The birds I can't quite like


Red-capped plover
At Barwon Heads

That one red-cap on the shore's silver,
its smallness set against so much vastness,
stayed focal long after its quick flight
defeated my eyes and it vanished
through a pinpoint high above the mouth,

marrying lightness with light.

Nearby, in nest-scrapes under the cliffs,
red-caps raise their young, ready to draw off
dogs or marauding birds by miming
a wounded wing. Although, in my field guide,
the map of Australia is dark with them,
in this place they're threatened. I imagine
dots of space appearing, spreading over
that blackness — here, then there, and there ...

Birds at dawn
I read through the small hours, mantled by white noise
as, beyond the town, waves peak, curl down:
we are both turning pages, the sea and I.
At first light, a stroll in billowy air
to where the deeps push up towards flight. A fulmar,
a kelp gull, scan slopes bursting with egret plumes.

Other birds manifest as collectives:
at the river, a profile of pelicans,
a sculpture park of herons; far above,
a skirl of swifts, parabolas of terns.
Dream light is tinctured primrose, dahlia-pink.
My hand lifts to block the gold colophon,
the seed-packed centre of the flower. The sea's breath,
at once exhaled, inhaled, is a mist of sound.

Late summer
Each morning a new cosmography:
between islands, silver or camel-coloured,
weed-dark straits, improvised pools and lakes.
Everywhere, prescience and farewell:
summer's light colliding with the light of autumn.
On the mud-flat, the birds forage calmly —
but for that gull worrying at a fish,
pewter and black-backed, the size of its head:
a trophy, a bugbear. It is pierced, grappled with,
thrashed again and again on sun-filmed sand:
a manic chef at work over a skillet.
Head jerking back, the drama of gulp,
regurgitation — till a challenger screams;
wings erupt; the bounty falls from the sky.

Silver gulls
The birds I can't quite like, that symbolise
cold self-intent, greed, the scalding primal
writ small: drama queens and morsel-pirates
at odds after the picnic — scraps about scraps.
So populous they seem mundane, theirs is
a median beauty. Contrasts show
in tail spots, white boiled-lolly eyes —
and leg stumps, the torn wing that heals indifference.

At their best, afloat in anodyne lulls,
neat as paper boats — or, of course, in air:
wing beats thrumming with the solemn verve
of a baton. What music do they hear?
None but their own, that of the winds
and of the switchback sea: their map of life.

White skies
Those lucent plains, stark yet uplifting,
call me back from shock, ordeal.
I go forth to consult with my familiars ...
A heron perched on an aerial, its form
altering as it preens and the wind lifts
head crest, strokes grey bustle, chestnut cravat;
eye and beak one dark line, it reads the heavens,
takes in the day, bird-watches ... Terns romp
en masse above the river — an inspired
discourse; commonality as dance.
In gold-trimmed grey, a singing honeyeater
alights on the green shipping beacon —
so still, quick-witted — then swims away
over the town, its Atlantis.

Shearwaters at sunset
To be so far out, yet at home, on a journey
where purpose is fuelled by freedom ...
Intimate with spray, the shape-shifting line
writes itself across a curved vastness
darkening beneath magnesium-blue.
A conversation is unfolding between
the elements of a figure — nucleus,
sketch of an eye, vertiginous kite-tail.
Could their flight path be traced in phosphorous
one might contemplate, as it fades,
the mysteries of knots and numbers,
of embroidery, of divination ... Mined with
fathomless light, split sea, camellia sky
are now black glass cracked by stars, breakers.

Diane FaheyDiane Fahey's eighth poetry collection, Sea Wall and River Light, was co-winner of the ACT government's 2007 Judith Wright Prize. The Mystery of Rosa Morland, a verse novel, was published by Clouds of Magellan in 2008. A New & Selected Poems is forthcoming from Puncher & Wattmann in early 2010.

Topic tags: Diane Fahey, Red-capped plover At Barwon Heads, Birds at dawn, Late summer, Silver gulls, Shearwaters



submit a comment

Existing comments

Fresh, energetic and original. A great pleasure. Thanks
Joe Castley | 25 August 2009

Fabulous Diane! Especially loved Shearwaters at sunset.
Helen Praetz | 26 August 2009

A wonderful set of poems, Diane, full of great images ('scraps after scraps') and sensual movement. Thanks.
Earl Livings | 28 August 2009

Just beautiful. Subtle, suggestive images so rich with meaning. 'it vanished ... marrying lightness with light.'
Anne | 30 August 2009


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up