Saturday, May 05, 2007


Some Canadian Poems with Birds

The Sparrow Drawer
"I: The Sandhill Crane"

The sandhill crane, in his glass case, performs
his nuptial dance. Jumping, bowing, and wildly

flapping, reads the museum description. Well,
aren't we all the same in love? This dead

male is frozen in the pose, on a bed of
stone. Thus, the museum welcomes us to its

permanent exhibit: Birds in Canada. When I
bring my daughters to the museum, because

it is cleaner and easier than a day in the
bush, they always ask to see the birds, or the

big animals. and I tell myself: this will
do them good. They know enough about mud,

rain, being hungry, no toilets, and wanting
to go home. In the real world, a bird is

always gone before my two-year-old can look.
Or, alternately, I ca never find the great

blue herons they insist are really there.

--Diana Brebner


"Albino Pheasants"

At the bottom of the field
where thistles throw their seeds
and poplars grow from cotton into trees
in a single season I stand among the weeds.
Fenceposts hold each other up with sagging wire.
Here no man walks except in wasted time.
Men circle me with cattle, cars and wheat.
Machines rot on my margins.
They say the land is wasted when it's wild
and offer plows and apple trees to tame
but in the fall when I have driven them away
with their guns and dogs and dreams
I walk alone. While those who'd kill
lie sleeping in soft beds
huddled against the bodies of their wives
I go with speargrass and hooked burrs
and wait upon the ice alone.

Delicate across the mesh of snow
I watch the pale birds come
with beaks the colour of discarded flesh.
White, their feathers are white,
as if they had been born in caves
and only now have risen to the earth
to watch with pink and darting eyes
the slowly moving shadows of the moon.
There is no way to tell men what to do . . .
the dance they make in sleep
withholds its meaning from their dreams.
That which has been nursed in bone
rests easy upon frozen stone
and what is wild is lost behind closed eyes:
albino birds, pale sisters, succubi.

--Patrick Lane


"Sestina for Pat Lane After
Reading 'Albino Pheasants'"

Pale beak . . . pale eye . . .the dark imagination
flares like magnesium. And but, pale flesh
and I am lifted to a weightless world:
watered cerulean, chrome-yellow, light,
and green, veronese -- if I remember -- a soft wash
recalls a summer evening sky.

At Barro de Navidad we watched the sky
fade softly like a bruise. Was it imagination
that showed us Venus phosphorescent in a wash
of air and ozone? -- a phosphorescence flesh
wears like a mantle in bright moonlight,
a natural skin-tone in that other world.

Why do I wish to escape this world?
Why do three phrases alter the color of the sky
the clarity, texture even, of the light?
What is there about the irrepressible imagination
that the adjective pale modifying beak, eye and flesh
can set my sensibilities awash?

If with my thickest brush I were to lay a wash
of thinnest water-color I could make a world
as unlike my own dense flesh
as the high-noon midsummer sky;
but it would not catch at my imagination
or change the waves or particles of light

yet pale can tip the scales, make light
this heavy planet. If I were to wash
everything I own in mercury, would imagination
run rampant in that suddenly silver world --
free me from gravity, set me floating sky-
ward -- thistledown -- permanently disburdened of my flesh?

Like cygnets hatched by ducks, our minds and flesh
are imprinted early -- what to me is light
may be dark to one born under a sunny sky.
And however cool the water my truth won't wash
without shrinking except in my own world
which is one part matter, nine parts imagination.

I fear flesh which blocks imagination,
the light of reason which constracts the world.
Pale beak . . . pale eye . . . pale flesh . . . My sky's awash.

--P. K. Page


"Small song for the voice of the nuthatch"

Such a brilliant day,
the sycamores
bronze rapids overhead,

and that tiny crumhorn
up there somewhere,
beady and antique.

The autumn light has such long legs
you'd fall in love, but it keeps
gazing off into the distance.

What distance?

Listen to the nuthatch: go home,
make bread, make soup.
Leave one chink open to the wind.

--Jan Zwicky



Yellow-legs ekes lower at nightfall to a stick nest
brambled in the shade-kill, doing for himself, deft

as a badger in a hammock. Mornings, toeing wracked heights
of the cottonwood, he flaps his brown flag above alkaline

slough beds, over plowlands attesting
to the back and forth of work, their brown degrees

scriven by road allowance cut at right angles through shriven
weeds, fenceposts bracketing brown rut lines slantwise

in relief. In relief at the topmost, he mimics domestic, migrant,
spaniel, spring peepers, quacks, urks, and gurgles akin

to a four-stroke in heavy water. He's slightly

off. None respond. His own call is the vinyl scxratch
between tracks, a splice point. He was hatched

that way, ferruginous, a wet transistor
clacking from the egg in which he had lain curled

as an ear with an itch inside. He carries on
like AM radio. Like a prison rodeo. Recounts loser

baseball teams, jerry-riggers, part-times, those paid in scrip,
anyone who has come out of retirement once

too often. He is playbacks, do-oevers, repeates, repeats
the world's clamorous list, makes it his, replete,

and fledges from persistence what he is.

--Karen Solie


"Occasions of Desire"

Occasions of desire with their attendant envies,
the white heat of the cold swan dying,
create their gestures, obscene or most beautiful.
Oh, the clear shell of a swan's fluted wings!

And as the old swan calls clarity from dark waters,
sailing triumphant into the forgotten,
desire in its moving is that rapacious cry,
gorgeous as the torrent Lethe, and as wise.

