Birdwatcher's odyssey


Small wonders

Superb fairy wrens

Portly, brash, they seem
small essays in certainty;
engage nest-thieves in
'song-battles', send them packing.
Otherwise, sweet-voiced, gorgeous.

Splendid fairy wren

Head-on: monocle-
sized. His mating costume is
purple, cornflower-blue.
In eclipse: sober brown, wings
tinged with turquoise — a promise.

Lovely fairy wren

He's made a career
out of blue; now, songs to guard
young, call to confreres,
his mate ... valiant ascents
laced with fallible pauses.

Variegated fairy wrens

But for upright tail,
mauve-blue, matching his, she's plain.
With lavender breast,
hyacinth head and chestnut
epaulettes, he lives in hope.

Zebra finches

Her decor's restful,
buff, fawn-grey. He wears neck stripes,
spots, rouged ear patches —
hints of jungle, and circus.
In common: wax-red eyes, beak.


Plump, precision-built,
yet somehow subliminal —
movements faster than
thought; white-ringed, heart-of-dartboard
eyes hypnotise then vanish.

New Holland honeyeaters

inhabit, become
jasmine and rosebush, taking
just what they need; sing
floriated canons; leave
in an excitement of wings.


Faces, sun-yellow;
bodies, leaf-green; discreet beaks,
small eyes ... they're warmly,
dazzlingly, unassuming.
Outback flocks rise, block the sun.


Every feint and nuance that humans know
faced with the well-armed onslaughts of others
is present in the flight of this small gull:
a suavely parried climb becomes a slide
sideways down a wind that would douse it
in melted pewter — but for the panic-swift save
as wings cut a piece of sky, rise clear:
a jagged graph of strength reclaimed.

Now it coasts with a confidence won from
uncertainty, the wind's power its own.
This, the one bird at the estuary,
foregrounds miles of ocean when it swoops low:
capping tiered green with an abstract flourish,
scaling vertiginous whiteness.


This poem starts in a tree hole where,
caught by a cuckoo-camera, fuzzy frights
shriek their need. Eyes closed, I see thick night,
a barque with sumptuously ribboned sails.
Superlatives, a few, must be invoked —
the most soundless feathers, the sharpest hearing
(those ear-slits, points of a Bermuda triangle).
And the eyes? — mortal lamps to hang fables,
new omens on; the descending lights
of glaukopis, 'the shining-eyed one'.
Who does not long, somewhere in themselves,
for the embrace of cataclysms of softness;
to be met by that startled, eldritch gaze  
searching the furthest corners of their soul?

Wedge-tailed eagle

Then I saw for the first time over these fields —
the sky a padded ceiling, miles of light
seeping from the sun's wound — those hypnotic
swerves, a mark of dominion like all else:
its height, its eight-foot span, its primeval
             The eagle turned, an archer's bow;
became a bold emblem that could impress
the red seal on a document of war;
rip out an eye.
                      Heaped in baroque abundance,
its wings, though, were operatic — their soaring
like a voice in rapt accord with silence,
yielding itself to, and enfolded by,
light: empyrean at last.

Diane FaheyDiane Fahey's The Wing Collection: New & Selected Poems will be published by Puncher and Wattmann in 2011. Her previous collection, Sea Wall and River Light, was a winner of the ACT Government's Judith Wright Poetry Award. 

Topic tags: new australian poems, diane fahey, owl, wedge-tailed eagle, solo, wrens, finches



submit a comment

Existing comments

Beautiful images. So dense with meaning; so sparse with language.'Fairy wrens ... small essays in certainty' 'Solo' is a triumph.

Anne Doyle | 03 May 2011  

Must admit I groaned when I saw the topic was birds (more ***ing poetic ornithology!) but these were wonderful little poems, and I look forward to the collection.

Penelope Cottier | 04 May 2011  


Les Wicks | 06 May 2011  

Similar Articles

Aboriginal mad bastards

  • Tim Kroenert
  • 05 May 2011

Director Brendan Fletcher calls it 'mad bastardry': a 'masculine energy' that is often either expelled through violence, numbed by alcohol, or both. Mad Bastards explores the roots and some solutions to male Aboriginal aggression.


The weasel, the corpse and the manager who grew a heart

  • Tim Kroenert
  • 28 April 2011

A company pay slip is found in the pocket of a migrant who was killed in a terrorist bombing. A nosy journo notes the company's apparent failure to notice their employee's absence, and threatens to run a story about indifference and neglect. The human resources manager slips into damage-control mode.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up