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
oh thirty years gone. Seventeenth century Welsh
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