And if the curl of cygnets on the Avon,
so freshly broken from their perfect shells,
take from a dying bird not moral nor enticement,
but float with their own white mother, that is just.
Oh, imperious innocence to envy
only the water bearing such beauty!

--Phyllis Webb


"Ascent with Thrushes"

Listen, I tell my knees,
as we pause at the twenty-somethinged
switchback: at each step
we are accompanied by air. Listen:
the phrase slides, heartlessly,
past pain, wonder, grief, into its
interrogative lift, no questions asked,
no special pause called art. It falls
carelessly uphill, I say, listen,
we should be so lucky.

Higher up, we pause to pant
while single buzzy
indigo-blue notes are drilled
toward us from the other side.
Spy-holes, probably,
so the sky can watch us
as we clamber toward it. as though
we were end-wise to the music.
as though we were
looking down the barrel of a song.

Among subalpine fir beside
the partly frozen lake some unseen
singer is -- against the best advice
a poet ever gave --
praising the unsayable to the angel.
I listen in immaculate calm. It's only Churl
and Mort, those unruly
ears of mine, who slaver after every
empty phrase.

Later in the parking lot
I stretch and thank my knees,
without whose efforts, et cetera,
et cetera. On the far side of the notice board
the day's selections (Swainson's,
Varied, Hermit) are being recapped and discussed,
exhaustively, in demotic
American Robin.

--Don McKay



Stopping dead still
on the road,
a trace of it
sleeps in the air

(far back in the fir
a faint rustle)


coiled in spruce bark
an odour:
buck heat or
the juice of fear;

loving a woman, I know
death's thicket,

the must of rotting crab apples
in an abandoned orchard,

this partridge
through the dying fruit.

--John Thompson


"Metro Spring"

The apparition
of these white chickens

in the crowd, petals
on a wet red wheelbarrow.

--George Bowering


"Words from the Aviary"
For Monique

I would clothe you in feathers

You are too bare
in your long bones when the wind
sighs in the snow

You are a movement of birds

I would clothe you in voices
appellations, words
spare as the mirror of a young girl

or raw, and deliquescent as the crow's
cawing over chill fields

It is not clothing but a call

of voices, nameless
gone into the still air

of the small birds that drift
above a river running among stones
in the Haute-Savoie

above the grasses of the steppe, and in the small
trees of the taiga

in the summer forest
along the Ottawa

I would surround you with a guard
of heron like a tall
smoke, I would surround you with a choir

of unrecorded waterbirds, exiguous
emerging from a wall

beyond the Nile

I would have you smile, and see the sun
arrested, rest among your bones

as glistening

you move within the garden of your names, diaphanous

You walk as you have always walked
through desert yards, the cold
spacxes where the night

sighs among the stars

the sunken orchard where the wind
sighs in the snow

You are an overture.

You come

like a migration
like the first waters of the world
with the entelechy of flowers

And then your naked summer
silences my words

--D. G. Jones


"Snow and Geese"
for Barbara Harvey

Out here in the frozen barn yard, we prod the sleeping hillocks
until they untuck ther beaks from their plush knolls,

tip their leavened bodies forward, then glide effortlessly,
so white-shadow effortlessly toward us.

They are ghosts hovering above the snow,
white ghosts of geese rising from their iced beds,

unfathomable geese world.
Equilibrium of wing and want.

They dance for us anyway, float above the dead white earth,
saying if they could fly, they would leave us here.

--Laura Lush


"Inventing the Hawk"

She didn't believe the words
when she first heard them, that blue
bodiless sound entering her ear.
But now something was in the air,
a sense of waiting as if
the hawk itself were there
just beyond the light, blinded
by a fine-stitched leather hood
she must take apart with her fingers.
already she had its voice,
the scream that rose from her belly
echoed in the dark inverted
conyon of her skull.

She built its wings, feather by feather,
the russet smoothness of its head,
the bead-bright eyes,
in that moment between sleep and waking.

Was she the only one
who could remember them,
who knew theyr shape and colours, the way
they could tilt the world with a list of wings?
Perhaps it was her reason for living
so long in this hard place
of wind and sky, the stunted trees
reciting their litany of loss
outside her window.

Elsewhere surely someone was drawing
gophers and mice out of the air.
Maybe that was also her job,
so clearly she could see them.
She'd have to lie here forever,
dreaming hair after hair,
summoning the paws (her own heart
turning timid, her nostrils twitching).

Then she would cause the seeds
in their endless variety -- the ones
floating light as breath,
the ones with burrs and spears
that caught in her socks
when she was a child,
the radiant, uninvented blades of grass.

--Lorna Crozier


"Lagoons, Hanlan's Point"

before the sun's liquid
spilled gradually, flooding
the island's cool cellar,
there was the boat
and the still lagoons,
with the sound of my oars
the only intrusion
over cries of birds
in the marshy shallows,
or the loud thrashing
of the startled crane
rushing the air.

And in one strange
dark, tree-hung entrance,
I followed the sound
of my heart all the way
to the reed-blocked ending,
\with the pads of the lily
thick as green-shining film
covering the water.

And in another
where the sun came
to probe the depths
through a shft of branches,
I saw the skeletons
of brown ships rotting
far below in their burial-ground,
and wondered what strange fish
with what strange colours
swam through these palaces
under the water . . . .

with a flat-bottomed punt
and an old pair of oars
moving with wonder
throught the antechamber
of a waking world.

--Raymond Souster

Coming this summer from Don McKay, an audio recording of poems selected on the theme of birds, birding and flight: Songs for the Songs of Birds selected and read by the author (
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