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IN THE COUNTRY OF BIRDS

The cover of In the Country of Birds


IN THE COUNTRY OF BIRDS
This contains poems written at the end of the 1990's and the first two years of this century with work from the 1980's.

The critics say:
"His glancing encounters with small scale atrocity make other poets on the same subject sound provincial," Stephen Burt in The Times Literary Supplement

"a poet of experience but writes of life at a higher voltage ... it is when he translates his bleak conclusions into surreal parables that he is most unsettling" Sarah Wardle in The Observer

"The poems that express this breadth of experience are at once widely varied and deeply engaging" Philip McCardle in PN Review












CUTTING HAIR IN RUTHENIA, 1939

Old Hakoš would set out on the veranda wall
A comb, scissors, a china basin, a towel,
A cut-throat razor with a wooden handle,
A mug for coins for those who had a mind
To pay in cash not in kind.

Boys would come, their fathers, their grandfathers,
All of them skinny; harvest yet to be gathered,
Fruit unripe and famine the previous year.
The adults would sit in the yard and smoke,
Drink slivovitz and talk

Of the new regime, a vanished Jew,
"Good riddance or No doctor, what are we to do?"
Or words of regret spoken without undue
Emphasis, informers being everywhere
Then and for many years after,

While the boys went first, the napes of their necks
Clipped to a soft down then shorn bare with a flick
Of a wrist which otherwise placed brick on brick,
Hako? being the village master builder
Deft with trowel and mortar.

Sixty years on I watch meteors flare
And drop in streaks like blonde and silver hairs.
On the veranda under the moon and stars
I work alone my scissors doing the talking,
Indoors an alarm clock ticking.



  A ROASTING PIGLET

I gave a lift to a man.
He was slightly the worse for drink
And the mapwork on his face
Showed that he and alcohol were always close.

I gave a lift to a man.
The day was chilly and here
There’s little threat froma stranger
Except becoming very drunk.

I drove him to his cabin in the woods.
He invited me for coffee
And pressed a triple vodka on me
Which had to be gulped down in one.

We and his friends watched a piglet
Turning slowly on a metal spit
Driven by a motor with a husky purr
Like a queen cat giving birth.

Elsewhere a government had changed.
Elsewhere NATO prpeared to bomb the Serbs.
My man basted and sprinkled herbs
As fat dripped and charcoal sputtered.

The pig’s jaws gaped round one end of the spit.
The other end came out through a thigh.
Its legs and trotters were folded back.
It could have knelt for the butcher’s knife.

We laughed when my man took a cloth
And wiped bubbles from its fizzing snout.
Its ears crisped, the slash across its throat
Cooked from red to gold. I took my leave.

Elsewhere I had paths to sweep,
Mushrooms to pick beside roaring water.
Elsewhere I had other fish to fry,
A piglet of my own to slaughter.


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