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25 October 2023

The NS Poem: Birds of the Arctic

A new poem by Simon Armitage.

By Simon Armitage

When sliced open,
the cormorant’s stomach dazzled
with sequins, glow sticks and fake opals.

A running sewer
pooled in the gut of the long-tailed skua.

In the kittiwake’s call
we heard the piped muzak of the shopping mall.

Prospectors drilled into the snowy owl
and struck oil.

In scarlet wellies, black guillemots paddled
in rust-red puddles.

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Under the microscope
the fluffy down of the common eider
or St Cuthbert’s duck
crawled with giant excavators and monster trucks.

The northern gannet’s powder-blue eye
was a cobalt river,
a sapphire mine.

Civilisations bloomed
in the flooded hearts and ear canals
of red-throated loons.

Battery acid bled
from the razorbill’s cracked egg.

Snow bunting, feathered snowflake,
we had to unhook
the internet’s tangled gobbledygook
from your gold beak.

On second thoughts, the white tail
of the white-tailed eagle was a vapour trail.

In the lipsticked bill of the Arctic tern
the outback smouldered
and the prairies burned.

In the small intestine
of the little auk
we found Mexico City, Manila, Shanghai, New York.

This poem was written for “Poet Laureate in the Arctic” (BBC Radio 4) and is included in the pamphlet “The Cryosphere” (Faber & Faber)

[See also: Dead birds falling from the sky is a bad omen for humanity]

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This article appears in the 25 Oct 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Fog of War