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From: Vol.04 N.02 – What are the animals saying?

A Composing with Birds

by Jill Jones

… the Ground / Of Speech fails underfoot …

– The Parliament of the Birds, Farid ud-Din Attar (trans E. Fitzgerald)


There is a lake, you see your reflection, if you can endure

the journey or the things that are, maybe, your own fault,

always failing the tests: longing, love, gnosis, dispassion, a whole god,

bewilderment, selflessness and oblivion.

Or no more than leaves always falling, mortal, … illiterate of nature.


In a yard a feather’s dropped, birds fill with flight, mating, nests.

They fly into pools, they rise, they cry. What might I know of birds,

wings of a bird, language of birds, material of song and flight, sounds

of the world? The birds are the birds. All of us are reality.

No-one need apply to a higher order, if we’re all whatever’s the world.


And despite what may be said within ‘here’ or ‘somewhere’,

bird calls are real, whoever divines or translates, forms

into semblances, into myths, as even at night they sing,

though it keeps you awake, at twelve o’clock, at one o’clock,

the wake-up of the koel, after four o’clock.


Something always sings in the world: maybe deliriums, maybe

homecoming beyond nostalgia, a pantheistic dither, pretend clouds.


So stand and listen, flight is swift, noisy, carnal demand,

to keep things going, eggs, yolk, branches where nests fall through

small odysseys, other legends.


Weather’s no help, it does what it does, growth you live with

in normal, changeable skies. The severed traveller can still recognise

how green hills may be, or if they’ve lost that plenty,

or some other thing.


You don’t want to be of the dark, yet in that, birds still converse.

Melancholy may simply be yours, though things fall apart all the same,

though night isn’t just ghostly, but real as it sounds,

real as landing or falling.


No-one’s perfect, how you’re crazy is not perfect either.

It may land you far from hope, or close to

real sea and salt, or the time it takes to travel a city block.


Everything is an atmosphere, a bus shelter, where the trams pull in.

Doors open and close, we arrive, we go. Crowds sort themselves

furiously or softly. Everyone seems to take care of the children.

The children: as if, definitively, there must be a way to save them,

though they know they are human, and you can’t.


We hear more or less echoes, or chirps. Maybe it’s a conference,

in a distance, underfoot, as things flutter on rails, through stations,

out onto routes, highways, out into a sky. And there’s a bend

before you come onto the island. There seems to be another light,

it must be all this water.


All the while, rising over a hill or horizon, the birds find a lake.

The lake is the lake: perhaps Eyre, Frome, perhaps Torneträsk, or Baikal.

Lakes don’t talk, but sounds sound. The story finds a doppelgänger.

There it is! Full of reflections, or salt. So, what do you see?


Who cares about timing, distance, bridges, choruses? Futurisms

are always about the past. Your sounds are what you sing,

of instruments … in accord … a ravishing sweetness.

Khlebnikov hears a swallow: “Tsivit! Tsizit!” and hears his ‘trans sense’.

Where does that go but here?


Songwise, it’s recurrence, night swings, into memorials, into desperation.

It moves as a day moves, even at these ends of ideas, when little’s left.

What you want to see disappears. Clouds wash over

this view of the universe. You know it’s real in the present of that sound.

It goes beyond now, but now it is.


Blackbirds do sing into the late of night … a ravishing sweetness.

Yes, into this extraordinary shadow. Nothing sounds like isolation.

And, traveller, it’s not looking at you.

The unattributed quotes, or misquotes in italics, are from Aristophanes ‘The Birds’, Chaucer ‘Parlement of Foules’, Khlebnikov ‘Zangezi’.

Published: July 2017
Jill Jones

has published ten books of poetry, and a number of chapbooks. Most recently these include Brink, The Beautiful Anxiety, which won the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry, Breaking the Days, which won the 2014 Whitmore Press Award and was shortlisted for the 2017 Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize, and a chapbook, The Leaves Are My Sisters.

An Australian and international
journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics.

Plumwood Mountain Journal is created on the unceded lands of the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation. We pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to elders past, present and future. We also acknowledge all traditional custodians of the lands this journal reaches.