Learning to Look


I have been watching this blackbird hours
and she has only moved as though
to ease some ache in her neck, or
shift where eggs chafe under her.

Time is lagging behind rain and wind.
My phone displays its limp progress.

Her feathers wear drizzle’s mild silver.
Her eyes still have their arc of black:

night under glass – and coming on here
just as the clouds try thinning.

The male sometimes arrives, feeds her,
goes to sing somewhere at the back of my head.

Other flights and other songs
occupy the wood. I think of leaves –
lime, oak, beech, sycamore, each a wall
of a songbird’s echo chamber.

For hours I’ve watched this female
and she has only moved as though
to ease some ache in her neck, or
shift where eggs chafe under her.

Blackbird continues as the wind does,
as time must do somewhere in the wood.

Her focus exceeds me. All I am
is hearing and looking.

When it’s dark I’ll go.


The Last Swifts in England
September 2016

It is after summer’s date but I have not
settled up. Walking is a meditation on heat.
The brooding air makes discipline
from my sweat and the glare
that beats on my skull like a stone. Scream. Scream. 

Two African birds are writing flight.
Here, their ink runs to the roofline.
It returns, cursive,
each letter finished in the next,
here, still here.
They must be the last ones left in England.

The dust of the Sahara blows
as high as the swift’s flight.
It crusts thicker on their eyes
as the desert widens.

Gone. A jet’s fingernail engraves
a pale Euclidean line along bare sky
from here to Heathrow. I try to look
down, keep my appointment. Swifts just go.

Their migration keeps seeming more impossible.
But flight’s a flame leaping over, trailing voice and sun
as Juno strings her data back from Jupiter.
She got there. The swifts do. They return,
or some do, to England or to Africa.

Who could kill a swift? Hawk strike in hunger
scatters light bones, inverts wings, shatters flight,
but you have to know the bird to do it.
Easier to take a pick to the wall,
rip out the chicks. Block up the nest hole.
Use pesticides. Keep the desert widening.

They are still alive
even out of sight – same arcs, same cries.
This year, this pair is the last
in England, in the visible air:

a dream of Doppler persistence,
a long scream not quite reaching
silence in the high-blown sand.

From “Tens”

“For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?”

Richard Feynman

Powers of 10 is a 1977 film made by Eames LLC “dealing with the relative size of things in the universe and the effect of adding another zero”. It begins one metre above a sleeping picnicer’s hand in a Chicago park. The frame first expands by one power of 10 every 10 seconds. Then it goes the other way, diminishing by one power of 10 every 10 seconds.



At this distance, we might read from his body heat
his ecology: cells on the verge of turning
dust. Microscopic life might thrive
but we can only speak of what we see:
the hand on the chest falls and rises
in a regular pattern, predictable.
Any conclusion is speculation
but at this scale each breath’s surge and drop
gives substance to his sleep.


She sleeps, he sleeps. The rug is warmed by the Sun.
What moves under it? Is the grass populous?
Mites and larvae, ants,
fine skin dustfall from joggers, children,
fast open-tops on the freeway.
From here, though, it is one clear square,
pristine, the figures in it letters
on plain parchment,
which may be read, with care,
for generations.


This park is a scab on unhealed ground.
Rip it out, to clean earth,
put in its place an eye
that can look up, and up, up,
so far park is forgotten.
Will it let us know what is out there,
what can be focused on,
what we can take?
In the park, look up. What is there?
Clouds where a plane disappears.



White-black city lines inscribe on screen
as the eye settles settles to focus, each angle
a point to rest on, painlessly at first,
then hawking on, another plane established.
There are people moving now along it.
Is there a volume of laws that dictates
their flow and action?
We are gods over these roofs and a/c units –
as far as vision goes. But the human still
narrates. It is in the architecture.



Jenny and the Lovers

“The mermaid of Doxey Pool” on the Roaches, Staffordshire

This cold is near the knuckle.
The moon is one last bone.
On the Roaches, there’s no sign
of Jenny Greenteeth at the pool.

Jenny will not be photographed.
She swims out of light.
Movement in the heather
is her lovers, struggling
with each other, or with themselves.

Jenny will not come
but her lovers are going,
one by one, down into the pool
and rising again, winter leaves
spongy to touch, hauled out
and collapsing in the mud.

The mottling of their veins
is a map of the paths
Jenny might take on the moor
or off the moor, to the towns,
peat breath, slipping into
passenger seats, into pubs.
Is she whispering in ears?

Jenny is vanishing
in the cold, in the fog.
She is between headlights,
seeping down the B roads.
She has never been in the pool
except as a leaf, blown through.

Her lovers have not got it right.
They remain on the moor,
punching and punching.
Walkers next day believe
their torn and shrivelled skins
are lichens moulding to the rocks.