Birdwatching

by Hugo Williams

My window is a book of birds.
I draw back the curtains
and there they all are,
scribbling their lives in the trees.

Today seems to be about magpies,
how they amuse themselves
hurling insults at everyone
and laughing at their own jokes.
They take a delight
in changing places with one another
for no particular reason,
till an old crow interrupts their game,
swearing loudly at them
and getting in the way.

I’m told magpies sulk
when they’re upset, but not today.
They think it’s hilarious
bouncing up and down on the catalpa tree,
making the beans jiggle and dance.
I’m starting to feel the same way
about my own life,
when a mindless streak of wood pigeon
crosses out the dream
with a single stroke of the pen.

. . .

A blackbird revolves on a twig,
repeatedly changing its mind
about what to do next.

When it is facing right it is male.
When it is facing left it is female.
Just now it resembles both.

This is how blackbirds mate,
spinning like a weathervane in a squall,
until each turns into the other.

For a second the wind blows both ways.
The blackbird is pinned in mid-air,
like a coat-of-arms on a wall.

It suffers a confusion of colours,
a misunderstanding of feathers,
a sudden exchange of terrors.

When the weather returns to normal
the male flies off to the right,
the female to the left.

. . .

The hard-pressed mother bird
takes the lift up and down  
from the refuse-crowded beach
to her nest in the town.

Out of touch, out of reach,
the free-wheeling male
performs figure-eights
on up-draughts of warm air.

. . .

Bird in the holly tree,
invisible mentor,
your cheerful philosophy
is a glittering chain of light
slung between us,
drawing me ever closer
to the source of your joy.

The silver thread of your song
guides me through the dark
as surely as the night
I first heard you,
improvising on a theme
of beauty and truth
in the holly tree out there.