Coarse calloused hand grips the smooth wood handle of the tiller
The coarse hand holds firm-fast the course, plies the swell and pleats it
Long slice of the rudder halves the larger smudge of the keel
Hull shudders atop the weight of the dark water’s shoulders
Pulled and press-ganged bankward and back, off-channel rushed or slowed
The arced throb of the planking groans in the crush of currents
Red rough hand on the worn helm whitens, corded arm bunches
The arm wills the surge to pitch the vessel ply-wise only
Steersman wills down branches from treed banks to bat and beat it
In toward the yearning centre and downstream by dint of bough
Steersman longs mudslides to mire and cake it caulk-wise on wounds
Coarse hand and corded arm, for the love of both ship and shore


For the Bird

I started to dedicate it
to you, ‘my feathered friend’.
Are you? Are we friends?
I feel, I genuinely do, as if we are.

Whence this feel of kinship? As if
we two were fish-hearts caught up
in a kith-and-creel of familial ligature,
as if the whole world-boat were
a know-country for old kin
(bird-boy and ape-jay knuckling
through the undergrowth again!).

‘But as if,’ I can hear the rejoinding cries,
‘is if-and-only-if as applies.’

The morph-police are onto us, hide!
Their anthropo-mechano-allo-zoo
boss-embossed bullets bleed us
too true and in a bone-sickening instant
all our meta-tricks crunch phoric
beneath their see-through nightsticks.

‘What do you think you are,
indigenous?’ they pigeon us
(and you’re not even that bird!).

Ach, who gives a flying fact?
(I’d give them the bird,
were you mine to give,
but not that word, as I live.)

Look, friends or no (I speak
from a bleeding mouth and maybe
that’s the only way)
your motion, oh bird of my brow-
beating, maps me out
in topographic greeting,
now don’t laugh! Look:

the zag and tremble-flit,
controlled shudder of bones,
the riffle, the dart, hop and blur,
up you whir, touch down again
as you please, and with ease as
consummate as grift your ways
are out of mind most days, until
in a trice you track in front of my footpath
or group-wing across my eyes’ sky
and draw my blood up and out
in patterns I hadn’t guessed.

You, you, my feathered friend,
brought to gut immediacy for me
that I was on a gigantic ball winging orbital
through galactic expanses brimming
with just such dances as you
and your kind-kin exhibit ceaselessly
could we, the self-policing monkey bunch,
but trouble to fish-leap a flash
(bloody words a spilling) alongside
your kith-keel and feel with fear
the joint-not-joint akimbo.

How could I not call you friend
when you benedict me so?

(Photo by Flannery O’Kafka)

Ornithological Poetics

Ok, what is it—
the bird and the word
a bird in the hand
a word in the mouth
no, I never
held a bird
it’s the bird in flight
ha, and the word too, I guess
birds and words on wing
‘nature writing’, my first assay
and I didn’t know
(now I know)
what I’d say

(photo by Flannery O’Kafka)

I hugged my wee daughter and this poem came out…

The soft-firm clasp
of flesh on flesh
(bones thunked
into each other
beneath those
with the warm force
of willed love
is a touch
of ontic bedrock,
below which
no greater
or more
—your own heart
preaches this
truth to you
in sermonic
eloquence I
cannot match.
And that self-same
heart buries
its own truth
like disowned bones
and disembowels
all diggers
with the slick-flicked
fangs of the
until you clasp
again and gasp
recognition and
shove it down
once more
in spin-glitch agony,
a wrestle-wretch
sucked out
sucked in
despite your best
or handed over
to bone-wearied
dog-day masters
exacting last pennies
ever after.
(One foot in
that down-hole
you feel
a bloody hand,
raked by your own
teeth, curl fingers
in your scruff
and tug up—
do you release?)
Real and everlasting
fangs at last
are ready to rip you
true and re-skin
the soft-firm clasp
of flesh on flesh
(bones sang
into each other
beneath those
with the fierce warmth
of willed love.