the study of birds’ nests
Magpie nest displayed in the Hunterian Museum,
Glasgow, natural materials and found metal.
A magpie’s dream of twisted sticks and steel –
this bowl of twigs, barbed-wire and coat hangers
designed for hanging shirts, or barring thieves,
now stuck with mud and gardeners’ skewers
and turned to the purpose of cradling eggs.
Perhaps it was the metal’s tempting glint,
or something of its ‘inner architect’
that made the bird suppose these things might bend
beneath the pressure of a well-placed bill;
that these collected charms might just become
girders strong enough to shore up brushwood
and fragile stalks of grass against their ruin.
How shall we build our homes? Of what? And where?
Here comes the magpie’s answer, on the air.
All I know of how to turn the harvest in this autumn
is little: stripping the canes of their berries,
snapping corn cobs from their stems
wrapped in the shrouds of their husks.
All I know of gleaning runner beans;
of cutting through the stems of broccoli,
or trimming the kale and stipes of chard
is little still but, thankfully, enough.
Of this, however, I am fairly sure:
we take the berries from the brier
and simmer our conserves; we twist
the pumpkins from their vines for pies
and lanterns for the porch at Hallowe’en;
we pluck the pears and float them in a syrup
like specimens in a specialist’s jar;
we bottle the gages and simmer a sauce…
and in this preservation rests
the turning-in that everyone awaits,
which is all we can be sure of in this
temporary body we’ve borrowed from the ground.
Before then I hope I might make
some lasting jams, some sufficient preserves,
but don’t suppose I’ll put down in words
anything as perfect as the strawberry’s heart,
the pink shank of rhubarb,
the crown globe of the artichoke.
All I can do is ready myself and start,
as when they opened the King and Queen’s tomb
and found the honey still fresh in its jar
ten thousand years after bottling.
one of Andy’s versions of poems by the Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges:
The garden gate swings open
with the ease of a book
we have read many times
and, once inside,
we need never look
on what we know by heart.
We know the customs and the spirit
and the family sayings every clan
devises. There is no need to speak
or lie about privilege;
everything here knows us,
our failings and our fears.
This is the pinnacle;
what heaven may, perhaps, bestow:
not admiration and victory,
but simply being admitted
to everything that is,
as real as rocks, as trees.
Seascape with Kites and Gulls
…the love that consists in this: that two solitudes
protect and border and greet each other.
Rilke, Letter 7,
Letters to a Young Poet
Summer called them from the port of desire,
with its loud, insistent reach towards the future;
those fields of days that stretch and yearn
beyond the compass span of ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
That morning on the bight they stood and watched
the coastal sky sparkling with kites –
Twisters, Quadlines, Chevrons, Trackers,
Speedwings, Prisms, Spinoffs, Fighters –
their pilots keen to keep firm hold,
but oh how they wanted to let go.
They watched each flyer test the sky
and wondered how their blend of luck and skill
kept some up in the blue, while others hovered
just above the sand in perfect stasis,
or crashed in nosedives, broken on the rocks.
Certainly the gulls knew how they felt –
hungry, territorial – tossing out waste from the bins,
exploring it with forceful, stabbing bills;
spreading their wings in expansive displays
to frighten off a rival, stake their claim.
In that moment, they felt they saw themselves:
the brilliant light with its scarf of clouds;
the patient vocabulary of trust.
Andy Brown has published seven poetry collections including Exurbia, The Fool and the Physician; Goose Music [with John Burnside], and Fall of the Rebel Angels: Poems 1996-2006 (all Salt). Five further chapbooks include Of Science [with David Morley] (Worple). He recently editedThe Writing Occurs As Song: A Kelvin Corcoran Reader (Shearsman, 2014). A selection of poems appears in Identity Parade (Bloodaxe) and prose poems in This Line Is Not For Turning(Cinnamon). He is Director of Creative Writing at Exeter University, and a tutor for the Poetry School. A Body of Work: Poetry and Medical Writing [with Dr. Corinna Wagner] is forthcoming from Bloomsbury.
His latest collection is Exurbia (Worple Press, 2014). Exurbia is the name of the urban fringe at the outer limits of suburbia. These poems begin here, characterised by edges, transition and change, paying attention to where and how we make our homes. The poems of the book’s central sequence are elegiac versions inspired by the Argentinian poet Borges, gazing over the city’s blurred outskirts at dawn and sundown, while the book’s final poems reach fully ex urbia, arriving at woodlands and moors, rivers and estuaries. Here, from the edge of the shoreline, they head out to sea before making a circular migration back home.