blistered
jacket potatoes, where Rod was out,
out of the picture, Have you ever wondered,
you say into space, what Prince does
on his days off? Goes to the park and rescues
fallen birds for the RSPCA, the only human
who might not smell human to birds.
The answer does not matter.
You are friends now, she reaches across
and pinches your index finger awkwardly.
You are busy thinking Prince probably
hangs out with Rod, hair pushed into a shock
on the roller coaster photo print out
while playing solitaire,
kicking chestnut leaves into the air,
sharing loaded glances over a cigarette machine at Bingo.
Rod’s terrible bongo player, but she has good taste
perhaps Prince and Rod are lovers,
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Marcus stopped showing people his work, because they kept saying it was perfect. That confused and frustrated him. The imperfections were obvious. If people couldn’t tell him they saw them, then what else were they lying to him about?

So he stayed in his shed with the bodies of birds, with his wire and his glue and his scalpel. He didn’t kill for his work. He was not sick. Instead, he pulled starlings from cats’ teeth, harvested fallen finches from below the window they smashed into. They would leave tiny ghosts behind, faint feathers printed on the glass. Marcus always made sure the window was well polished afterwards. He was not sick, but he was not stupid.

And, feather by feather, toe by claw, he set the small bodies back on their perches, with glittering, quizzical eyes and sharp bright beaks. But never good enough for Marcus, never perfect. Very rarely, he lost his patience and hurled another rejected work onto the pile. His birds would roll and scatter like soft stones, like objects, like things not right.

One day, he left his shed and fell in love. This was an accident and an inconvenience. Marcus found the whole process terrifying and complicated. Compared to this, taxidermy was a simple matter of following the instructions. She made it clear that his hobby was important to him and he should continue doing what made him happy. He visited the shed less and less.

And without him noticing, all his years, all his thoughts were his wife and children. They filled his world. The world turned. It turned until the day he woke up and Katie was dead. And there was no world any more.

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The Babel of Birds

London underground
you eat your chicken sandwich
while waiting for the train

(the call of thousands of birds
pierces your chest
and there’s no escape
except in the illusion
of horizontal movement)

you gulp down the last bite
and there is sky erupting
from the gap
between the platform and the train

today you travel upwards
inside this tower cemetery of birds
inside this endless column
of Brâncuși.


The Mysterious Chord

I told her they were sleeping.

A cliche, like death.

A prolonged lapse of unconsciousness, ellipses thrumming the air like an unknown guitar chord. My heart flaps like a hummingbird's wing.

But she is not afraid. She is fascinated.

She investigates the pile like a detective. Birds plucked out of the sky, almost hierarchical in their arrangement. Claws outstretched, reaching for something. At least, she'd like to think so. She has waited so long for a bird to land on her hand, trying to scatter salt on their tails; a pixie's dust, an long discarded old wives' tale.

But she does not touch them. She sits by the pile, bewitched, as if the birds have held her there. For it is their own sparkle, propelled by that Mysterious Chord, that has drawn us in. A haunting elegy.



How can death be so neat, so exquisite?
How did they die so cleanly, arranged
to satisfy the rules of art in a contrived
pyramid of corpses, a bird world ‘Pietà’?

They are so real I could pick them up,
nestle each perfect form in my hand,
spread out a wing for inspection,
stroke each downy feather.

But should I grieve for the birds, or marvel
at the artist’s skill, the unerring mastery
of form, and the delicate contrasts -
Life in the hand, death in the eye?
Requiem Æternam.


In a flap

I didn’t want to be one of those women - twittery and flappy, but jeez, the bloody starling was still breathing, its tiny chest moving up and down. Hanky had punctured something, her feline teeth tearing through bird flesh like it was tissue. I rang Gary and said it was an emergency, well, not exactly an emergency, but yeah, it was actually, and could he get home early. And then, I know this was bad, I shut the lounge door and went upstairs, leaving Hanky and the dying bird together, telling myself I was letting nature take its course, and hoping I wouldn’t reopen the door to a room full of feathers and meat.

“Be careful with it, Gaz,” I instructed, and he assured me he would. “Bury it, please, ” I asked. “Make sure it’s properly dead though Poor thing .”

He was outside for about ten minutes, told me it was dealt with, and I was so grateful. One of those moments I felt lucky to have him in my life. The starling was only the first though - over the next couple of days it seemed Hanky had declared war. A wee tit panic hopped around the lounge before keeling over. I leant against a wall, clawing at my own hands, feeling like a Victorian woman needing smelling salts. When Gary got home we talked about the need to keep the back door closed.

Hanky batted one bird around the patio for ages as I watched from indoors, wincing as her claws hooked into flesh. Another had a broken leg that it dragged behind as it tried to escape.

“Where are you burying all these birds? ” I asked Gary.
“You don’t need to worry about that. ”

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s/t [for lack of an opportune inspiration]

even then it was not Cupid, nothing else
to add about that, but instead it was the triple
arrow of time that pinned me down
a good long time as a middle-aged
San Sebastian, mortally wounded
by entropies, although
I do admit that through the nights
after studying the high heavens,
I entertained myself searching for versions
of that same long unceasing complaint,
like this one, for example, of Alejandra Robles:
or that of Baby Rasta and Gringo
(and please forgive the reggaeton reference):
passing by this tiny gem
for all a/Ages:
even so, I went on to find one more version
that I finally stuck with,
is it not enough?, as a way of consolation
not for philosophy but for plain exhaustion
and in a hearty envy of others luckier

ps.1> you must remember: not about love (mine, yours)
but about this triple arrow of time,
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Third from the bottom

There's that smell of blood; old, thick, sour. You had been still for a while, your breaths sucked back into your bodies, your lives pissed into the soil on which we lay piled like mummies in a pyramid. Only, I was wasn't dead enough; the odd man out.
    Most days, I wake up with that red smell lodged in my nose, seeping into my sinuses, making my tongue feel salted and meaty. I was third from the bottom, second from top, tucked in the middle of your unfamiliar bodies. You were warm at first, then you stiffened above me and under me. All I had to do was take one deep breath, and you - the one on top of me - would topple off my back. But as the men walked past, prodding dead limbs with borrowed guns, eager to find a flesh still twitching, you seem to grow heavier, pinning me to the others like brothers meeting after years. The white of your eyes looking at the yellow sky seemed to please them; they moved on. What would your mothers think of me? This man, undead, covered in their sons' sieved bodies. Pretending; while guns sang and bullets found their way into deep places, between shoulder blades and in the guts of better men.
      I'm alive, still. Still alive. But when I sleep on my bed, I'm always third from the bottom, second from top. I'm between you, my brothers. Pretending to sleep like the dead.

Collecting the last papers

They were mainly game bird corpses arrayed all around the ground floor of the barn; an endless necklace for some Nordic God. Marion - whose decaying family papers I had come to rescue from the attic space above - was sitting leaning against her stick in Lady C's kitchen. As the sun fell into the Autumn fields I negotiated the stairs and carried box after box through the avian morgue, holding my breath. Letters, diaries, school exercise books from Eastbourne in 1908 and carefully worked accounts for the house in South Wales. Who owns the hierarchy of birds? I asked myself this question over and over all the way back to Liverpool. Remembered my own grandmother who worked as a farm labourer. She would have picked their soft bodies from the ground, cold in their feathers, uncookable Starling and all, and avoided his Lordship's eye.

Impressions of Death

He made the switch from life to death.

Life classes presented petrified models. He sketched them as best he could, but was always sensitive to unbidden twitches.

A bird found dead in his garden suggested alternatives. Taking it indoors, dusting it down, he had drawn it. He decided to pursue lifeless models.

