To Become A Nightingale         


Struck dumb by Universal Credit

I entered the hedge-school of charity shops,

prised apart jackets of  musty spinneys on the men’s rail

dense with tweed, leather, rayon, polyester

looking for subfusc/olive – found

two brown gabardines and a rain-cape.

I got to work with thread and kitchen scissors,

cut a length of dowel for wing-struts,

made a balsa wood tail and daubed it in cherry-red shoe polish

with a coat-hanger wire to raise and lower it

and sat in a sycamore three nights in the park.


No luck. The doctor suggested a course of Bjork,

Berkely Square and Blackbird Singing In The Dead of Night.

I self-medicated between Axl Rose and Ziggy Stardust

till an episode on a rooftop (it was the herring-gull yodels)

got me sectioned. I absconded without prescription,

nested in copses by ring-roads and flyovers,

quivered gabardine wings in blackthorn winter; lay on

bin-liners inside my wet sleeping bag craving a mic.

One morning I upped sticks holding a sign: ‘Nightingale?’

and was dropped off finally somewhere South East

near woods at dusk with my battery running low.


What I heard next was the real thing

as it shook and shocked the darkness awake.

I wrote this:

‘Nightingale with your voice-box, your jewel-box, scattering pearls and opals,

       garnet, beryl, moonstone, cornelian out of the dazzling bush of night –

       no artificer or jeweller can come close’

and left it under a stone on the grass.


I came back next morning to this reply quill-penned

with wet soil: You a poet? Jug jug jug tereu tereu.

Then this message flashed up on my screen:


    ‘No search engine trawling the fetch of the known world can find me; no app

    or device command the body of  my song as I shudder you now into deepest space.’


My phone died as the song began


others like me shuffled               were gathered          in branches

taken         shuddering                    into the eyes of nightingales

as feathers shrugged and shivered in us       beyond leaves

and imagined wings          tail-bones      out of our beaks

gapes bright yellow             I cannot         cannot           begin

cannot repeat       explain      what we

what    we    were     singing       and singing     and