Dancers, Photograph by John Oughton
“To many, the language of birds is therefore nothing more or less than a series of secret codes and phrases, which pass by in daily conversation, except for those with ears that ‘hear’.” —Philip Coppens
Before the human eye can catch the light
birds call up the sun,
each giving a separate secret name
understood only by them and the awakening star.
One robin calls: warmer-of-lost-eggs
and a cardinal: bleeds-the-eastern-sky
a jay announces: shards-you-can’t-look-at
and whipporwill: courser-of-clouds
when all these qualities are uttered
the new-known sun arises
and birds fall silent,
drained of aspects to declare.
A field, a dance floor,
The poem can be.
A tennis game (with Rhymes)
But what if it’s a vacuum, abhorred,
massive black hole around which
one galaxy turns?
Everything sucks into its event
horizon. Nothing achieves escape
velocity. So, circulating in this hive
of form: the hardest scream
life can draw from your throat,
Lost loves, the scent of flowers
your face was pressed into, unwilling,
The moments you thought death
came next, all the lines you never wrote down.
And this: last night’s dream,
growing anxiety as you couldn’t
find the black car you’d parked to
get an aged aunt home, the midway ride
twirling in air around the belfry
an endless paean to midnight.
Your shame, your surprise,
Your last word.
In this poem.
Waking, I trail a skin of dreams
like a caul, contrail
I am the sniper – crosshairs aligned
on the joy of a clean kill
rainbow-scaled, I fight my way up the ladder
flying is only walking with more will
I am the wise child, lost man
with breasts, knee-length beard, new needs
dogged, fur pelts forth
I lie cat-kin along possibility’s wall
From this surfeit of symbol
I rise slowly, half thought, half felt
become small waves in a cup of coffee.
—Poems & Photographs by John Oughton
John Oughton has published five books of poetry (most recently Time Slip, new and collected poems from Guernica Editions). He has also produced several chapbooks, over 400 articles, reviews, blogs and interviews, and a suspense novel which will be published by Neopoeisis Press. He is a member of the Long Dash writing group. As a photographer, he has had three solo exhibitions, and his images have appeared on book covers, in journals and e-zines. John works as Professor of Learning and Teaching at Centennial College and is completing a doctorate in Education at York University in Toronto.
- From “Tweet tweet: the language of birds” http://www.philipcoppens.com/birdlanguage.html↵
Gorgeous poetry. The first one especially resonated with me – whenever I listen to birds chirping, I try to interpret what they are saying, or singing. I hear cardinals singing, “Tomato, tomato, tomato.”
I agree. All quite fine. Something beautiful happens in the last one for me when the dream enters in the last stanza, with the black car and the aged aunt, grounding it somehow, though it’s still a dream.