How to unearth similar subjects? He would begrudge rummaging in the undergrowth for luckless carcasses, a slapdash body snatcher with a sack for his dead.

From a butcher, he sourced severed heads. As he sketched, he had half-expected them to blink their eyes open, bewildered at their decapitated state. They had made for disturbing models. He would only draw the dead intact.

He made enquiries. A sympathetic taxidermist granted him access to his menagerie.

He arranged deathly tableau: a tower of birds, a pyramid of kittens, a sparrow using a cat's head for pillow.

The tower of birds had tumbled. Even in a state of rigor mortis they failed to tessellate. They stacked on paper only, superimposed figures ascending heavenwards.

Spreading wings, he made further enquiries. He left details with a zoo, was on call to record exotic departures.

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Warm Songbird Salad

Like dumplings, the little bodies are a soft handful each. Pick them and test carefully for ripeness, for a trilling heartbeat. Look for clear eyes and closed beaks; discard any beaks that have opened. Shaking the bodies may release any song trapped in the throat.

Comb all feathers to the point of frill. Sort according to size but don't forget - smaller birds may taste sweeter.

Add lemon zest, pomegranate seeds, baby rice, a trail of breadcrumbs. Adjust ingredients according to arbitrary fashion.

Bake in the centre of a gas oven. Watch carefully as they cook, checking for loss of colour and iridescence. The trick is to render the birds exotic enough to entice, familiar enough to comfort, tender enough to confuse. This may take several attempts, over the course of years. Before you try, set more traps.

Season to taste. Leave overnight in a cool, dark place.

Serve with a garnish of wasted sighs.



Plummeting from darker skies
Brothers in pillared wing
Severing connected ties
No longer shall they sing.


Where is the hands that laid these birds one atop the other?
Where is the tree from which they fell?
Where is the colour of life bleeding in to and out of everything?
Where is the ground?
Where is the sky?
Is this one bird, or two, or three, or four?
Is this why they cling to each other?
Would you cling to something real, but dead, in the absence of absence?


The frost came in the night, unbidden. Winter was pretending to be spring, mild and much too moist. Armed with sandbags and wellies, we grew complacent. Too busy worrying about the rain, the riverbanks, and flood planes, we forgot about the cold. It was March, yet there had been no snow. No sprinkling in November, no dusting in December, no flurry in February. Scarves had been worn, but more as an accessory, their purpose merely decorative. Gloves and hats remained tucked in cupboards, enjoying an unnaturally long hibernation.

It came quick, sneaking up blades of grass, crawling over twigs and fallen leaves, easing up tree trunks and shimmying along branches. It crystalised cobwebs, then talons, feet, beaks and feathers. The thickest of down was no match; it crept in every crevice and pore, permeated skin and membrane, chilling blood and bone and marrow. They died as they slumbered.

After the pale rays of a halfhearted morning sun melted the nimble sparkle from every surface within its reach, they began to fall. Starling, thrush, sparrow, robin, tit and finch. Even the exotic green of a parakeet. They littered the lawn beneath the bare ash and oak, such perfect little corpses.


I create a storm

I created a storm,

Storm enough for shipwreck,

And the wreck of me escaped to a place where I would find hummingbirds among the jacaranda trees and in the warm night rest.

I created a storm,

And I, wreck, swam through the high sea and sank soft into the sand of that place where hummingbirds flashed and jacaranda flowers lived for a day, then, bruised and crushed, fell on the ground before me where I lay.

The storm of my escape, my conceit,
Led me back here, to the garden.

There is no paradise and birds do not hum around the great grey oak.
Because you are not here there is no warm night.

Then I create a storm,
and wreck, and search,
and all I find is a stack of feathered pebbles,
a miniature cairn,
a pile of lifeless bodies on the ground where I lay,
bruised and crushed.


As Intended

“No!” “No?” “No” Sullen faces hang dejectedly towards the floor in an effort to be swallowed by gravity, they are thwarted only by their stubborn attachment to bodies too practiced through time and decorum not to collapse. This last condemnation was almost whispered under his breath as if to himself, satisfying that all that could be done had been done, there was only one conclusion. No. The final confirmatory death knell delivered through a mouth equally at home chewing culinary art as chewing dreams and spitting them out in monosyllabic sentences. The lips, still greasy with the efforts of this dreamer savoured the hung faces, not in any glee of destruction for destruction’s sake. No. He was a builder, a creator, an architect of culinary direction and if the shanty towns of his city had to be brought down for the greater good then so be it. The city had become rank with corruption.

“That’s right, no. You so-called food artists have lost your way. You’ve been beguiled and duped by your own arrogance and led astray by your fetid imaginations. What do you have to show for your wayward efforts? This…platter of death? No. It will not do. Do you not see? Wild experimentalism has brought us to the brink of obscenity. We have been enthralled by TV cheffery and its false idols of cuisine. Birds stuffed in to birds, pine nut foam, liquid nitrogen liquorice, octopus lollypops, little itsy bitsy flower pie deconstructed post modern sprinklings of congealed air and misguided intentions. And now this insult to nature on a plate.

“We need to move beyond this fluffery. We need to realise that ‘progress’ is not always for the better. I, with my specialised team, have been working to once again redefine what real flavour is, pure, beautiful, as nature intended, I call it ‘4 deid burds.”


They’re Just Sleeping. It’s Okay.

The road thumps over kind of switchback. We could hit a tree, or be hit by a full-on daddy elk, huge and oh. I don't want the daddy elk to hit us, to leave his cows alone with their babies & poachers in the gorge. There, a mile up. It is a little raccoon sleeping on the road's zipper. I can't see in my rearview mirror whether the silly little napper had his pajamas on. We talk about making a raccoon roadhouse, a place for them to sleep and twitch off the road, away from us and wheels in general when some young buck starts to tango with my sedan. Finally, after I think of Isadora scarves and road wrecks: home, with no pelt, no blood. We make love after beer and paleo snacks. Those lil nappers, those silly little sleeping animals. We there in the rainy night, piled up like baby birds in a feather bed.

When the Night Birds Glow

Zenor approaches. The nightbirds glow.
It is time to prepare. We must go
to the mountain with the others and
wait for the light, as it is written
in the ancient stones.

Zenor approaches. More nightbirds flow
with the silent wind. They tell us—now
is the time. We must hurry up the mountain
to the place, before we end
and are left as burning bones.

It is very close. Many nightbirds throw
their fire feathers to the ground, no
more to fly. We, half-buried in the sand
wait for the light from the other end
to come, to purge our groans.

Zenor approaches. All the nightbirds glow.
Just hold me. There is no tomorrow
for us. But we pray tonight’s children
will find the new world in sintered sand
their place safe in crystal zones

until Zenor comes again with woe
for them, yanking planet to and fro
from dark to light, its fires fanned
in stellar winds, as if destiny planned
millennial moans.

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Dead Feathers, Dead Fathers

I lie on top of the ground where you are now buried. And the forefathers before you. I lie on top of the pile now having relinquished life for a while.

For years I had been wondering what it might feel like to be where you are, now I know. State of existence, breath, life - all of them a myth. Our past, too, is a lie, and so is our present. Perhaps that is why we chase our future with such assiduity. Only the future can make things all right.

When I last saw you lying there that lonely autumn evening - motionless, cold, quiet, I wondered what happened to that part of your being that used to react to things. Had you really seen me enter the room, you would not have continued to lie there. You would embrace me, hold me tight and ask me if I was tired after the long journey. That evening you chose to remain quiet, and since then I have forever been blaming myself for your silence. I had reached home, only a life time late. The nest was gone. Only bodies piled under our treeless heaven. My forefathers and yours. Today, I rest on top of the pile.

