Monday, January 6, 2014

6 January 2014

Ciaran Berry [The Bibliophile's Lair]

from Ciaran Berry's The Sphere of Birds:

For the Birds

Something has pried open the body of this hare,
unpicked a seam from between the stilled hindlegs
to the middle of the slackened, gray belly.

Now the two sides of the wound part slowly,
like a mouth widening as it comes on the right word,
or that neat tear in the half-obscured lower thigh

at the center of the theater in Eakins's The Gross Clinic
where, as I remember it, the owl-eyed surgeon
seems so unmoved by the thick, scarlet globules

that glisten like cheap lipstick on his thumb
and the anguish a mother buries in her dress sleeve
as he explains precisely how he will poke

a scalpel into tendon, muscle, bone, to remove
the latest clot of gangrene from the left leg of her son
who might, if all goes well, last out the year.

Two assistants hold the patient down, while
a third and fourth, with their crude tools, keep open
the incision and stare deep into the mysteries

of the flesh, as eager for their time with the body
as the petrels, kittiwakes, black-headed gulls,
that tend the hare's remains up here in the near-

heaven of the dunes, all neck and beak and skirl
as they uncoil the intestines turn by turn,
divide liver from lung, pick out the heart,

squabble over the kidneys. Hauling away whatever
they can use, they rise through marram grass,
through shafts of sand, and disappear, leaving me here

to understand a little more what the dead mean
to the living, why every St. Stephen's Day
of that decade we lived on the outskirts of town

the same three freckled cousins, wearing straw hats
and masks, would bring to our front door
a single wren. One of them played a tin whistle,

his mud-scabbed fingers missing every third note,
another grinned as he held up their find in a jam jar,
while the third, his voice not yet broken, sang

a song about that king of birds "caught in the furze,"
that ball of roan and gray feathers punished because
its ancestor had once exposed the patron saint

of stone masons to those who pursued him
simply by singing from the wall the soon-to-be-martyr
had crouched behind. Like the saint, the bird

would suffer a harsh end — not stoned and left out
for the hooded crows, but stolen from its hiding place
deep in the undergrowth, fated to expire

behind that wall of glass, which must have seemed
invisible at first, when the boy's cupped hands
opened and the bird dropped down into its cage.

Half-starved as they stood there in old men's clothes,
those boys were also part of the cycle, and
would soon become their fathers so their fathers

could be earth, the oldest one driving a tractor back
and forth from the church, the one who sang
hanging dead rooks up in the fields to save the grain,

while the youngest boy, the one who held the bird,
inherited the title of village drunk and cleared
his mother's house of possessions to quench

a thirst that would land him face up in the ditch,
eyes glazed with a thin layer of ice, dead as the hare
struck down here in the dunes where, cold and prone,

the pistons of its legs proved no more than flesh
and bone, it lies empty as those blue tits Keats shot
to clear the air a few days after his brother

coughed up phlegm flecked with blood for the last time.
Keats, who was months away from his nightingale
and further still from Rome. Yet as he lowered the gun

to watch each ruffle of feathers fall to earth, he felt
sure the same blackness that had claimed poor Tom
was sprouting in his lungs and would blossom,

that his remains would mean no more than a dropped
apple to the worms the graveyard birds would yank out
of the earth and swallow whole, that he and each

of us would end up as coiled muscle in the wings
of house sparrows, a dull throb in the robin's fragile
heart, dissonance in the hoarse throat of a thrush.

No comments:

Post a Comment