There is a type of bird whose mating call comes
not from its throat but the inside of its egg.
So, while the female’s shell lodges the lives
of feathered embryos, the male’s encloses air.
When it is laid the casing dries and shrinks
and the carefully uneven surface starts to crack,
releasing the first note as a signal, its pitch levelled
perfectly to reach the ears of the intended mate;
then each fault-line breaks in sequence and the slow
unstitching gifts its song. About a minute in
enough pressure is still contained to sound
a harmony of chords, which either achieve their aim
or break the casing and the bird must wait
another year to pair. And with so much depending
on success, some island variants lay their eggs
on mountain tops or cliffs to catch the April winds.
On high-points such as these it has been known
for females to keep a vigil lasting weeks, and if
the weather holds its course the rocks in June
are still obscured by hunched attentive listeners.
(first published in The White Review April 2012 as an earlier version)
Allotments. Shattered chimney stacks.
A black bag tangled like a crow
in the leafless tree. As you walk
beyond the last of the deserted
red-brick factory buildings
the city rusts around you. The river
thins to a stream that could be forded
by a fallen branch. This is a place
of past tenses, an archaeology
of skeletal bikes, single gloves
and bleached cans of beer
the supermarkets no longer stock.
Spent matches hint at flame on flesh.
The rituals of childhood. Something
small and broken in the grass.