For a long time I thought about the state you were in. There was this need to understand, to know you are safe, wherever you are. You used to get lost in the tiny supermarkets of Tura. How would you travel across the zita riticuli, across time, through worm holes and beyond? How was I to know if you reached safely to the Haydes where eternal sunshine and Spring abound?

Today I think I have the answer.

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The battle of the birds

They waited for battle
chirping all the old familiar songs,
a real dawn chorus of a feast.
Those with the brightest
plumage puffed out their chests,
and gave the orders to fire.
Soon the feathers flew,
the chirping replaced
with squawking and screeching.
The old French maids
had never heard such a hullabaloo
They threw their hands up in horror
and fled to the hills.

One by one the birds fell,
even the old guard toppled off their perches.
When the slaughter had ended
an eerie silence reigned.
The shell-blasted craters were littered
with bodies, bird on bird,
eyes sparked out
beaks still standing to attention.


Still Life

Starling, chaffinch, goldfinch, wren
When shall we four meet again?
On a summer sun-dozed hill
Unter den Linden, on window sill,
Near the brook by sodden moss
Above the head of candy floss
Behind the Gothic country church
Amongst the graves and silver birch
Flocked upon dusty verges
Where crystals, silk and sunshine surges
To fill the air with angel song
An eternal feathered throng
Or must we lie in ordered mound
Still, warm and soft but without sound?
Some believe we'll be reborn
To one day have our portraits drawn.


A Still Life in Tiers

This assassin is a ruination.
Lookouts – Sparrow today –
never know when he will appear,
at birdbath, feeder or towards sky.

It’s not right –
our best feature is our vocals,
the perfect pitch and rhythm.
No, no, it’s a striking vibration
on the easterly, and he strikes.

The bow, feather-fletched,
fires the zing of air.
No hedgerow for comfort,
no call for territory now.

Cleaved, diverse and elaborate,
as stiff stacks of feather tracery,
we become queenly fillings for
Elizabeth’s songbird pie.



back to chest,
curved white, black
patched, chest to chest,
back to back; all plumpness
with sheer edges; the hesitation
of claws, a beak dash; feathers brittled
to beached razor shells; steeled feathers
a whetted blade on butcher slab, unsheathed
to fight off the moment after this moment of near
-sleep beauty, that moment when maggots untangle
the delicacy of coiled intestines and death plucks song
from cut throats, flight from taut muscles, light from loosed
guts, unreeling. Strong wings folded, the arc sweep of wide tails
pared, bodies reduced to bared bones. Long night falls,and history
rushes by, the unlit pyre levelled now: birds to worms, worms to soil;
lifting to drifting, shifting to sifting, silting to settled; soil to new earth.



The littlest one crowns
Death’s ziggurat, it of
berries and bits to live. The
greatest, who devoured
the most worms, greedy
and a-strut, vain in its
iridescence, bullying
those below, is no
foundation, only base.

Seethes a great, endless
storm. At any given
moment, some feed
on the worms of desire,
some cower in bowers,
some throw wings
over their young,
and some dare winds,
thundering lightning.

All fall, it must be said,
for all forget. Once fallen,
what? All moments are
given. If born into the air,
does one dream of flight?
What further freedom
eludes? What does a witch
who needs no broomstick
want for but everlasting life?



A museum grows by the animal, adding each new specimen to the stack in the cabinet drawer. The latest, perched at the top, push the older ones down like tweets; in this way dinosaur bones are found deep inside the earth. Accumulating, their bodies feather the collection until the building can grow another wing. Generations pile up to be prepared, to be labeled and described. The features of their bodies mean that everything can change. Beaks grow, claws shrink. A perfectly round egg is laid, but what hatches from it is an IMAX theater.

Falling Back

Falling back.

On to. Each other.

They'll rest in one other's ribcages, interlock and become the fossil of some creature you never knew existed.

Eight wings of different sizes flapping in resistance to one another. Six talons for grabbing grubs, two that seem to hold the heads in place. The longest beak is ornamental, it would have been used for calling only; the other three are for eating.

How would this monster move? Four brains means four planes of thought. Four planes of thought means much too much over thinking.

What fossils will be left of us?

Here lay the remains of...

He who...

She who...

They were.

Returned to the worms they had eaten, who will, when their bodies have turned to mud, eat them. And then their babies will eat the worms, and the circle will be complete.

This opaque cannibalism will be beautiful. It is the truth, after all. It is continuity. The essence of Before is always in Next.

If you could pull the string out of your mouth, if you could wind it through all of your arteries without breaking it, you would find your mother attached to the other end.


Three Finches and a Starling

The sweet high
tseep-tseep of the
goldfinch – the one
Fabritius set on the top
of that curious box
in his painting –
dwindled to silence.

Carduelis carduelis,
with his thistle-hunger
and bloodied face that
tells Raphael’s
Christ child of the
sharp thorn-crown,
now weighs so little.

The chattering
starling underneath
the pile of finches.
Stumpy, speckled,
sharp-billed, clever
and sociable. Reduced
to a study in feathers, strong
claws, a delicate breastbone,
a poem’s soft armature.


The Hunt

Flying, falling, fighting
They flee.
Despite the chaos;
I can still see.
Sport, a sport that we play -
You must understand, they’re natural prey

I zone in on the biggest
I take my aim
Power pulling at my fingertips
I state my claim
Sport, sport is what I say,
Don’t be foolish, they’re our natural prey

Stupid, slow and languid
This fat waste of air
Pidgeons, rats – not peacocks
Why must you dismay?
Sport, it’s a sport. They are our prey.

My gun, my arm, my eyes
Are poised to take note
Two with one shot.
One straight through the throat
Sport, it’s just a sport, okay?
You must understand it’s the only way.

Feathers flying everywhere
Soon – dead or flown – they’ll be gone.
Go on, have a go -
Read more >



The presentation virtually aches off the plate. Folded, nestled, lain. Perfectly punctured, skewered heart-to-heart.
But my tongue seeks the brown bruises of cep, the shameful blushes of a capsicum; maybe the playful intrusion of some cilantro.
No, Chef. Four birds do not a kebab make.

The Bird Charmer

In the city, between 03.13 and 05.13 hours, the side streets were filled with birdsong. It trilled loud, clear, overlapping melodies. Auburn sat with his ear pressed to glass, listening. I don't know how anyone sleeps through it, he said to himself, because no one else was there.

Nightly, fresh home from his work shift, Auburn sat waiting for his favourite sound to start. He wouldn't turn in until the last birdcall was finally drowned deep by steady, coming-and-going traffic.

He got to thinking, sometimes out loud. There had to be a way so as he could hear the birds at any time of day. Keep that sound to his timing, enchant his days with it.

Bernie said they were wild things and that Auburn shouldn't try to catch them.

'But wild things might be missing a little home comfort,' Auburn said. 'They might be aching for walls and bedding and stuff.'

Auburn remembered, on his travels through India, he'd seen a snake charmer. A white-robed man, performing dancing magic with his serpent friend. Auburn bought a flute. It seemed to serve in his memory as the right kind of instrument.

He had a reasonable amount of difficulty learning to play it right, so that the birds would hear. He kept the notes high, flighty. Days passed, weeks. One night, when the moon was full round and Auburn's window pulled wide open, four birds came to rest on his window ledge. He gave them names and fed them seeds.

Read more >


Blank Slate

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a flyin...


I always imagined I'd see the birds piled up neatly. The animals carefully placed aside, just out of harm's way, but it wasn't like that at all. Instead there was nothing. It was awkward really. Bill once said, people couldn't handle babies & animals shown dead on TV. But their absence made it unrealistic. Now I'm thankful for that absence.

