Speaking to the Birds
How can you fail to love a saint
for preaching to a flock of birds,
soft necks straining in rapt regard?
St Francis worried that by not
carrying his message far or wide
enough beyond human hearing
alone he had been remiss.
Stanley Spencer painted St Francis
with a wild lack of modesty,
caroming round the farmyard
a verdant sphere, arms flung wide,
mottled bean of head and beard
cast skyward, birds clinging like
unbidden ideas to his wake.
When I picked up a postcard
of Spencer’s St. Francis years ago
I simply loved his disheveled flow
– nothing like the gaunt man of poverty
in the bible – and didn’t know
that many years later I would
envy the fangirl zeal of his flock.
One summer’s day as our chickens
roamed free, I spotted a bird of prey
poised over the hill behind the house.
Panicked, I ran out the back door,
still mid-conversation on the phone.
I continued to talk as I madly
waved my free arm in the air,
weaving across the grass, warning
the hawk not to come any closer
to our little flock. No chicken dinner
for you today! I shrieked through
a strange pantomime as I tried
to maintain my composure.
Just like St Francis, I felt
the creatures under my care
were deserving of safety,
consideration. Perhaps the hawk
needed enlightenment: I know you
need to eat, just not here, not today,
as though such a decision could
even be mine to make. Truth is,
my flock wouldn’t even note
the trouble I’d gone to for them.
In the middle of winter a man
I know confesses that he let
his flock of ducks out on a
deeply cold day. Wanting the sun,
two soon found themselves frozen
to the pond’s flat surface. Worried,
the man rushed into his house
and grabbed a spatula,
calling out Hold still now!
No way would the birds have sat
still as he tried to wriggle
the flat surface under their iced
wings and feet. It must have been
feathered panic, the birds
squawking their objection,
mimicking explosive pancakes
as he fought off their wings.
Rescue is a delicate thing
and prone to back firing,
like the time the dog and I
rushed across the lawn to shock
one of our roosters from a fox’s
maw. In our haste and noise
it seemed we’d won as the fox
withdrew without his prize.
The cockerel, dazed, was never
the same, wandering as though
lost through the next day or two.
We found him lifeless next
to the coop one afternoon,
the sun glinting off his iridescent
tail feathers. We’d only prolonged
his pain and I hated myself for
acting like some kind of saviour.
Dagne Forrest's poetry has appeared in journals in Canada, the US, Australia, and the UK. In 2021 she was one of 15 poets featured in The League of Canadian Poets’ annual Poem in Your Pocket campaign, had a poem shortlisted for the UK's Bridport Prize, and won first prize in the Hammond House Publishing International Literary Prize (Poetry). Her creative nonfiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Lake Effect, Paper Dragon and Sky Island Journal. Learn more at dagneforrest.com.
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