Instructions for painting a bird in six steps
by Fokkina McDonnell
Let your shadow be present. Someone needs to interpret their dreams.
First paint or draw a circle, as many claw prints as your years. Soot is fine. Work clockwise.
Call, chirrup, caw, chirp, chatter – wake your inner aviary.
Black ink is needed and tears. It cannot be rushed.
Use one hand. You may change hands when your fingers are cramped, like a talon.
Hunger. Fatigue. This is their life – hunting on the wing for insects, grub, the odd vole.
PAINTING:Geese at full moon (detail) by Ohara Koson (1945).
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Doing a writing course The Avian Eye, I’ve become obsessed with birds, researching online: migration, the behaviour of cuckoo, the cleverness of crows.
Such a strange fruit: many children don’t like it. I didn’t. Many years later I acquired a curved knife and I found it a tricky and time-consuming job to properly prepare the fruit. Here is Kathleen Kummer’s poem. It doesn’t specify who the people are, but I imagine it’s a mother, watched by children, that “he” is the husband. It’s an understated poem, but those details are precise and poignant.
Did she peel it – I don’t remember – as though it were an orange? Or cut it in half and make the usual precise incisions, holding back the pith like flaps of skin to extract the pulp?
Our eyes were on her hands as she worked to unravel the strands from each segment of flesh before it tumbled into the bowl. Some fell apart, translucent droplets shaped like tears. How many spoonfuls
would the sick body take of this butterfly food? Would he sleep? I remember the light from the fire, its warmth on our faces, in the drawing room where now the double bed rode at anchor, before the voyage out.
Greetings on World Poetry Day! At the 30th General Conference of UNESCO in Paris, 1999, it was decided to mark 21 March as an annual celebration. Poetry has “the unique ability to capture the creative spirit of the human mind”.
I’ve chosen a poem with international connections, a lot of people, fruit – a festive gathering on a Dutch beach. It’s from my collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous.
On the beach after My boat by Raymond Carver
Bill’s last words were always Have fun, so I will. He was a very good father, Bill, though he wasn’t my father. Liz will be there too. And Mary and Brian, the Como couple. Seville will be there, all the places I ever fell in love with. We’ll be on a beach, a wide sandy beach with small white shells, large white gulls and far off, in the distance, the red container ships, nothing dangerous, nothing serious.
At the flood line broken razor clams crackle under our feet. There is Dick, almost 80, and Miep, their cycles parked up against the metal wire by the marram grass dotted on the dunes. Esther, Peter, Theo, Ancilla on their e-bikes, they love this beach. Skewered fruit, Water Melon Men and the three Irish men I loved, and the others, the artist with one eye has come back from Hungary. Boats will be there, beached. We’re all beached. My UK friends have come by ship, a ship with starched officers, a ship from Southwold that I specially chartered.
I invited J S Bach, Schubert and anyone else whose names I am forgetting. I have been given dispensation – hey, that sounds medical, nothing dangerous, nothing serious, the friends who are no longer friends, what’s rejection, abandonment among true friends. Apples, oranges, enough grapes to count in the new year, fresh figs, plums, peaches, kiwi fruit for sleep, passion fruit. With all that fruit we are fit to count our blessings, our nine lives. Have fun. The tide’s out, and it is a long time before it’s coming back in.
It’ll be St. Patrick’s Day next Wednesday, so I found you a poem with an Irish theme.
Thousands of Europeans were emigrating to Australia and New Zealand under the ‘Assisted Passage’ scheme. I took my Dutch, English, French and German across the Channel and joined P & O Lines Ltd as a WAP (Woman Assistant Purser) in 1969.
The following year I joined SS Orcades. The ship was due to arrive in Australia in time for older passengers to celebrate Christmas and New Year with family who’d moved there. Because of the large number of Dutch passengers, I held a daily coffee meeting – giving information about ports en route, as well as translating and interpreting.
Each morning, I also met with a small group of German-speaking passengers. On the photo, you can just about see my language badges, attached to my uniform with Velcro!
The poem SS Arcadia, from my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous is about meeting my late husband for the first time. May you be blessed with the luck of the Irish!
I was still in my whites, had just rolled down the shutters on shore excursions, orders for birthday cakes, contact lenses lost in the swimming pool.
I was headed down aft, the Tourist Nursery, rehearsals for Hawaiian Night. Oh, I’m going to a hukilau.
It was a moment of whites and early evening sunlight. That Irishman, feet planted wide on shiny boards, who controlled the English bar staff, Goanese stewards.
I already knew that Junior Officers were not supposed to fraternise with Leading Hands.
Can’t you sleep either? After a dark year, many old friends gone, I thought I heard you sing outside the window inches from my ear. Who are you singing for this time of night? Did I dream you?
This is the first stanza of Ruth Padel’s poem Night Singing in a Time of Plague. You can read the full poem on the Poetry Society’s site here. It is a response to John Keats’ poem Ode to a Nightingale. The poem was commissioned as part of the Keats200 bicentenary – a celebration of Keats’ life, works and legacy.
We are close to the first anniversary of the pandemic. The borders of the Netherlands remain closed to visitors from the UK. I have been sleeping less well for weeks now. Here is Kathleen Kummer’s poem, also about the difficulty of finding sleep.
Lying in bed with my life
I am lying in bed with my life. It is one of those sleepless night when I chafe at its bulk alongside me. It will fill the hours with my clan of northerners and sundry others. I shall speak for them all, the living and the dead.
I know the words, which I’m good at repressing when they were my own and unkind. I shout Cut if the scene is unbearable, switch on the lamp to get rid of it, a shame, as I might still have seen my mother’s harebell-blue eyes and the family wearing each other’s hats at a picnic.
The curtain at last turns grey and grainy, and my life rolls up fast with a click inside me. I’m reminded of that when my daughter says I don’t suppose you’ve got a decent tape-measure?