Today’s poem was written by my colleague, the New Zealand poet Tim Upperton. It’s a great example of facility with form. I also admire it as a poem that is about birds without really being at all about birds. It is from his collection A House on Fire (Steele Roberts, 2009) and can also be found in the Best New Zealand Poems 2009:
Tim Upperton/The Starlings
Anger sang in that house until the scrim walls thrummed.
The clamour rang the window panes, dizzying up chimneys.
Get on, get on, the wide rooms cried, until it seemed our unease
as we passed on the stairs or chewed our meals in dimmed
light were all an attending to that voice. And so we got on,
and to muffle that sound we gibbed and plastered, built
shelves for all our good books. What we sometimes felt
is hard to say. We replaced what we thought was rotten.
I remember the starlings, the pair that returned to that gap
above the purple hydrangeas, between weatherboard and eaves.
The same birds, we thought, not knowing how long a starling lives.
For twenty years they came and went, flit and pause and up
into that hidden place. A dry rustle at night, fidgeting, calling,
a murmuration: bird business. The vastness and splendour
of their piecemeal activity, their lives’ long labour,
we discovered at last; blinking, in the murk of the ceiling,
at that whole cavernous space filled, stuffed like a haybarn.
It was like gold, except it was more like shit and straw,
jumbled with their own young, dead, desiccated, sinew
and bone, fledgling and newborn. Starlings only learn
a little thing, made big from not knowing when to leave off:
gone past all need except need, enough never enough.
If you’re interested, you can read more about Tim and read some of his other poems. You can also read an interview with Tim by the writer Tim Jones.
4 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: The Starlings”
A stunning poem. One of my favourites of Tim’s. Thank you, Bryan, for taking me back to it.
Wow – so much packed into this poem. Tells a story in the only way a really well-worked poem can, marvellously.
Thanks to the both of you.
Interesting the different ‘pressures’ in this poem, the way time in one stanza seems dense, is lifted in the next, and in the time within the poem that the speakers’ experience, feels full without being explicit of open windows and slammed doors, and ‘getting on’. And the stunning ending–offering us a ‘there but for the grace’ human beings could live that way, and in the last line, perhaps we do. . .
Belated thanks, Bryan, for posting my poem here. I’ve got misgivings about it now, but I always do, after a while! Start to hate my own work. I suspect most writers recognize this…