I'm walking around and I see nothing. No one. No traces. Just everything in its proper place. Almost like a kid had just cleaned up their playhouse. It's perfect, beautiful even. But I'm still confused.

I don't know what to do. So I find myself running. I live on the edge. Chicago. Oak Park. Chicago. Cicero. Berwyn. It's all the same. So I go back to my starting point. I wonder if I am dreaming or dead. Do they see me? Am I experiencing a psychotic break? I stand in the middle of the street. Are they swerving around me? I'm now in the middle of of the oncoming expressway ramp. I'm lying down. They can't pass me if they're there. I'm rolling down. But nothing. Emptiness. Asphalt. 290 is blank. And I'm left alone.

My mind wanders to what I have & haven't done. Did Paul get my package? Will I ever meet Karen's baby? Will I ever see my mother's warm smile again? Did I miss my chance to explore Berlin with Johanna? Is it just Chicago? What about Chuckles out east, or Mish in Kentucky. Anthony, Kimmay, Song. Are they okay? Are they alive? Were they ever real? I'm so confused.

I hear nothing. Just deafening silence. Lisa told me once the deaf are always hearing a sound, a constant white noise. Read more >


Borders Hill

Bobbie came over to me and touched me nicely, made the back of my neck and my arms wet with his mouth. I was trying not to think a the birds above us, like butterflies beating 'gainst a wall. When he was moving on top a my back I liked it, a lot, 'till he got up and pushed the pile a birds over with his stick, came back down on me. I didn't like it all that much then.

If I'd'a been older maybe I wouldn't'a had sex with Bobbie. If I was curvier, browner, had golden lights in my hair like all the girls at school had, maybe I wouldn't'a done it. But I didn't have lights in my hair. And I did want it.

We were younger than we shoulda been, but Ma always said you're always too young when you do stupid things. And I don't think I did a stupid thing, I just didn't think everyone would get so mad.

Bobbie said Borders Hill was where birds flew around trees and went to die. I said he was lying, he said he wouldn't lie to me, and I remember his hands on my cheek, big like his Pa's, and his cat eyes, and he whispered something, but it was too quiet to hear.

We went up to Borders Hill after school, when Ma was taking my baby brother to the tooth doctor for his wobbly teeth, and Pa was still working in the city. Bobbie said we'd have plenty a time to see the flying birds and I thought yes, yes we would.

Borders Hill was cold. I could hear these beating wings and singing leaves in the wind, and it seemed to make it colder. The trees were big and dark, space enough between them so these birds could fly around like bees. Read more >



They lie still,
I look for a sign of life, of movement;
But there is none.

I take them,
Swaying gently in a plastic bag,
To the unwanted, unkempt land.

I set them down,
In a small hollow and cover it in mud and pebbles;
They are no more.


Dear Dodo

You want your chicken free range. You won't have any poultry that has been caged on your table – if you're having any meat that is – but you're fine with people being overworked (that includes yourself) in über-modern half-lit boxes, taking and giving abuse, barking, biting, stinging, venomous, enraged, their bodies piling up...

Pets are nice. They have rights and need to be protected from those you'd never date, 'cause people aren't so nice. Wet dog smell is nice. Partner snoring is not nice. Cat sitting on your book is nice. Father interrupting your reading's not nice. Cleaning the bird's cage is fine. Cleaning the hair your boyfriend leaves in the bathroom's gross. Men are not nice. Women are not nice. Cows deserve a better life. Birds, oh, birds are beautiful! Your mother castrated your two younger siblings, emotionally. You haven't spoken to your brother in years, but you speak to your bonsai tree. And to your homegrown tomatoes. And to your goldfish. You write about empathy. You read about kindness. You signed a petition campaigning for the abolition of Ortolan Bunting eating in France. You have a back garden now, with a greenhouse. You're proud of your marigold, and the humming bees. You've never been to France. You dream. Wings forever fly. Formidable freedom. The panopticon gaze. Proud or conceited? A modest plumage or a lavish coat? You dream?

I wish you'd wake up to come with me to the Abbey of Thelema, where they feast on the tiny little things, swallowing them whole, not even hiding their greed from God. Dear Dodo, forgive my grotesque utopia, but the only way to dispose of it, is to suck it out of me, to suck it dry, Dodo.



Jonny would whimper and cry when he heard the whistle. I didn’t understand. In fact, I was jealous. I’d wait in my pyjamas on our landing upstairs and hide in the shadows listening to the whistle turn into song, and Jonny sobbing softly. I was jealous that they had a secret. I tried to catch them out. I heard the song crescendo, and bounded out of my bedroom to reveal their secret. My feet slipped and scratched along the landing as they caught in my pyjama bottoms. I tripped and stumbled to Jonny’s bedroom door; I burst in but was disappointed to find the guttural rasp of the song had disappeared. Jonny was asleep, his cheeks singing crimson. His fist were curled into balls like scones, small and pale, and his forehead was carved with a frown like some hieroglyphic enigma.
I kissed his forehead and returned to my bedroom, fighting with the fibres of my pillow to listen for the whistle once more.
For weeks, the singing stopped. The secret seemed to have dissipated into the night, and I hoped it would not return.
I found Jonny, naked but for a t-shirt, in the tool-shed. At first I giggled when I saw his bare bottom squatting in the corner. He had his back to me, and seemed to have one of Dad's tools in his tiny hand. It was then that the smell hit me. It came in waves of pennies and tasted of metal in my mouth, and then hung like old meat in the air. It engulfed my throat and made me vomit.
I heard Jonny faintly singing and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. My eyes stung. ‘Jonny?’
He snapped his head around to face me. His eyes were blood red, and his crimson cheeks were stained with dirty fingerprints that seemed to drag across his mouth.
Read more >


“Take some lark's tongues . . .
one wren, one robin, thrush,
and so continuing, take a swan . . . “

As in a nursery rhyme gone wrong,
the birds are off song, pathetic
feet curled, clutching nothing.

This is silence after song,
rest after exertion,
beauty nestled in its long continuum.

This is winter's toll,
soil in the making
as are we all.


Ornithologists, Cringe

Ornithologists rejoice! Or cringe, depending on your outlook on the study. Its roots, purpose and yes, culture.
This year's winner was a young chap from just inside county lines, meaning just within jurisdiction to be eligible to apply for the stacking competition. This young snap was trained by grandmother and nature alike, honing both keen eye and balancing ability from a very early age. Pishuanta County in particular prides itself on the traditions of bird stacking from tracking and hunting to stuffing and balancing. The land is so that high pine and low marsh abut in such a way that the ecosystem thrives on diversity. Tree climbers and mosquito eaters alike fraternize in communal splendor.
And so it goes that bird stacking has embedded itself in the rural traditions. No watermelon spitting, pie eating, nor frog leaping here, just plain old piles of fowl.
The most prized come from those that find birds that don't want to be found. Those that have grown suspicious of the calls and traps, passing down their completely founded paranoia on to offspring.
Those that reject this hobby recall days of bird watching that was simply that - watching. They reject the history of catching a rare bird, mounting it on gnarled and buffed pine and presenting it as marriage proposal. They reject the tradition of standing ones ground, watching and waiting, then striking at just the moment to ensure feathers, beak, legs and eyes stay in tact. Like a master sculptor bird stackers meditate on just where to place spotted peckerel. What comes next? Blue beaked sparrow? And the crown of the stack? Well that goes to the beautiful and elusive rainbow moral hummer.
So, ornithologists cringe. Or rejoice. For this house of cards will not soon fall.

