Murder

For the NaPoWriMo prompt to write about an animal. I seem to do that all the time, so this is a scene I participated in this morning before breakfast. And if any of my sensitive little chicks are reading, this is NOT you. Okay?

Photo©Luis Garcia

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Watching the skirmish from the window

birds chasing through the waving fronds

of the pink tree heather

(piebald shark pursued by trout)

a hen blackbird clucks mother-like

fury boundless—magpie thief eludes her

mocking and

they flutter through the fronds

(pinkly waving)

weaving a dance of ritualised aggression.

Cock blackbird arrives late for the battle

(it’s his chick too)

and I run outside shouting

as if I can intervene in a pattern of nature

remove the chick from the (Chinese kite demon’s) beak

restore it to its nest.

I watch the inevitable

(demon kite) sailing away through the trees

and grieving parents clucking among the branches

winding down

returning to the survivors

forgetting?

(Do they, I wonder?

Forget?)

Do mothers ever forget their chicks

even when they are grown and gone

even when they forget birthdays

and fill their lives with things more important

than mothers?

Life, Death and Blackbirds

I have a thing about blackbirds. Apart from their beautiful song that sums up early summer, I find them terribly endearing. Their behaviour is illogical, bird-brained I suppose. They treat child-rearing like a book mill, churning them out in the hope that out of all the nestfuls one or two will survive. Father sings while mother copes. I’m certain there is something like avian prozac they take.

Wherever we’ve lived we’ve had nutty blackbirds, the chicks that leap out of the nest before they’re even fully fledged, the ones that learn to fly and test their wings by flying straight into the picture window, the babies that wait quietly in the nest until a cat comes prowling then jump out and run around on the ground so the cat just has to decide which one to grab first.

I didn’t think we’d have that kind of silliness here, with five acres of hedgerow, trees and bushes to nest in. But we have. This morning one of this year’s chicks appeared on the grass in front of the house. Husband was mowing and had to take avoiding action each time he passed. It couldn’t fly, just fluttered in an ungainly way, and a buzzard had been wheeling overhead for a while so I wondered if it hadn’t been dropped. Buzzards are possibly stupid too.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, an hour or so later, it just died. No mother came looking for it and it obviously didn’t know how to go looking for her. And I felt a sadness quite out of proportion to the event. Blackbirds have that effect on me.

I put the dead chick in this poem for the Secret Keeper’s prompt, using the words:

VERSE | ROUND | TEST | FORCE | STAGE

 

Can I make a poem of this death,

turn the words around and make the sadness light,

pretend this life a stage,

and make a farce of tragedy?

I try to force a new shape from these shadows,

a kinder one, numb and formless,

called acceptance.

Some things just are,

like life and love and death,

even for blackbirds.

 

 

 

There is a place

This is a Skeltonic poem for the NaPoWriMo prompt.

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There is a place,

a peaceful space,

where blackbirds run

in the sun

and river flows.

No one knows

where is goes,

the river slow,

when the stream,

silver gleam,

into the sea,

with blackbird glee,

rolls away.

I will stay,

watch starlings play,

if you will say,

you’ll sit with me,

forever keep me

company.

NaPoWriMo: Earth

An Earth Day prompt. This might be the first poem of several.

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Earth,

not rich, not deep and galleried with crawling things.

Thin and unlovely it was,

speckled with decades of thoughtless waste,

glass shards, bottle tops, plastic caps, nylon string,

and older, rusted things that once has a purpose.

Garden earth,

was tainted with paint spills and varnish,

and killer products supposed to ward off evil pests,

the stupidity of ignorant preference,

tulips over dandelions.

My garden earth,

I tend and nurture,

returning what I can,

the peel of dead vegetables, tea leaves,

the good things the earth eats.

My garden earth responds,

With the riddling of galleries,

the wriggling of earthworms and earwigs,

the spiral beauty of snails,

and the first prize,

the gold of the podium,

the mad scampering of blackbirds

as they dig and scratch, squabble and cluck, tossing and turning,

in their wild treasure hunt.

