Roman Poem III (a sparrows feather)

There was this empty birdcage in the garden.

And in it, to amuse myself, I had hung

pseudo-Oriental birds constructed of

glass and tin bits and paper, that squeaked sadly

as the wind sometimes disturbed them.  Suspended

in melancholy disillusion they sang

of things that had never happened, and never

could in that cage of artificial existence.

The twittering of these instruments lamenting

their absent lives resembled threnodies

torn from a falling harp, till the cage filled with

engineered regret like moonshining cobwebs

as these constructions grieved over not existing.

The children fed them with flowers.  A sudden gust

and without sound lifelessly one would die

scattered in scraps like debris.  The wire doors

always hung open, against their improbable

transfiguration into, say, chaffinches

or even more colourful birds.  Myself I found

the whole game charming, let alone the children.

And then one morning – I do not record a

matter of cosmic proportions, I assure you,

not an event to flutter the Volscian dovecotes –

there, askew among those constructed images

like a lost soul electing to die in Rome,

its feverish eye transfixed, both wings fractured,

lay – I assure you, Catullus – a young sparrow.

Not long for this world, so heavily breathing

one might have supposed this cage his destination

after labouring past seas and holy skies

whence, death  not being known there, he had flown.

Of course, there was nothing to do.  The children

brought breadcrumbs, brought water, brought tears in their

eyes perhaps to restore him, that shivering panic

of useless feathers, that tongue-tied little gossip,

that lying flyer.  So there, among its gods

that moaned and whistled in a little wind,

flapping their paper anatomies like windmills,

wheeling and bowing dutifully to the

divine intervention of a child’s forefinger,

there, at rest and at peace among its monstrous

idols, the little bird died.  And for my part,

I hope the whole unimportant affair is

quickly forgotten.  The analogies are too trite.


George Barker


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