Danny Boy

Eddie Teague was sat at the old, twisted and grubby oak table in his great-uncle Solomon's antique shop in London's East End looking at a painting of a pile of dead birds which hung on the far wall.
    "Hey, Eddie, You alright kid?" Solomon asked from the shop front.
    "Yep, just wondering why the painting of the dead birds is called Danny Boy," Eddie answered.
    Eddie went into the back room and Solomon followed. He was well-built, broad-shouldered, tattooed and dark-haired. In his seventies he looked more like a seasoned career criminal than an antiques dealer. "Yeah it's a odd one that piece, even my paintings expert ain't got a damn clue," he sighed.
    Eddie patted Solomon gingerly on his left shoulder and coughed hard "Bloody....dust!" he heaved.
    Solomon roared with laughter as his great-nephew swore and coughed heavily for another five minutes. "Oh.....very.....damn funny, Uncle Sol" Eddie grunted and punched the man in the shoulder.
    Putting his arm around Eddie, Solomon steered him out of the room and into the shop front. "Just think lad, one day all this'll all be yours!" he boomed, throwing his arms out. He roared with laughter again as Eddie spluttered in horror.
    "Mine........mine WHY, WHY.........WHY?" Eddie cried.
    Solomon was grinning inanely at Eddie's emotional moment. "Someone's got to figure out that painting," he laughed.

Best Friends

We took it up to the roof of Lisa’s garage. Did we think it would survive better up there, or did we secretly believe it wasn’t of this earth, with its huge bug eyes and barely skinned bones. Maybe we believed it could ‘phone home’ more easily from there.

“It needs worms to eat,” I said, crouching over its crumpled angles in the middle of Lisa’s smooth, pink palm. She had this way with animals. It made me cross when Norah’s dog, Ratty, ran back to her on our walks to the River Lea. Sometimes I would carry a bit of left-over sandwich in my pocket – cheese worked better than jam – and Ratty would fuss over me, but all Lisa had to do was click her tongue and Ratty would be licking her face like she was made of cheese.

“Let me hold it,” I said “You go and get it some worms. ”

She fondled its see-through head. “You get the worms,” she said, her dark curls shaking “I need to keep this little fella warm.” She cupped her other hand over it and settled back on her haunches.

“That’s not fair. I found it. Give it back. ” I tugged at her fingers.

“Don’t,” she said, twisting away from me, so she nearly toppled off the roof.

“We need to make it a nest,” I said, “then we can put it in there to keep warm and get the worms together. ” I scrambled over to the corner of the roof that met the wall of my house. “This moss will make a good bed,” I said, tugging at it.

Read more >


Still Life

immortalised by a pencil
this companionable heap
- mutely poised -
will never become carcasses

carcasses are far too nearly nothing
for comfort
rubbish to be thrown away
without a second thought

- cheap in death -

but when I go I’ll be cremated
not bagged up and put out
on a thursday night

along with the cat’s trophies
and the slimy remains
of last sunday’s roast
cold and redundant

I’ll go from A to B in a flash
- without decaying -
or providing food for wriggling things
under the ground

and I won’t smell
it’ll be clean and efficient
tidy and quick
- for sure -


Suicide by Light

Outside the lighthouse tower the night sky was clouding, stars smudged by a gathering gloom. The weather came down quickly and a few birds with it, flying west. Already there was a heaviness, cloud swirling through the beam, making it look as though the lantern stirred something thick.
     The keeper turned his face to the north. It was then that there was a noise and the change in the night. Something beautiful and strange. Birds, reflected in the haloed light. First tens, then hundreds, then what seemed like thousands, churned about the tower. As some dropped out of the sky more came.
     A mish mash of colour was reflected in the lighthouse’s sigh - rust of redwing, lemon of yellowhammer, flying amongst the biscuit and black of skylark, curlew, blackbird and thrush.
     A first thud reverberated through the platform. And another. And another. Birds crashed against the glass. A yellowhammer hit with the sound of a distantly slammed door. Then a lapwing. A thrush. The birds seemed to be losing sense. The keeper looked down at the balcony beneath him, the light sweeping aside the darkness like the brisk turning of the hands on a clock. There birds lay, piling one on top of another, the dull yellow of their eyes picked out by the beam, the breeze catching up their feathers.
     It felt to the keeper like a painting going wrong. The scene dripping out of loveliness, but still more and more birds came.

I talk to the Birds (or, Jesus and the Eagle)

I once asked Peter if he believed in anything. No reason in particular other than to make conversation. I had yet to discover anything of note about my new foster brother but I took him out somewhere calm. The different noises in the house often stressed him out. I could tell he enjoyed it too, even if we had nothing to talk about he’d just sit there with his big gap toothed grin glowing as he held my hand. This time though he considered the question.

Jesus he signed, and The Eagle.

‘Eagle? Like the bird’?


‘That’s nice’ I said with my best 'I’m an atheist but I’ll humour you smile.' ‘Why the Eagle? ’

Jesus heals the sick, birds carry me away.


From here.

I looked at him puzzled ‘You don’t like it here?’

No, too loud, hurts.

I put my hand me his shoulder. ‘I’m sorry, I could talk to mum?’

It was his turn to smile now. All okay, I talk to the birds all the time. I tell them the house is loud and no one cares, they will come and get me soon.

Read more >


Sing a Song……….

of sixpence.
A pocket full
of loose change.

But not a silver coin
only old bus tickets.
And sweet wrappers.

When the birds
were dismantled
from the heap

of feathers and
wings – they were inedible.
Full of shot and maggots.

The manager was in
his bank counting
out his bonus.

The Queen was in
her palace oblivious
to their avian plight.

And the Latvian maid
was conscious of time
slipping away

with menu choices.
Free from elegant
dishes of winged creatures.

Read more >


For the birds

I wallow beneath the kumquats
because my father told me
this afternoon

was for the birds. He pulls
the outside spout, raises
a hand

to his forehead to make
sure his rip-roar veins
run cool

and run clean. It is sore
in the shade, but I do
not rub

my parched pipe since I
will wait to push and

the warm sunnyside up
bellies of the birds, the

who will tumble out of
east onto blown grass
and stack

in the order of father
daughter father

Read more >


The Man Who Feeds The Crows

He comes every day to the small park. It's not really a nice park; a row of trees on a triangle of mud and grass right next to the wire fence of the cemetery. It's mostly used as a toilet by the two bichon frises owned by the weird old lady living in the ground floor flat. I never understood why anyone would want to own a white dog. Their fur is always stained brown around their eyes and their anal orifices, and that's not the fault of the park. They finish their business around nine in the morning, and the man arrives half an hour later. He always wears an old black coat, a black woolen hat and black gloves; even in summer. I rarely see his face from my window, but there are a few strands of long grey hair peaking out from under the hat.

There's a tree stump right in the middle of the park, where the city landscape gardeners felled a dead tree a year ago. As every day, he walks across the grass, long steps over brown dog landmines, and stops at the tree stump. The crows arrive then. I never see them near the park before the man arrives, but as soon as he nears the tree stumps their kraa kraa kraa fills the air. There are about thirty birds circling the park, the cemetery and my house; some soon land in the grass or the trees and eye the man with cocked heads, some keep circling. They are all Hooded Crows, Caróg liath as the Irish call them. In Irish legends, the Badb was a war goddess who took the form of a crow, and was also known as Badb Catha, battle crow. She was associated with war and death, appearing to foreshadow imminent bloodshed or to participate in battles, where she created confusion among the fighting warriors and fed on the discord of the carnage.

