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20 November 2015

“The Wren and the Coconut“: a poem by Clive James

I wonder if they still are, wonder why, / While barely knowing a blue tit from a bullfinch, / I’m so stuck on old military hardware.

By Clive James

On a summer morning early, before six,I sit with coffee on my balcony
And watch a single bird, perhaps a wren,
Pecking away at the half coconut
On the iron table.
The coconut must have some food in it –
Our Premium Suet, Seeds and Cereal Mix –
The squirrel didn’t get, because the wren
Is pecking hard, braced on his thin splayed legs
That somehow conjure up the undercarriage,
Hinged at the wing root to fold outwards,
Of the Spitfire or the Me 109,
As opposed to the more stable wide-track straddle
Of the Hurricane or the FW 190,
Hinged on a wing spar to fold inwards.
There was a time when all the WRENs were women
Who shone like Dana Wynter in Sink the Bismarck:
So spick and span, so suitable for marriage
Back there in the war.
I wonder if they still are, wonder why,
While barely knowing a blue tit from a bullfinch,
I’m so stuck on old military hardware.
You’d think I might have put all that behind me.
I’m here to watch the feeding and the flying.
There are no hawks or owls,
No bleeding, not much dying except for me.
I should just enjoy the wren:
Which, I’m now told, was probably a sparrow.



Clive James’s latest collection of poems is Sentenced to Life (published by Picador) and his most recent work of non-fiction is Latest Readings (Yale University Press).

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This article appears in the 18 Nov 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The age of terror