Friday, 8 September 2017

A Kestrel

This poem is in syllabics. The syllable count is 11, 11, 9, 10. However, all contiguous vowels are elided, including dipthongs, and all vowels separated by the letters h and y. I think I'm right in saying (one can spend a lifetime analysing syllabic poems, even one's own) that where a vowel is involved in a double elision I dropped one of the elisions. That leaves four lines which are irregular, being one syllable short - including, embarrassingly, the first line. I knew that was the case when I wrote it and intended to regularise it before the poem was finished, but it became fixed in my mind and I could not find a satisfactory alternative. Hence, it remains. Rhyme is used in two places (at the end of stanzas five and sixteen) to indicate changes in the argument, and also at the end of the final stanza.


Yes, indeed, men are busy on this working
Day: the fractious racketing of company cars
      And thundering shudder of forty
   Foot lorries, carrying comestibles to querulous 

Shoppers, gush along the sweaty tarmac of the
Arterial road like packets of data in a 
      Processor; above, on a low-backed hill,
   The napped flint church of the Sacred Heart communes

With its incensed innards, justifying the
Boredom of sunny afternoons with the dozing
      Paperwork of baptisms and banns;
   Across the road on a scrub margin of the heath

Mayne’s travelling funfair, garishly assembling
For bank holiday, is deserted and closed, although
      Behind the dodgems a man and two
   Boys wrangle with the gearbox of a kiddie’s ride,

Forlornly striving to ensure that artifice
Somehow outflank reality. Come holiday, the biped 
      Thinker, unthinking, will crowd the rides, 
   Flung back and forth with the pointlessness of tides.

Walking the heath this mid-spring day the blustering
Wind is chilly, though a blue sky backdrops a flock of 
      Sheepy cumulus clouds, their undersides ragged
   And grubby with a tendency to leak like

The incontinent young. Resolved as trekkers they angle
The sky on a transhumance of immemorial
      Usage, chivvied by a huffy Zephyrus.
   Skirting an eight foot bank impenetrably grown

With cow parsley, thistles and hawthorns rankly
Finishing their flowering – goldfinch and ruddy
      Linnets, crackling like static, were bouncing
   In their musky shadow – swiftly a kestrel

Swept across my view, steel-grey and swathed in dun, dried-leaf camouflage;
Purposive it followed the bank when suddenly
      Swerving and rising to, what, thirty feet?
   It veered out over the couch-grass and hung starkly still,

Black against the wave-blue and cloud-grey sky, its wings like scythes.
Despite the fickleness of the gusting wind
      It held its station like a salmon at foot of
   A slumping waterfall, rocking, dipping,

But scarcely slipping from its chosen fulcrum.
Glib hunter, your beak a barbed agate, adept at tearing flesh,
      Your claws tucked up like babies’ fists, resting on
   Air like a taut sheet, sleek as a bullet, slam as a grenade!

It hovered for a minute – it felt much longer
As piercing death deliberated – its wings rippling
      In paroxysms of pianists’ long
   Fingers, upturned and kneading the wind ceaselessly:

Its head poised like a cosh between shoulders it glared with basilisk
Eyes at the flustering grass though I saw nothing and
      Nothing fled. And so, time and the world turned
   In breath-held stasis until finally the

Kestrel banked and climbed the sky, its wings barely
Working, sweeping figures over the heath, now carving
      Close to the muddily thick bases
   Of the clumping clouds, now falling to mere feet of

The brush; at last, in the deep distance it was still plain, a
Fast iota, very high and fluent in the wind’s
      Buffeting thermals. Walking to the
   Knot the kestrel had fixed so fiercely I of course sprang

Nothing, but something – snub-nosed vole or grape-eyed mouse or merely
A staggering beetle – had been fortunate, skeltering
      Back, perhaps, to the bank’s billowed vetch,
   Impenetrable to the hunter’s straining fetch.

Chastened by the workaday rigour of creation – death had
After all merely been delayed, I made my way home
      Under spitting rain, the clouds having coalesced
   To a pall. The funfair was silent, a few strings

Of bulbs impatiently winked; the gaudy facades of
The stalls in their vermilions, crimsons and purples,
      Bombastic with showmanlike scrollwork,
   At odds with the matt sobriety of the heath.

Lord, how strange are the ways of what is! Man with his
Copious brainbox takes refuge in the belly and fun
      Rather than consider his death, whilst the
   Kestrel and its prey as oblivious partners

Express creation’s deepest truth – that death is progenitor
Of birth’s epiphanies, those genetic swervings 
      Which encode fresh possibility
   Whether for sweet pea, viruses or man; and for

Those able to bear it, transliteration to something
Worthy of audience with the All. Breeding and the rictus
      Of dying are the fell engines of
   Being, and hamburgers, iphones and circus

Games eye-blinding chaff on the wind. The kestrel perched
On a tall pole, plumage slapping in the air’s rush
      Of molecules, a vole like a rag clutched
   In its talons, unreflexive and immediate,

Is being lacking the beatific vision certainly –
Though what has man, image of God, made of that these thousands of
      Years? – but is, yet, sanctified in innocence,
   Unlike man, dyspeptic sop of ill-sense.

© May 2014


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