A Short History of Birds
by the exhibition 'The Wonder of BirdsÓ
at Norwich Castle Museum, Summer
marry, play cards or dice, drink with the lads at music-halls or taverns,
Fred Ashby's enjoyment is contained in the moment he lifts to his mouth the
fried soft innards he has pulled and scooped from the creatures he wires and
One wire through the leg, up into the body, coiled round the head.
This is my way.
Tomorrow Mrs Maud
Drayton's milliner will come to collect more songbirds to perch on her
creations. He has never met Mrs Maud Drayton but he feels he can see
into her soul.
Your hat is a killing field; I wager you have hidden bruises under your
silks and satins. Your revenge is the death of little things.
In the yard the
chickens scratch and mumble. Jungle fowl he whispers. They watch him
with mean, homesick eyes, shrug their sooty feathers. He plucks one or
two for the milliner. Wooing is not marrying he says, licking smears of warm
blood from his thick fingers.
Darwin's Last Egg
He dips his
quill, carefully writes C. Darwin on the tawny tinamou shell like an eager
schoolboy with his first exercise book - My book, Shrewsbury, Shropshire,
England, The World, The Universe. A vision of bright yolk and runny albumen dribbling from the
blown egg makes his stomach tremble as The Beagle clambers yet another wave.
His sun-touched brain sees huge eggs hatching bulging-eyed predators.
Like an omniscient conductor, his hands weave the whole story of creation
into the fusty air. But he is only human after all. He mixes the
raw egg with a tot of rum to clear his head. Elixir of evolution.
The egg cracks as he presses down on the lid of the only box left in his festering
The Christening Cap
is worked on
holliepoint, holy point, a lacy dove in flight. Through the pricked
holes the priest can see a saffron crust of cradlecap. He anoints the
child's head where fine lawn meets mottling skin. The only beautiful
thing about the poor babe. The mite struggles to open disease-gummed
lids, a mouth rank with the smell of milky vomit. The priest turns away
to take three swallows of sanctified air. When he turns back the boy
has already gone, still and blue-tinged as a song-thrush egg. He
frowns, that beautiful cap is plain now, homespun. Out of the corner of his
eye the priest sees a pale flutter, oh yes, another soul migrating to the
Hunt the little
king, jenny wren, dryw; kill the little thing, jenny wren, dryw. Twist
its hot, beating neck for today is the day of the Feast of Stephen.
Misrule. Turn the world on a cartwheel. Nothing is unlucky today,
not even the murder of that tiny heart. The owls cannot touch me with
their cold Minerva beaks. Today I am your woman-king and you are my
man-queen. My quilty breasts are all I possess. Turn, turn, turn
the world on its head. Turn, turn, turn from the glint of the long
In 1866 a
Canadian woman stepping into her yard sees a single flock a mile wide, 300
miles long, 3.5 billion birds - mild, brown, they are a fluttering eclipse
across the century, a beating skein, thinning, thinning.
© Sue Burge 2016