This is a bird’s back
Keeled as a breastbone
Fragile as a bag of sticks
Creaking like a matchbox.
Life is still a kind of test
You pick at details out of place
Lose concentration for a moment
And everything will come to pieces.
Your pinched body shrinks
To the essential kernel of discomfort
A sharp questing wren, forced to perch,
Flinty with disapproval.
Your bones are hollowing,
Soon you will simply blow away,
And we will hold only echoes of sharp song,
The self-belief that framed us
Tonight is the night that old dogs bark
And kids fill bus shelters,
When leaves give up and slump
Like plaster in a roofless house.
Tonight, car drivers desperate to get home
Jump lights and shave corners.
It was dark early – the fog
Is thick as ash and eats sound.
Tonight, November shambles forwards,
Asthmatic and grey-faced, sucking out the light.
The thinning hedge is a shrew ash,
Dressed with plastic. The festivals
We use to ward off darkness,
Tonight start to reveal themselves,
Stalk empty streets,
And search for souls.
Wings supple as a scarf:
Rigged to perfection,
That box fuselage
Stretched canvas over bent sticks;
Inside, a small hot body,
The rest is buoyancy.
Launched across the thin grass
You float beside the hedge,
Dipping and rising, a lilting tune
Against the dark blackthorn stave.
But this is not a maiden flight,
Your eyes miss nothing:
A roving drone, with death
Slung sheathed beneath you.
As the cooling air thickens
Wingtips sense the layered currents,
You turn, a shark quartering a reef,
Flip across the hedge, gone.
Ghost bird, for years your blank eyes
Watched me grow up, face pinched with disapproval.
Now I see you sometimes, towards dusk
In desert camouflage,
Fragile in the light air, drifting,
And I think, where did it all go?
ABOUT THE POET
BILL ADAMS teaches about the complex relations between people and nature in the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge. He has published various books on conservation and development, including Wasting the Rain (Minnesota University Press, 1992) Future Nature (Earthscan 1995), Against Extinction (Earthscan 2004) and Green Development (Routledge, 2009). Bill lives in a village just within bicycling distance of Cambridge, and blogs on conservation at thinkinglikeahuman.com.