Sometimes, I cannot sleep – too busy opening
the cages of the trapped birds fidgeting on a perch before
they bolt out of an open door.
Where do they go?
There are rows and rows of cages and my fingers
are too inarticulate
to complete the endless task whilst fumbling the latch
of my own cage.
When I wake,
there is a mountain to my back and a stippled shore
to the fore, diving white birds; out of signal
range, off the page, all things made of kindling,
indifferent to the sour smell of kelp, becoming
an otter’s skirmish
and the salt-cure of waves condensing into squawking.
I will not climb the mountain’s curtain but
save the intimacy of the sea’s
equilibrium. I will be the bubble
inside the spirit level, both seeing
and sawing. If I am lucky, I will
untie the fisherman’s knots in driftwood
grain, there will be enough wood to cage
the flames of a small fire,
enough of a thermal to rise
amongst the birds and dive.
I, fearing water and heights,
leaving a trail of bubbles behind.
Berwick’s swans overheard
We are an out-stretched promise
from the skies’ argent fall,
leavened by first snow dissolving
in the fetch
of shallow lakes.
Each wingbeat melts
ever farther from frozen arctic
tundra, like a willowed
Each feather marvels
an alchemist’s sublimation
from the White Sea
until we blare out the melded
by-product of our Baltic ancestry.
And now, we are slipping
into the meltwater of your tiny islands,
flocks abandoning the borders
of your salvation legend.
The compass of our yellow and black bills reads
an inescapable confession
to a dwindling instinct.
The Living Dead, they call the animals on the verge
of extinction, but the label on the cage just maps you
as rare and dangerous: the worst
of back-and-forth marriages, an impossible bridge
that leaves you always turning between the two,
when, being dead already, you could simply slink
through soffits into comics. It is safer padding
the consolation between the eye’s scratching posts:
no need to police the mesh for the plundering
of your gilded layers, for being butchered apart,
ring by ring, so that we may reach inside the dark
crevasses for the bones and penis apothecary
of colourful carton bearing a blurred depiction.
I turn the page back to the comet in a cage, bloodless
as Blake at nightfall. As I rub you into my skin,
you are replaced with symbol, myth, mascot.
Paul Green lives in Lancashire, England. His poetry and stories explore our relationship with the natural world and have recently appeared in The Fiction Pool, Orbis, Tears in the Fence, The Wild Word, Words for the Wild, and other journals. He was nominated for Best of the Net during 2020.