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.

P.S. Cottier

Muse with beak

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.

Click this feather, and you’ll be transported to the blog, where you can read the completed global poem, written to celebrate two years of Tuesday Poem.
Tuesday Poem

11 Responses to “Tuesday poem: Cockatoos and a global birthday poem”

  1. Cockatoos I love…in the wild flocks of them…wonderful. So I enjoyed this tribute to them and there crazy ‘bossy bright’ cockatooness! Also re TP I sympathise…was quite nervous myself…thought I might do something dreadful like accidentally post the wrong libes or wipe it off the screen 🙂 Didn’t we all do well!

    • pscottier said

      We did very well, I think, Helen. And now, in retrospect, I can begin to enjoy the process!

      As to the cockies, their brilliant snow-white in the blue sky is one of my favourite things at this time of year.

  2. A. J. said

    I loved the bossy brightness of the cockies – and you also capture the weird sadness of caged captivity. Nice. And congratulations on pushing through the nerves – I rang an old writing friend to get me through the worst of it and that helped immensely.

    • pscottier said

      It’s partially guilt behind this poem, Alicia. I used to have a pet cockatoo called Howard. Howard was truly crazy, and used to bite my husband and chase him around the house. But things became less funny when I had my baby and he tried to bite her. I gave Howard to a man with an aviary and other cockatoos. I still miss him. My husband doesn’t.

      They really should be in the wild.

  3. Elizabeth said

    I feel the lament for the trapped bird here – loved the separation of the two stanzas to express two possibilities of being for these stunning creatures – freedom is the only way for all birds in my opinion, although I imagine they could give you such joy. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • pscottier said

      I was so happy that it was appreciated in Canada, Elizabeth, where I assume they are more familiar with caged cockatoos than wild ones. Thank you for your close reading.

  4. I too have written a parrots-in-cages poem, and I have to say that yours is better! In fact, this is a particularly fine poem, and as Elizabeth says above, the contrast between the two stanzas works especially well.

    In my case, the parrots were kea, the New Zealand mountain parrot, and the contrast was between seeing them in the wild and seeing them cooped up in the public aviary in Gore – for Australian readers, Gore is to New Zealand what Tamworth is to Australia. To me, there is something particular upsetting about seeing such intelligent and wide-ranging animals constrained.

    The stress of contributing a line to the birthday poem! It sounds like we all felt it. Maybe we should just go for a series of birthday haiku next time, and work on them in ‘pods’ of three poets each…

    • pscottier said

      And believe it or not, many thousands of cockatoos are killed each year to protect fruit. Lucky they don’t eat sheep or they’d be extinct by now.

      I wonder if budgies feel the same way about captivity? But at least they aren’t snatched from the wild. I’ll re-read the kea poem, Tim.

  5. The Kea Liberation Front and the Front for the Liberation of Cockies work closely together on a range of issues, but are autonomous organisations with their own decision-making methods and membership structures. Just thought I’d clear that up.

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