My garden earth responds with life.

Blackbirds

A sad postscript to my post about the midnight blackbird drama. After finding two of the chicks dead yesterday, Finbar found a third one this morning. One had drowned in the rain water butt the two others were just dead, from exhaustion, cold, fear, maybe, but not the cats.The blackbirds have gone, either taking the last chick somewhere safer, or because they have none left.

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Nature’s law,

Build a haven, fragile and ephemeral,

Hunt the bright glint of beetle and worm,

Back and forth, ever on the wing, no time to rest,

No oblivion in sleep, ever-watchful,

For the night hunters prowl.

Ask for little,

For no stark, white winter death,

No spring flood.

Hope for only hunger but not famine,

Give no names, no love, to the open mouths,

Clamouring one day, cold and still the next,

For the task is to be redone while the summer lasts,

Over and again, the feeding and the rearing.

No time to think of death,

No tears to weep, no grieving for so many lost,

For no heart, not even a blackbird’s,

Is strong enough for that.

On the tragic idiocy of blackbirds

Margot3

When I posted about Queen Margot, the blackbird who thinks the top wrung of a seven foot ladder is a smart place to build a nest, I didn’t envisage the kind of drama we had last night. It was coming up to half past eleven. I was just getting into a new book when I heard the terrible sound of chicks shrieking just under the window. The nest is at the bottom of the garden. I leapt out of bed, grabbed a dressing gown and a pair of espadrilles and ran downstairs.

‘The flashlight’s on the kitchen table,’ husband shouted after me helpfully.

Trixie was sitting in the veranda, nose up to the glass, transfixed. I slung her onto her chair and slipped outside without her following. Could have been because it was raining. The tweeting seemed to be coming from a dozen different places at once. I could see one chick under the table and hear the rest of them crashing about in the undergrowth. Then I saw the cat. One I’ve never seen before, creeping down the wisteria. I yelled at it and it just looked at me. A chick scuttled about a yard from its jaws, but shouting at the cat and waving my arms about was frightening the chicks more than the cat. I went inside for reinforcements. Thankfully Hugh was still up and put on a pair of shoes without a murmur of protest.

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The cat was still there, perched on a branch about three feet off the ground, watching the daft birds racing about below. I caught the first chick and we tried to undo the wire barrier we’d threaded around and through the ladder to stop the cats climbing it. The photo doesn’t show the final touch to the cat barrier—a length of chicken wire wrapped around the top to catch any chicks that fell out. Some hope. We’d forgotten these were blackbirds we were dealing with.

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Needless to say, in the dark, in the rain, holding a frightened chick, a flashlight and trying to fend off a cat, we couldn’t get the stuff down. So I had to climb over it, Hugh passed me up a chick and I bunged it back in the nest while he caught another one, trying to keep an eye on the cat at the same time.

We spent about half an hour at this lark. Catch chick, pass it up the ladder, put chick in nest, try and catch the one that’s just jumped out. Catch chick, pass up ladder, chick in nest, chick out of nest. The cat just watched. Hugh muttered something about how was it possible blackbirds weren’t extinct. Eventually we got all four of them back in the nest and I tried to climb down the ladder. It made me think of escaping from Stalag Luft III, what with the chicken wire grapping me from all sides, the flashlight, and the rain of course.

It didn’t work. Trying to get the green trellising stuff back in place so the wretched cat couldn’t walk straight up the ladder, set the chicks into a bird-brained panic and all four of them abandoned ship again. The cat by this time was rubbing its head against Hugh’s leg and Hugh was stroking it and telling it what a nice cat it was. I gave up with the babies and decided getting rid of the cat was the easier option. I was soaked by this time and my espadrilles were full of mud.

So we caught the cat instead, took him through the house, drove Trixie back inside, and put the new cat out the front door. Cat took one look at the unknown street and bolted back inside. Caught cat and took him upstairs to put him out the bedroom window. Husband says, “Oh my God! Do we know that one?” Cat leaves reluctantly via the window. I go and clean up in the bathroom.

