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4 April 2018updated 24 Jun 2021 12:24pm


A new poem by Grey Gowrie.

By Grey Gowrie

Giant eye, a livid yellow and black-rimmed eye,

     furious and feral, met my own at eye height

inches away. It happened like this. A male thrush, 

     a big one with obese breast and thick feathering

got caught in the holly hedge which we had planted

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    oh thirty years gone. Seventeenth century Welsh

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farmhouse plonked down on a hospitable plateau

     that interrupted the steep south-falling hillock,

no doubt through interglacial realignment

     ten or twelve thousand years old but an eyeblink

in the planet story. It welcomed nonetheless

     space for a dwelling, attendant barns and stables,

built on now, gentrified, yeomanified really,

     in the 1830s. The hill fell steep again

where a front lawn should be then swept gently away

     to the river Cain (cf. cattle not fratricide).

So you get to the house by a sunken drover’s

     lane with a stone retaining-wall, a holly hedge

all over it. So – getting on now, lame, grumpy –

     I found myself eyeball to eyeball with a thrush

and man to man, him being formidably male

    and not at all frightened but furious to rage

at me and my holly, poor excuses for life.

     It was hard to get over that reptilian

eye, so livid and yellow, or that bad black look

     and something of the crocodile coiled within it,

the beak spiky like holly, the angry pounding

      of a mottled breast, the eye on a par with mine.

I leaned on the wall, poked with my standard-issue

      NHS lightweight crutch deep into the holly

for a parting of ways, just to liberate him

      from so much anger and hostility, myself

from both of these and let me hobble home for tea.

      It worked. After so long, so entirely songless

a scrabbling, my thrush plummets improbably free

      to lumber into the sky like some miniature

jumbo jet taking off and elegant only

       with height accomplished. And so horrible for him.

He almost didn’t make it, had almost fallen

       out of his painful prison, just in time to step

back into the sky milliseconds from rough ground,

       from earth or all we covet down here of freedom.

After a few clumsy feet his elevation

       pumped all the oxygen out of his mottled chest

and he flew so fast and so in an instant high

       that he looked tiny now and full of the rapture

of a fighter plane or Old Master depiction

       of some soul leaving its body; leaving desire,

anger, frustration, appetite; and leaving me

       to waver and shuffle, try to get back to life,

get on with life or whatever was left of life;

       unable almost to breathe or turn home to slake

the ancient malevolence in that yellow eye.


Grey Gowrie’s Third Day: New and Selected Poems and The Italian Visitor are published by Carcanet.

This article appears in the 21 Mar 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Easter special