The dipper that afternoon by the Exe
threaded a high necklace of song above the river’s onrush.
Dived in and re-emerged, shaking its wings clear of the water,
sang once more, blink of silver in its eyelid.
The first blackbird flirting sotto voce with Spring
makes radio-contact out of holly and ivy
and the song-thrush fashions small ivory statues
in triplets that echo in Withypool churchyard.
From burnt-out bracken in a hailstorm
the wren has become a tight bobbin of song, a spinning jenny.
Snow banks deep over the sunless combes and high roads,
a buzzard pluck mews out of the gut-taut air,
raven and carrion crow with their dark sprach
press down hard on the black keys – snow-fever chatter
of fieldfares and redwing in the fields of ice. One morning
wind swings west till a chiffchaff, then another,
hang their abacus of notes along the Haddeo and Horner.
On Preyway Meads the planetary calls of golden plover
meet the first larks high up drizzling balsam from the gods –
jitterbug of Dartford warblers on North Hill, stone-tap of stonechat.
From branches in back gardens a willow warbler lets
slip a yellow lace scarf of sound that drifts across the Punchbowl
as blackbirds delve deeper into their arias, their coloratura,
poetic champions composing variations that time cannot catch.
One dawn, on the whim of a trade wind, a cuckoo at Three Combes Foot
arrives, distilling spring and summer into its beech theatre:
two notes, older than the barrows, older than Caratacus Stone –
cuckoo the ventriloquist popping coconut-heat in the gorse,
conjurer with his cackle as cumulus sail their time-pieces across
the blue and tree-pipits all morning parachute their song
above Barle valley woods with their dynasties of lichen.
Pied flycatcher, redstart and wood warbler make vocal the light
Chetsford clings to its whinchats, Tom’s Hill its tail-flicking wheatear.
Nightjar, the goatsucker with his moth-frequencies, churrs at dusk
above Ley Hill, tuning the moon’s radio-set along a branch at nightfall.
Silent August rounds robins up to light the first braziers
of autumn, the dipper sewing its silver again by the river
as if all this could never cease.
Graeme Ryan 2018