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  • Nigel Speight

Blog 3

Updated: May 28

Freda and I are lucky in having access to three parks at the moment, so while we keep being told how “abnormal “ everything  is, it can take only a minute or two to realise how, for every other species on the planet, 2020 is completely normal. Except perhaps where we are destroying habitat, although that has become entirely normal now so they are probably used to us doing that.

Apparently one of the positives emerging from the crisis is people reconnecting with nature without Sir David Attenborough doing a running commentary. Closer contact with landscape and animals can help with mental health as well as phusycal, though not necessarily on grouse moors…

Anyway, you have got some “nature” poems coming up.

I have always loved the way Gerard Manley Hopkins, DH Lawrence and Dylan Thomas in particular tried to render natural subjects in poetry without drifting into sentimentality. Nature is red In tooth and virus. Trying to express the physical, though not or landscape, and only exercising anthropomorphism with comedy in attendance is an enjoyable technical challenge too

The bridge in “Swallow” is the Victorian metal bridge over the Thames linking the South end of Port Meadow in Oxford with Bossoms boatyard. Hopkins stood there and of course, the churchyard where Tish is buried is at the back of Binsey that Hopkins wrote on as well. 

I have no axe to grind in these poems. They are just descriptions designed to underline beauty.  I hope they work that way for you.

Sunflowers

The first shoot

presses out like

a baby’s head,

A soft, white

knuckle nudging

crumbs of soil

aside, before

moisture-hoisting

centimetres

stretch all

summer long,

cell-by-cell,

into metres

draped with floppy

heart leaves 

hanging like  

elephant ears. 

An invisible 

rocket has

vapour-trailed

a barnstorming

beanstalk,

at the last up-

periscoping

its crowning

glory: ramming 

a golden 

tatty hat down

on a dark, close-

cropped skull.

Swallow

If you stand still 

in the middle of this bridge,

air softened by the blooming 

warmth of a summer dawn,

swallows can slash 

inches from your face

like a Samurai sword.

A milky breast

bullets past with 

a flash of sharp focus,

so that invisible midge

about to feast on

your skin is now 

stuck in a red throat

awaiting digestion.

Evenings, their aerobatics

nip to within millimetres

of the river: ancient

arrowheads, skimming

to drink and feed off

long, scimitar curves,

wings dipping for the final

twists of the knife.

At their twin 

tips, wings

scissor open and close.

Blue Tit Feeding

In flight, 

bouncing on air, 

skimming the sky, 

between slim trees, 

the line like a child’s, 

drawing a bird.

Back. About.

Blue spikey

skull cap. Face: 

white, black slash, 

white. Beak: dart 

tip. Here. Now.

Eyes: tiny

holes. In. Out. 

About. Dart up.

Down. Peckish.

Peck. Peck. Flee. 

Back. About.

Hop. Wait. A 

tic? Scratch. Llllegggg-

blurr. Toc. Peep.

Fidgety fluff 

up. Sleek. Right.

Left. Peek. Hop.

Pop off. Back.

About. Peck.

Now. Here. Peck.

AGHH! Great Tit.

A bout. Nearly 

pecked.

Gone.

Orgy

Gnats can fly backwards and upside down and they can turn on the spot.

Their wings beat 1,000 times a second. Roughly.

More tango than tangle, 

these tiny flies are hanging 

out on their 3D dance

floor, quickstepping on

air. 

Their elastic chassis involves up 

and down like a siren’s song. 

Invisible eyes, legs and wings 

(plus systems to feed them/reproduce) 

knit this floating Ball

of dizzying precision, 

making synchronised shoals or swirling 

flocks seem mere conformists. 

Here’s instinct at its most ingenious and fecund:

if they were exercising choice, 

they would be choosing several times a second. 

Have they all met before? 

Don’t be absurd.

Will they ever meet again? 

In the stomach, maybe

of spider, bat or bird. 

Are they all the same?

Are some a bit of a character?

A “Look at Me!” male, pumping fizz into his

bzzzz and aiming for the closest near Miss?

A double quick spin 

turn, reverse, flex  

and then he’s topped her.

If we had sex like this 

we’d fall out of bed;

then out the helicopter.....

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