Weekend Poetry: Birdcatchers, and Other Poems
The trawler tows raised nets floating across the sky
to snare herring gulls, guillemots, puffins, gannets.
If enough of the fish-eaters were caught
they would hoist the boat out of the wounded waves
with their flocked strength. Her captain is bald
his face as tanned as cowhide, and feels life has no surprises
for him now; any tragedy creeping forward is the sort
he expects: a freak wave as tall as the Ark Royal
the great white leaping over his boat to snap clear off
his head/torso, the mountainous iceberg enduring
to the equator and probing the tropics just for him.
Sometimes when the weather is still, he dreams of the years
as a boy when he yearned to invent a bike
he could ride over the hilly waves and be crowned laureate
of the Tour de Caspian. A dozen cormorants
could have been trained to haul him from the Canaries
to the comradely Soviet sea. Whenever he drifts
near home he scans the horizon for the dragon tree
by his village, contorted like a Godzilla of a bonsai
pointing the many ways it sprouted
to chase birds itself, not trusting them to alight
of their own accord- not seabirds, not without
fish-heads spilling from the kernels of its fruit.
Here’s in the square the barber can scissor under shade.
He snips the boy’s hair facing the wall pocked by bullets,
specked by blood. Scorched umber mottling stains the wall,
till next it rains. The boy’s hair falls in little clumps
of black cloud on the backs of scrabbling ants. Sweating
candle stubs and wilted flowers rim the wall’s base
where last All Souls Day stood skulls weaved from bleached
carcasses of fowl, polished chestnuts for eyeballs – AMOR
spelt across the forehead in twisted wishbone pieces.
The army hasn’t soldiered through town for weeks.
No widows have been recently made. The boy’s brain
melds a menagerie of shapes from the patterns of bullets
and blood on the wall: a vulture spreads its wings
to flee a viper’s uncoiling interest; a jaguar licks its chops
as it pounces on a peccary. So much swift death on this wall.
The rain makes a prison of everywhere;
a million denizens in their apartment cells,
tram cars, taxis, staring out beyond
the beaded bars of misty windows.
Behind one glass pane is a white cockatoo
with a rainbow crest and a man who dresses
as a matador. He could be a matador.
He at least identifies as a matador
but his only sword is invisible and he spills
invisible blood, spring-like, from the jugulars
of invisible bulls, miniature bulls, not as small
as sheep or swine but smaller than the Irish
Moiled his father raised for beef, and more agile
with showy, bowy horns as pointed as a mother’s tongue.
Often his bedroom floor is tidal with blood.
The neighbours would complain about the swells
of blood, sopping down their walls
on a rainy day; they would whine, whinge
were it not as invisible as it is unstenching
as the corpuscles wither and congeal
way after the silent noise of the clattering hooves
charging across their ceiling, and the silent booms
from the silent battering his walls endure during
the course of his battles. Nobody ever sees him
in his suit of lights with its sequins and threads
of gold and silver, yet it does saturate with sweat
and appears sometimes amidst the towels
and grey slacks, the white vests and blue shirts
surrendering to the wind on the rooftop
clothesline . He’s convinced the cockatoo
in her cage hears and sees everything.
She squawks at all the right moments.
The woman who loved to wear live mink
insisted at first on having their teeth
pulled, but this just led to slobber
all over her lamé Givenchy, so instead
she went with anaesthesia and they curled
her neck with open glistening eyes and teeth
bared as viciously as her own when affronted
by fur objectors. “It’s alive!” she’d hiss,
“Leave me alone. Leave one outpost of haut style
survive on this lithe neck.” A P.A. followed
with a diamond-studded, patent-leather
crate to put the mink in when everybody
including the mink, was tired. Once one
revived prematurely over a bowl of Tuscan
hare stew, truffles lending a piquant aroma
to the prosecco-marinated flesh. With
a graceless drunken lunge it snaffled
the hostess’s sapphire-encrusted peacock
brooch right off her breast and was fed
in turn, brooch, fur, teeth and all, to the same
greyhounds which had coursed and killed the hare.
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