Birds Viewed From A Cage – James Knox Whittet

The George Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition
2012 Crabbe Memorial Competition – Third Prize
Adjudicator: Kenneth Steven

Day after day, I watched their
orange tails quiver in the cherry
trees, inhabiting a world not
of our corrupt, human making.

They find freedom following
laws they do not pause to question:
It is enough to fly, to eat, to feel
the sun’s warmth on their feathers.

They are within our sight but beyond
our reach: they transcend our
suffering as rainbows arch over
scarred fields of battle where later

the open eyes of the dead mirror
slow onsets of dusk like stagnant
pools. Myself and my fellow prisoners
grow thin and weaken; we long for

letters of home; vivid dreams assail
us each night as we shiver with fever
beneath coarse blankets stained with spit
blood; I feel her ghostly lips brush mine.

But dawn comes like a gash and then I
hear birdsong sound like the notes of that
piano I played as a child with the
metronome of raindrops on the attic roof.

I look out at the black faces and wings
of males who tiptoes across alien land,
more at ease in currents or air which
blows as if from some far off country.

I merge myself into their world and
away from my world of boredom
and pain. I become part of what I
observe: the boundaries which separate

us dissolve. Some nights, those bars
which cage me in fall away and I fly
like a bird from an opened cage
and feel the wash of air against my

orange plumage as I migrate across
oceans, hearing the wind and the
steady beat, beat of my wings:
my flight guided by invisible hands.

Poet John Buxton observed the behaviour of redstarts while imprisoned in a German POW camp in World Ward II and after the war he published a beautiful monograph of the bird.

Copyright © James Knox Whittet 2012




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