Maybe the crows sleep on the cemetery. Or maybe the man brings them with him. Wherever they come from, he feeds them. He digs into the pockets of his coat with both hands and brings out handfuls of peanuts that he places on the tree stump and then walks away. Read more >


Natural History

In another life
You might be temporary paperweights
On a solid, messy desk – my desk
Cups half full of cold tea would be pushed aside
Along with notes for a paper
Napping Patterns of the Night Parrot

I’d know how to lift you
A stamp collector handling his stamps
I might send you to be done
(stuffed? taxed? I’d know that too)
Domestic Birds could use some fresh recruits

Would I be required to welcome all visitors equally?
I think my favourites would be the ones who stop here a while
Who scoot politely past the stegosaurids
To idle by the starlings

Anyway, I’ve no such desk
I’d only get the Latin wrong
And my inexpert hands irreparably ruffle
The feathers on your plump bellies

So I’ll admire you from afar
And that will do too.


Two birds, one stone.

The first hit was small, just a blow to the chest
It came from you though, the person who knew me the best.
The second blow came just after and yes it stung,
but the bullets came from your mouth, it wasn't a gun.
The third time you knocked me straight to the ground
but it was you, so I stayed quiet, I made no sound.
The final blow came when you walked away,
you never looked back, there was nothing to say.
Killing two birds with one stone, thats how the saying goes?
And you had cheated on me, so more fool you.
You lost me, a friend, and probably her too.


Pie in the sky. I had wondered what that meant. Pidgeon pie? Larks for their tongues? They were once considered a delicacy, you know, larks' tongues. Henry the Eighth. He liked a good pie made of birds. Larks, I think. What a lark. They would be alive and fly out when you cut it open. For the amusement of Henry's Courtiers.
Or there'd be dead ones stuffed one inside another then those inside a bigger bird, then a bigger one again and so on until you reached a swan on the outside. Poor swan. What an ignoble ending for such a noble bird. No more gliding on the lake, swanning about. No more flying through the air, neck stretching straight out in front, an eerie whirring sound emiting from the the wing feathers. No more all the little birds either, lost now from view, inside the swan like so many Jonahs. The whole ensemble to be ceremoniously carried in aloft the head of the serving man. All for the amazement, delight and relish of the hunting party of the day.

First Lives

There are some, I am told, who never see the dead, though I am as yet unable to believe it. We go to sleep with them as with an ex-lover, for familiar embrace, and when we part, we readjust towards morning. Myself, I admit that in my first days in this house, with my family and its variedly colored eccentricities long gone, I was no more attuned to them than the blind is to a mirror, yet over the course of a year I’ve come to absorb, like a mirror, without thought or comment, the weight of the house’s departed.         They come to me in the shape of birds, my childhood terror, and vary in size, age, plumage, beak strength. They fit themselves into my hands as I sleep, and often I wake in the pose of prayer. So as not to startle them, I use a whisper to stir them. “Please move your wing,” I may say, and I lift my arm to show them how, and likewise they follow suit. “Please breathe,” I may say, and they watch, like children, as my chest rises and falls. This, they see, is what defines me, life measured in deep, whole breaths.
        Later, when they die once more and then are sent my way again, they remind me, with a syncopated, delighted chirping, of the previous time we’d encountered each other, in this same house, in this same room. Their first lives—and their second, their third, and so on—are dictated by an expansive, savoring forgiveness and curiosity. To deny the dead, I repeat each night in bed, is to deny life itself. And when they die again and again, and then show up with a gift in my dreams, it is like a friend returned, whole, to me.

Five Friends Flying Free

My newly painted jade talons were still drying when the doorbell rang.
“The early birds are here,” Mum shouted upstairs.
“I’m not ready, get them something to eat,” I shouted back. Twenty minutes of preening later, I came down and saw my four friends stuffing their beaks with toast.
“About time,” said Nikki. ”I was about to ask your Mum for more bread.”
“Let’s go” I said.
We headed outside and piled our bags into the boot of the Nissan Bluebird Nikki’s Dad found for me when I passed my test.
“Shotgun,” said Nikki. Charlotte moaned, and the twins passed one of their secret looks between them; but I knew they didn’t mind. There would be more room in the back with Nikki in the front.
“Enjoy the weekend girls,” said Mum. “Be careful,” she added with same look as when I opened my GCSE results last summer. I made my pre-flight checks: volume up, One Direction on the iPhone and my hair in the mirror; I looked good. We were off.
We’d planned this first weekend ever since we all started lessons; the five of us flying north for a weekend in Bristol: shopping, clubbing and a night in a bed and breakfast. We soared through the lanes of the Devon, and swooped onto the M5. The girls were chattering away when I cut up a guy in a red Jaguar. He sounded his horn a couple of times and pointed as he flew past; so we flipped him the bird. The girls laughed and I relaxed. The Bluebird sped up to sixty-five, seventy downhill.
“Off at this junction,” said Charlotte. We left the motorway headed towards town. It was a good road, everything seemed fine. I came around a corner and the Bluebird just took off. It landed with the passenger side nestled around a tree. I was thrown clear. No-one else was.

Death is just a circus trick

Quit trying to make me giggle. Rest easy. Hold it. There now. Be each of you the quilt and pillow you were meant to be. Slow your birdie breathing. Unknot those wondrous fine. Slack, friends. Slack. Feel the stone beneath brace us up with steady hands. Nestle, friends. Plume ever so closely into one another. And imagine them, you impossible things. How they too will see and wish to play opossum, each and together. How even the oldest undertaker will marvel at the peace in our eyes. How like a feathered column of deadly grace we are. Well-arched, little finch. Well-spooned, grosbeak. Grackle, you inspire as a foundation, oily friend. Such rotting good claws at the base of this fine pyramid! Steady, friends. Good. Oh, that is fine. Now, yes, now, let thrum your heartbeats until you can, as I promised, forget the sky.

divided flight

Feather's clipped, wide open in their disguise you sense the puzzle that ensues. To fit in flight is a thing of space and grace, to collapse divided by touch is truth. This sudden weight - this heaviness of being connected.


This hill of beaks and breast.

Who would of thought that sharply as you flew you knew the echos from the frowning sky would land you in perfect breathlessness; at the top the lightest, to somersalt into the mouth of the base which is just about to open - isn't it?

It will if you want it to.

Oh the heaviness of being one.


Art Prep

I wonder about you sometimes:
I knew you had potential, the skill.
And here it is: your assignment.
The first one you've completed since the year begun.

I marvel at your work. The detail.
Then I think of what it means.
I asked you all to draw something of the everyday:
And this is the product of your pencil.

I wonder at you. I really do.

Of course, I know all about what happened at home.
Your father who never returned from war.
But it's not about that, is it?
I wish you'd confide in me. I've given you chances.
But then, They tell me I give too much time. I hear their talk.
I'm too close, They say. Too close.
I just want to help. To listen. No-one else does in this place.

I wonder:
They're still breathing, aren't they? I can almost see the gentle pulse of their breasts.
Tell me they're breathing.
I look again: the bottom one. So still.
And I realise.
What you see,
Of the everyday.
That one.


The Arranger

The arranger composes all things in search of something inside the arrangements, some angle, or composition, something that will end the search. Castles have been upended and halved; their battlements splayed on the grass, then rearranged to frame, then scattered to emulate the effects of chaos, then time. Planets have been filled with unwanted experiments. Dimensions bulge with dissatisfaction.

The arranger is restless and without gender. The arranger is two hands that shrink and grow and bend and stretch. There were four birds.

Their beaks are perfection, each one reducing its occupation of space by a perfectly proportionate amount until the last little one has barely a beak to speak of.