I lay awake for ages listening to the chicks chirruping. Don’t know what the cat got up to later, but this morning Margot and her consort were charging about trying to round up their scattered family. Trixie was in position nose to the glass while a chick was doing its damnedest to flutter through the glass into her jaws. She obviously can’t be let out today, but I had to go out to throw something at another cat that was creeping across the shed roof. Those chicks have got to learn to fly today or they’re gonners. I’ll post again with news when and as it comes in.

A word about Blackbirds

Two weekends ago (I’m pretending we’re still Monday, day before Finbar’s little drama and before the deluge began again), husband started to cut back the vegetation that regularly grows over our wall and invades the whole neighbourhood. He finished the west facing wall, cutting back the ivy and Virginia creeper, and stopped when he reached the passionflower that was tangled up with a couple of roses and the Mexican thingy. He propped up the ladder in the corner by the shed meaning to finish the job the following weekend.

The next weekend, the heavens were pouring again as if rain was going out of fashion, so the pruning had to wait. Last weekend, when the rain finally stopped, husband went to get the ladder and discovered that he couldn’t. During the deluge, a pair of blackbirds had built a beautiful nest on the top rung.

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I say a pair of blackbirds. In fact, Mrs Blackbird did most of the building while husband stood guard and drove away the mob of other blackbirds that had their beady eyes on our ladder. Blackbirds are probably my favourite birds, and one of the things I love most about them is their idiosyncratic behaviour. They build exquisite nests, strong, sturdy and perfectly shaped, but they build them in incredibly stupid places. In comparison with some, the top rung of a ladder is quite fiendishly astute. They choose places that are flat, low to the ground, and accessible even to a three-legged cat with arthritis. They make no attempts at concealment so anything on the ground or in the sky can see the nest quite clearly. A nest perched on a ladder in a neighbourhood crawling with cats is not a particularly bright idea. If Trixie was of a normal corpulence she’d be up it in a flash. Not surprisingly, Blackbird mortality is extremely high and although couples produce up to three broods a year, they’re lucky to get one or two eggs through to the autonomous stage.

Reading up on Blackbird behaviour, I thought I found some interesting parallels. Blackbirds pair for life, in theory, but marital breakdown occurs over children, the lack of, fertility problems etc. They are monogamous, in theory, but a surprising proportion of all Blackbird children (about 17%) are born out of wedlock. Although Blackbirds choose the house site together, it is Mrs Blackbird who builds the nest and looks after the children. Mr Blackbird picks fights with other Blackbirds, sings, keeps himself in trim and stands guard over his property. He occasionally babysits so Mrs Blackbird can stretch her wings and make herself a sandwich. Mrs Blackbirds handles the eggs, the babies and the adolescents unless she gets lucky and ends up with babies and adolescents to cope with at the same time, in which case Mr Blackbird is roped in to lend a hand.

Sounds familiar?

Blackbirds, roses and you

Painting by Paul Cézanne

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Droops the bough where the roses hang,

Thirsty the earth for the autumn rain,

Leafless the birch where the blackbird sang,

Waiting for spring to unfurl again.

 

Lowers the cloud that swallows the light,

Lonely the lake where sailed the swan,

Begins the long dark of winter night,

For blackbirds, roses and you have gone.

Abandoned garden

Painting by Sergey Svetoslavskiy

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I know an abandoned garden,

Loud with rippling birdsong,

Rampant with wild growing things,

And the nodding heads of dog roses.
They say the place is empty,

But I know it is full of ghosts

Of the planters and the tenders

That shaped a garden from the mud.

The hands that dug and delved,

That loved and lived,

Are long gone,

Back into the cradle of the earth,

Quiet lives lost somewhere along the way.

Lives are lost but souls drift,

Drift among the flower stalks,

The daisies and the dog roses,

And on summer evenings,

They listen with me to the blackbird’s song.