The Way Birds Stand

By KATHERINE KILALEA

Why are you so sad, Girl, the fishermen ask.
As a colander drains, as shoes to feet,
as he who smokes will invariably say yes to coffee,

so a girl watching a group of gulls must be a soul in torment
or lack company, or maybe a rod,
the technology to stave off loneliness.

Tackle arcs and whizzes. This is it, a glimpse of life
in a hook, a bucket of worms, dirty fingernails,
as reels unfurl

and faces scrunch in the afternoon sun
because the sea’s gone the metallic blue colour
of the BMWs they used to use

in ’90s road-trip movies. It’s truly picturesque
to feel this defeated, to lose yourself,
the way birds lose their heads in their feathers.

Sometimes its shape rises in the mirror:
the invisible skull, its bones like tent poles
under my skin.

Just so, the shape birds make
(stopped on a rock like a row of high-street shops)
reveals one of life’s most intimate and secret structures.

Flying is easy: an equation of distance and speed,
but birds doing nothing are awkward,
disconnected,

as though, without the scent of fishing boats
or the shape of the wind to hold them,
they’re broken, like a bottle, or breadcrumbs.

The sea makes more sense when you look at its friends:
the seaweed, a Marlboro box and the white scum
that comes off the waves, the way they float.

The way birds stand is a way of being,
like being upside-down
or balancing on one leg. If I stamped my foot,

I could scare them, easy,
if they were frightened, surely they’d leave me,
if I’d more venom, then I could force them

to scatter, regather, button their coats and move on,
find a dark leather chair somewhere, a fire, a drink.
But it’s no different in private. I don’t know why

life creates these difficult positions,
but with patience, perhaps,
one becomes accustomed to the discomfort,

and may gradually come to bear it.
Let it take however long it takes.
The sea turns everything to bread.

 

 

Katharine Kilalea is the author of One Eye’d Leigh, shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award and longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize for writeers under 30.

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The Way Birds Stand

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