‘Birdsmith’ by Judi Sutherland


I had to make a false leg for the toucan
from a strong brass spring, to take the shock of landing,
the first and fourth toes turned backwards for grip.
I saw from the way the bird regarded me, beak cocked
to one side, that it was grateful. My next project

a throat-pouch for a pelican, from fine ostrich leather
and a purse-clasp, fixed with tiny rivets
to the bird’s smooth bill. My confidence grew;
I fashioned plumage for a peacock’s tail
from fine embroidery silks and spun gold thread,

fanning out brilliant shields of turquoise.
I made an eye for the barn owl; a lacquered bead
trapped in a sphere of blown glass; a fly-by-wire system
for a flock of avocets; how they dipped and lunged
in unison at my command.

When he comes home from school, my son
perches on a workshop stool, and leans his elbows
on my bench, among crusted paint,
pots of glue and pages of gold leaf, and watches
as I work. I can make him fly. I’ve studied

flight feathers – the remiges – for thrust and lift,
the primaries, secondaries, tertials. I’ve collected
everything necessary; a sackful of gull feathers
pewter, white and black; a harness
of buckled leather straps; a slab of wax.
(first published in Oxford Poetry)
Judi Sutherland spent more than 20 years in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry
before taking redundancy and concentrating on her writing. She currently lives in South Oxfordshire but is planning to move to North Yorkshire soon, with her husband and two cats.