One travelled inside a cage covered by silk which stood on a marble table quite steadily inside the private car of a train as a young girl repeatedly failed to understand the past imperfect despite her youthful tutor's endless patience. Outside the window snow fell into a deep pine forest.

Another flipped mulched leaves with darts of its long beak in search of worms or fallen seeds in a suburban garden two miles outside of Dublin. Its partner strolled, singing, along the newly laid the patio.

For the third, the arranger visited the Sung dynasty after remembering a painting by the Emperor Sung Huizong in which the required bird was depicted. The arranger was perturbed on finding the birds had not been painted from real life but had been portrayed by the emperor's courtesans who had dressed in feathers. The courtesan who had dressed as the third bird dutifully revealed its location to the persistent arranger. It was resting in a fine nest.

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An Artist’s Study of Birds

You could have drawn us airborne
Instead of this still life
We grow inflexible and brittle
Heaped like this
Our plumages losing lubricants
Becoming dull, fragile
Observers of this motif
Cannot catch even one note



I think she had been there for a long time. Waiting. The garden was a mess, of course everyone had been right, it was always going to be too big for me, what was I thinking of? It was a strange and beautiful mess though, old, over grown and untidy. I suppose that’s why I never really saw her at the start. Lots of places to hide. I just gradually became aware of her. When I was out there she was watching me, she wasn’t hiding, wasn’t scared, oh I thought that, at the time, but not now. Now I know what she was doing. Making sure I was the right choice. She probably had a good look around, looking at all of the houses on the road. But the rest of them were loud with families, gardens neat and tidy, it wouldn’t have taken her long to rule them out. They wouldn’t give her what she needed.

Gradually she allowed me to catch a glimpse. Glimpse, after beautiful glimpse. Each time I saw her I wanted to see more. I started spending more time in the garden. I wasn’t making any difference to it though, I wasn’t even trying to. All I could do was wait and hope she’d turn up. I don’t know when the presents started. It just seemed the right thing to do. I think it’s normally the other way around, but in our relationship I was definitely the giver. I made some terrible mistakes to start with. What made me think she’d want any of that? She couldn’t have made it more obvious. Come on, try harder. So I started going to the best shops, buying her things I’ve never even tried. She took them, I never saw, but I think she enjoyed them. But I think I always knew, in the back of my mind that it wasn’t going to be enough. She wanted more than that. More than I wanted to give. She wanted presents that were heart breaking to give, but she wanted me to give them.

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This, Too, Is Life

“This will be the night I leave,” wrote Lu Xun in his final essay. He must have known that in eleven hours’ time he would die from the tuberculosis that had plagued him for the past year, that in the following week wreaths of flowers would overwhelm both his doorstep and the capital square, that his wife would wake to the aroma of chrysanthemums for months after. This essay, which I found in the recesses of a temple in Chengdu, is testament to his foresight. “I walked through the house,” he wrote, “tracing the memory of a pleasure: my birds, alive once, now back again in my hands. How extraordinary that a textured sensation as pleasure can one day be buried and then, through a most literal journey, unearthed. I am already dead, my body informs me, yet I continue on. Writing about my mortality must be folly, then: ‘the end’ does not exist, given how we are constantly experiencing indeterminate beginnings. This is a unique debt to pleasure, for pleasure, whether visible, as a fire in the eyes, or ghostly, as a yearning inside the heart, is the accumulated circumferences of things. I find infinite value in measuring out one’s past and path mathematically; after a prognosis of sure death, all one can do is calculate one’s position in life’s line graphs. The position of my birds, now piled in my hands, now arranged on the sill, have taught me this lesson. As I massage their ribs, as my pulse is gratefully absorbed into them—the gratitude all mine—they indulge me the weight of one more lesson, one fate: ‘This, too, is life.’ ” Read more >

Flight Patterns

The books of birds are feather-full today, and I pencil sketch each wing and breast and beak at my desk in the library, the one with the round lamp I always touch one-two-three times. I make sure each curve is exactly right, the shading deep enough for the dips and hollows at breastbones and throats and in the tricky folds of talon-skin, the slightest smudge at the joint between wing and body to give contour and depth: the illusion of movement – a wing, spreading; the tremor of a small, fluffed body; a breath between wind and sky before the open air.

The librarian says my sketches look like real, live birds, but they don’t. That’s illusion, too. It all is. Drawing, birds, maybe even life. But I am precise. I feel like I have to document each small detail, as if I’m transferring the birds molecule by molecule from the books to my notebooks, storing them away, making carbon copies for the future. People ask me why birds, but I don’t really have an answer. I’ve never wanted to fly, so it isn’t that, though people always assume it is. I just feel it’s important somehow; they’re important. Perhaps once I’ve sketched enough I’ll figure out why. I store their names away, too: chaffinch, bunting, whinchat, curlew, sandpiper, guillemot, thrush, shrike, stonechat… though the names are of less interest to me. It’s the shape of them that matters. The way they move silently behind my eyelids when I sleep. Fluttering and swooping, painting flight patterns with their wingtips that I trace in the morning with my fingers along the wallpaper.

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There was an old lady…

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly
She coughed it up
I will not lie
It was not pretty.

The fly buzzed off and ate
Some cheese, some meat
And off some crates
Unwashed berries covered in pesticide.

Some time later
A few hundred baby flies emerged
(The fly had become a pater)
And swarmed through the sky.

The birds swooped and dived
Swallowing the baby flies
Unaware they were baby pestiflies
The birds then felt a bit peaky.

One by one
The birds fell off their perches
Until there were none
Of the pestifly eating birds left.

The birds lay strewn over the lawn
Of the old lady who swallowed the fly
The very next morn
She piled them high.

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Laying out

Talya draws underbellies. Sideshow freaks, twisted anatomies, missing limbs. Today, she brought a thrush home. It was lying in the street; invisible, stepped over. I think about how many times she’ll have to look at it, how closely she’ll study it, sighing and decomposing while she pencils in tiny patterns on feathers, shades rigor mortis claws.

I’m drawing dancers. Sketching quickly. Curve of an arm, hint of a smile. Page after page, waiting. The light.

She makes me shower before she’ll let me into bed.


What the sheep thinks of the sky

What does the sheep think of the sky? Wrap the disc of soap in the washer. Draw it slow across the flesh, up the arm, across the belly. Flesh of the living becomes flesh of the dead. What does one wear to one's death? Open the cupboard, doorknob squealing. Finger through coathangers, coats and throwovers and dresses. Pull a skirt out to see, image it around the legs, hang the hanger back and look for death-clothes again. The water hot brings out the soap's smell soft and light. That day on the corner the boys threw eggs. Egg in the hair and ran home. Egg on face means a smile now. Water down back down legs.

What does one wear when death comes? She was dressed for death, they will say, dressed for it so it came. She dressed to welcome it, they will say, as they dab their noses. Soaping in the crevices, washer on the skin. Tongue to teeth, teeth to jaw. A sensation in the jaw, a pang not a pain. A communication; the mouth a cave in the earth. But holes in the teeth, that's living. Coming old now, avoid the mirror. Don't see, don't see. Soap the neck, soap behind the earlobes. Blue earth a network of cavities - I know the ridge that is the earth's collarbone.

Soap drops; pick it up to re-wrap it, as if a child's game. Soap behind old hard knees. Moisturise. Moisture dries so moisturise. Wash behind the ankle, between the toes. Now between the legs. Horseback between the legs, alive. Horse body breathing, black eye knowing, quiet, trained to behave like a shy schoolboy. Left to wonder if there is wisdom there, intelligence, or no?

