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weaving nests with smoke and stone by Gina Mercer
Walleah Press, 2015.
ISBN 978187710712
Mary Cresswell reviews

weaving nests with smoke and stone

by Gina Mercer

At first glance, this is a book about birds. Read it again, and it’s a diary of shape-shifting where birds, people, and landscapes swoop and flit, worlds moving in and out of each other:

He sends me the last days’ photos, ...

We look so bonny and robin-round

beside her wren-bone frail.

She, still railing strong against

the determined flocks of starlings

roosting in her spine, liver, lungs.                  (63)

Sometimes the boundary between two worlds is as vivid as the edge of a nest:

Above the nest’s edge

beaks of baby birds

poke upwards


as handles on a shopping basket.                   (51)

 Sometimes the contrast is abrupt, when "The office worker makes a bird list" of cockatoos “raucousing around”, rosellas “looping the park”, a dozen birds in vivid motion, swooping and swinging ... but suddenly, at the end, “the day at the desk begins.” (5).

And at times there seems to be no boundary at all.

On the egg-blue edge of sky

swallows embroider baroque scrolls.


Flounces of callistemon blossom

perfume the air ecstatic.                                  (55)

These birds are above all independent of us. They flicker, swoop, dance, bustle, swing, rasp and flap. They charge back and forth in the landscape entirely on their own terms. Poets require a lot of work from birds: the stork, the bluebird, the albatross, carry huge burdens; ravens will never escape "nevermore", and twenty-one stanzas of "unpremeditated art" is a big ask for one small skylark. But here, "Open my window" (quoted in its entirety) everyone is free:

all the birds in my brain

fly out


zoom and pirouette

across the garden’s stage

confident of audience



glide smooth,

land on sturdy branches,

roost to converse



hop                  flitter

consider the window

take their own watchful time


all the birds in my brain

fly out              (23)


The world has more than birds. There are fish, seahorses, and the seductive "Sea-silver otter of sleep / swims to your side ... " (34). Trees hang around the park like sad party girls, removed in many ways from the animals (= us) who surround them with our bitter air.

See these paperbarks

leaning languid

against the bluestone wall, ...

creamy trunks

girdled by metal teeth.                          (35)

Elsewhere, "we are two ancient fence posts / leaning together" (9).

Some of the people in this book are almost in flight, just a few heartbeats away from the birds. Jenny travels to Italy, and in the Blue Mountains we watch "Two women in pastel, crimplene skirt-suits" who

hasten along the wheelchair-wide, clifftop path

holding hands,

holding on to human ...


after so many decades

within cream ward walls.        (10)


The collection starts and finishes with the last flight(s) of a beloved friend:

Jenny’s ailing,

the cancer’s called again –

determined to take her

for one final waltz.


Jenny’s longing

for the quickstep of travel,

for the Italy she’s never seen.


but on her return, she is


finding solace in the abundance

of her own backyard –

this bird-music all she wants

to accompany

her final waltz.                                    (7)

As long as we are alive, we shift shapes and keep moving. "An ancient restorative" suggests we

Walk the sea wind

release all bonds.


Gaze at the diving gannets –

become one.                            (56)

But like nature, we are not static and not benign:

Inside me –

the bright-brown bantam ...


Inside me –

the white-breasted sea eagle, ...


Inside me –

the angular heron, ...


Inside me – an aviary

alive with beaks and feathers,

soft cooing to soothe,

claws to slit open

your pale belly.                                    (60)

 This is a wonderful book, and Lynda Warner’s cover is just right for the moving words inside.

Gina Mercer. weaving nests with smoke and stone. North Hobart: Walleah Press, 2015. ISBN 978187710712

Published: December 2023
Mary Cresswell

is from Los Angeles and lives on New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast. Her collection of ghazals and glosas, Fish Stories, was published by Canterbury University Press in 2015. When she is not reading or writing, she volunteers at a bird sanctuary. See also:

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