Tuesday poem: Cockatoos and a global birthday poem
April 17, 2012
Yes, we’ve heard their sad repetitions,
the ‘Pieces of eight’, the rote ‘Pretty boys’,
dropped from tired beaks like peanut shells;
birds bored far beyond the thinning bone.
Compulsive as a handwasher who never
satisfies herself against germy armies
(save her hands are gloved in blood,
and cleansed into gauntlets of agony)
the caged bird will repeat this or that,
sigh, then hear that weird word clever,
thrown at his misery like a charity coin,
a beggar at our table of meaning.
But to see them treed, hanging upside-down,
greeting wet wind like a blown umbrella,
yellow winking at sun like a wicked punch-line,
raucous joy a cascade of brassy cunning sax;
this is the true sound of this bossy bright thing.
Why quibble about what they know, or don’t?
A screech floats to ground like a metal bird,
cut with tin-shears by a half-blind drunk,
so gratingly loud that ears are near-shorn.
Cockatoos mar the sky with jagged freedom,
as far from a nightingale’s sweet treacle
as a sudden mouthful of shattered glass.
Take this poem as a kind of apology for my rampant criticism of Canberra’s weather in my post on April 10th. Cockatoos are one of the many beautiful things about this city. There’s been some world-championship Canberra bashing going on lately, and I wanted to post something in response to the mindlessness of some of those criticisms. I’ve posted a link to this poem before, shortly after it appeared on the web-site of Canadian journal Contemporary Verse 2. Now it’s been in the print edition, and I feel free to publish it here. It came from a competition where participants must pre-register and have 48 hours to produce a poem containing all ten words given in a list. I didn’t enter the more recent competition (last weekend) as I knew I would be writing my line for the Tuesday Poem global poem, which has just been completed.
One ‘prompt’ at a time, please. I found the Tuesday Poem process, writing one line in an unfolding poem written by dozens of poets around the world line by line, very challenging. I was actually very scared as the time for writing my line approached. There were tears. There was a slight spat. But perseverance and wine got me through.
I am actually amazed that something readable, nay, even quite lovely, can come out of a process like this. For me, it was useful in that I had to make my line fit in with the previous parts of the poem. I was worried I could never produce something that gentle. But I did! I just played a straight bat and didn’t shy away from the rather joyous tone that threatened to stump me. To drop the inane cricket metaphor, it’s good to be pushed around a little at times, poetically speaking.