[from Douglas Oliver's Three Variations on the Theme of Harm, Paladin, 1990]
I talk only of voices either real or virtual in my ear:
of shadows, only those that pass over islands' sunny turf
vivid to my eye. But when I come to all my birds,
all I've ever seen, they are too many. I talk of things unseen.
Together, they would pack the sky like moving embroidery
in the white silks, browns and blacks of their great tribe,
endless litters of puppies writhing,
a heavenly roof alive but no progress of flight in it.
Every memory adds to this intricate plot;
starting up redshanks first, and they bank, flashing white,
across a sepia estuary where I felt freedom
in watching their undulating patterns on the air.
They flight down but hold at mid-height: horizontal
stick puppets of the Styx. The black light whitens
with the harmonious wings of swan formations,
the day cast over with their bright feathering.
Behind the swans the sky absolutely fills with starlings
homing to roost as once I saw them over Stonehenge;
gulls flock up and hold there, and brown passeriformes
spring between airspaces and stop of invisible branches.
Millions of birds, crows and daws, teal,
quicker wing-beated than wigeon, among mallard hordes;
swifts print arrows on the pulsating featheriness;
the sky is covered over with the puppy litters.
I can't tell you all the names; I'm worried
about the birds rabbling the sky. D'you suppose
I can avoid even the dusty body of every sparrow,
or every sparrow hawk flipping over a thicket?
Unseen, this nature crowds my mind. If there's pulsation,
it's disturbing; if stasis it's a painting
and all the life goes out; but any sudden switch
between pulse and the static is schizophrenic.
In the foreground of the multifarious flights
one talismanic bird, a heron, lifts to the top
of its single leg and takes off like an umbrella.
Fluff in a corner of the past becomes grey flame.
Its shoulders unshackle and heave, legs become the addendum,
the beak stabs out purposefully from the sunken neck.
It sails. In this flight's brevity,
I find what lives for me among all the dead songs.