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Feathered Cairn

I thought it was the hunting of the Wren
at close of year

I thought it was the machination of men from fear

of dark and sightless places
unknown to the heart
I thought someone snuffed out
a winged spark

to stay the cold
to part the messenger of old
from some stray god like them
who was earthbound and damned

who called this parliament of birds
laid here

who made this feathered cairn
no bier

give us a penny
to bury them all
quartet of wings
in final fall


Bird Feeder Blues

"Those my friend,' said the man at the market, 'are nuts of premium quality, high in oil content, mould free, of an exquisite vintage.' That's where the trouble began.

The word soon spread, the quiet of the surrounding countryside exploded into a frenzied cacophony of birdsong, a demented dawn chorus.

They came in waves through blackening skies, flocked from miles around. The garden soon resembled a futuristic Heathrow in the midst of a post-apocalyptic evacuation.

Daredevil manoeuvres and aerial dogfights around the bird feeder for its bounty of premium quality peanuts.

Kamikaze songbirds crashed to their deaths against conservatory windows, crows with murder in their eyes, blue tits in Spitfire dives, flamingos, squawking parrots, pugnacious canaries, psychotic finches, all in a fight to the death. Birds of a feather expiring together.

I cowered down beside my toast and two boiled eggs and watched the avian Götterdämmerung.

A blue sky returned as suddenly as it had disappeared. The shredded wire mesh of the bird feeder hung from an ash tree, swinging in the gentle breeze. The rolling hills layered with dead birds as far the eye could see.



“So what do you think Prof?”
“Well, Detective it’s a bit elaborate I suppose. It comes from the same place as putting one rock on top of another, in the wilderness, when you want to leave a waymarker.”
“So you think it’s a waymarker?”
“Possibly, possibly,”
“Do you think there’s any significance in the species?”
“Probably not, just size, guess our killer couldn’t find a hummingbird to top it off.”
“I hope you’re not going to chew the end of that pencil, those birds could be covered with anything,”
“Good point.”
“So based on this tableaux what is the killer telling us?”
“This death. That poor women there. It’s merely a marker upon the dark path our killer is taking.”
“You expect to find more victims?”
“Yes. The staging is quite elaborate, see that he’s left feathers from seven birds, the quills jammed beneath the nails. It is likely he did that before she died. We’ll know better on the autopsy I guess. Not sure if that means she’s the seventh victim or the number seven is important to him. I’d put money on the latter, at least I hope it doesn’t mean that there will be six victims we’ve not found yet.”
“But you do expect more?”
“Yes. He’s killed before. He’s developed a style.”
“Hey you two, have you seen this?”
“What have you got there Constable?”
“It’s a blog. Looks like they’ve given our killer a nickname already.”
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An Avicide

So Dad took sick and the sickness took Dad. The orderlies took away the leftovers and the hospital took back the bed. The after stuff took the savings and we took Dad home in the fourth-best jar on the jars list.

And Mam boxed up all them years of knowing and took them down the tip. The tip took everything of Dad's from photographs to silverware and Mam never stopped to see if anything were worth flogging on.

And even though Mam said she didn't want them in the house anymore, our Sam took all Dad's birds 'cos he said living things weren't for tips and such. Mam hit our Sam for saying what he said, but he took it well enough and kept them birds all the same.

And people took the car, the computer and the garage stuff for less than we could've got. And all the bills and stuff kept turning red. And Mam took to drinking way before it were dark. And our Sam took to his room from school's end to the morning after. And I took to walking the longest way home.

One day, our Sam came down for breakfast with Dad's old death notice he'd cut from the local rag. Mam was still sleeping off the last night so I told our Sam it wasn't right for reading at the table and he had to take it away. And our Sam did take it away and he took his plate with him and even though I said he wasn't right for taking it, he kept that plate all the same. I were clock-watching a little later so I shouted up that he had to come back down with his plate if he wanted feeding or walking to school. And our Sam did come back down with his plate.

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The Door Closes

Georgie: Pretty!

Jamie: Huh, pretty weird.

Jessie: Pretty gross.

Alex: I wonder how they got like that? Why they're here?

Alex kneels down to look, the other three follow. Four birds, stacked on one another on the forest floor, in the centre of a clearing. Late afternoon sun is disappearing behind clouds, shifting the colours of the birds and leaves around them into darker shades. The four lean in.

Jamie: I dare you.

Jessie: Touch one? No way!

Georgie: Shh. Sleeping.

Jessie: Sleeping? No, Georgie, dead!

Georgie's face falls. Alex picks up a twig and pokes the smallest bird, the apex of the pyramid, then the largest one at the base, gently so as not to topple the arrangement.

Alex: Yes, definitely dead. But definitely like this on purpose.

Jamie: Maybe it's art? Like on the autumn art trail we came here for last year.

Jessie: But it's still winter.

Alex: You're right — wrong time of year. Besides, the art trail was signposted and near the paths. This is something else.

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book hustlers

He is a tiny fish in the literary pond. So modest he spends
most times under the overhang. He saw a line in
the middle of the pond at the end of the line a hook with
a juice promise of fame; at a modest cost that after a little
time grew big. He sniffed at the promise someone pulled
at the line and was nearly hooked. Fearful he swam and hid
under the overhang and no sweet talk could lure him out.

Two mermaids came urged him to take a bite of succulent
literary promise, scared by the glare of surface sun he fled
down into the silt and burrowed deep for days till it was
safe to find his place under the overhang.
But the little fish is restless, what if the promise had been
true and he had lost his chance of fame?


Poised with a willing cast

to show you there are four sides
to this bird, I am more than
feathers and flight.

I can be perfectly dressed for
the day, see me flaunt naked legs
delicate and ankle slim.

How right it looks should we nestle
back to back, how cute the turn of my head.

I wooed you with my song
now I act silent in sleep.


Pardon me

Pardon me for these tears,
I have no control over,
that wander down
knowledgeable roads
as I lay eyes on
the bodies
piled precariously
over each other.

Pardon me for this weak heart,
I have no control over,
that roams on
heart break corners
as I turn away from
death and deceit
cleverly plotted
to crush my spirits.

Pardon me,
for my sincerity
or would you say
Pardon me
as I lie still,
just like these bodies
only I am undead.


Fowl play

"See, here's what we'll do." whispered Giuseppe.

"Yeah, yeah...?" Pete's head bobbed eagerly in anticipation.

"Yeah, see them birds over there?" Giuseppe nodded in the direction of two large breasted beauties.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Pete's head bobbed so fiercely that he lost balance and skittered to the left a few steps.

"Jesus, Pete, have a little self respect."

"Yeah, yeah okay."


"Glenda?" Ariel prodded her briefly. "Where you at girl?"

"Huh? Oh, was just looking at those two cocks over there."

Ariel's head swung 180 degrees to clock the two cocks. The big one, dark as night, eying them up like a roast dinner. The other, small, jumpy, pale and pinched. "What about 'em?" she asked cautiously. Glenda had the worst taste in mates. Before she could answer, they sauntered over.

"What's up, ladies? I'm G, for Giuseppe, and this is P," Giuseppe nodded in the direction of his diminutive friend.

"For Pete! Not P as in pee." Pete piped.

"P as in P"... Ariel echoed. "uh huh. Got it What do you want?"

Giuseppe brushed passed her and gazed deeply into Glenda's eyes.

Ariel couldn't hear what he was saying to Glenda, but could see her gradually swaying from foot to foot, a glazed look in her eyes, a hint of smile turning to into a full-on grin. Finally, Glenda hopped toward her.

Pete jumped as Ariel shrieked, "We shall do no such thing!"

But a few moments later, after much ruffling, and scuffling, they did.