The Nightjar’s Complaint – a poem

Photo from
Photo from

Why did you make me a nightjar, Ma,
Such a portly unmuscular bird?
Why must I flitter this tortuous path
And emit this crepuscular churr?
Do you hear the night birds ridicule
Our spooky flap and vulgar cry?
“You Goatsuckers!” the horned owl twoos,
“You cooky Caprimulgidae!”
“You sprogs of Nyx,” the barn owl twits,
“Dark harbingers of puckeridge.”
I’m tired of being a nightjar, Ma,
Reviled by everything that flies.
“Yer beak been to the sawmill, lad?
Some Martian lend you ‘is eyes?”

Why do we have to be nightjars, Ma,
With wings like bark and legs absurd?
Hark now the mother wren invokes
Us dreaded bogeybirds:
“Don’t run afoul, my darlings,
of the gothic horror Moth Owl,
of the Corpse Fowl with the cog growl,
of the gurning, turning Fern Owl.
Be good, my little hatchlings, or
the Fly-toad will get you,
the Poor-will will deck you,
the Dor-hawk will peck at your heads.
The Nightmare Bird, believe you me,
will leave you all for dead.”

Pass the homebrew bottle, Ma,
It’s not just fowl wot’s cruel.
I’m chieftain, Aristotle says,
Of mischief and misrule.
The nightmare catfish-cuckoo flies
From demon mother Lilith’s womb,
He harvests children unbaptized
and supervises Edom’s doom.
We pass the farm, the ewegoats flee.
‘Bums to the fence, girls,’ Nanny bleats.
‘Those suckers fell out of the ugly tree,
Keep your udders away from their beaks!’
A fleeting shimmer of red silk fur –
Et tu, vulpus vulpus?
Do you, too, vanish at the churr
Of fiendish Caprimulgus?

The birds and the beasts teach us villainy, Ma.
They court their own destruction,
When we return from Cote d’Ivoire.
We’ll better the instruction.
We’ll rage with raucous toad-like tune
And wage blunt-headed battles,
Then fling our heartache to the moon
with our last

[Happy birthday, Mum!]

Sedge Warbler Migration – a poem

Sedge Warbler migrationI wrote this poem for my Mum because it’s her birthday today and she loves birds and bird watching. The sedge warbler winters in sub-Saharan Africa and passes the summer in England or mainland Europe. Like him I consider both those places to be home. But my journey between the two homes is a lot easier than his.

A few notes on the text:

1. Phragmite des joncs is the French for sedge warbler. Dsaysie is the Arabic. Carricerín común is the Spanish.
2. Sedge warblers fuel up for migration by eating flowers and berries from the “toothbrush tree” salvadora persica
3. “Passerine” – a bird of the order Passeriformes, which includes all ‘perching birds’: jays, blackbirds, finches, warblers, and sparrows.
4. Al Jenna is Arabic for a garden and is the same word used for paradise. Assalaam alaikum means “Peace be upon you”, along with its response Wa alaikum assalam. Alhamdulillah means “Praise God”.
5. The “geodetic azimuth” is the vector measured from true north at any given point on the earth.

The Traveller

~ 1 ~

The sun burns orange in the western sky,
It dips and disappears, and way up there
On old Yakuuba’s toothbrush tree you sigh
A sweetly sorrowful pre-migration prayer.
You launch into the void in search of spring,
Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you strong.
A vulture shrugs a valedictory wing:
Au revoir, mon beau phragmite des joncs!

~ 2 ~

Your beak’s magnetic compass does not work
In equatorial lands, but warbler eyes
Are bright, Polaris too, and in the circle
Of Cassiopeia’s spinning throne you’ll find
Your circumpolar south and shining north.
Unflappable at fifteen hundred feet
You flap the lonely trans-saharan course.
Assalaam alaikum, dsaysie.

~ 3 ~

Second right at the dunes of Bouffadi
And straight on till morning you fly,
How weary this passerine passage,
How wind-glazed your warbler eye.
Approaching Tammi you slow down, amazed
By apricot and date palm potpourri,
A heaven-sent pit stop oasis,
Alhamdulillah, dsaysie!

~ 4 ~

For three days at Tammi you refuel your tank
With dainty dates and pomegranate juice,
You know al Jenna is no breeding bank,
You have to bid goodbye, break loose
And set your beak like flint toward the north,
So callibrate your hippocampus compass
To navigate the harsh Mahgrebi course.
Wa alaikum assalam, dsaysie.

~ 5 ~

I ♥ Atlas mountains, I ♥ Alboran Sea,
I ♥ Ibiza, I ♥ Tombouctou,
You’ve been there, flown that, got all the T-
shirts and the yellow jersey too.
Bleary-eyed and weary-winged, you arrive
In the Balearics not one flap too soon
And light on an Aleppo pine – alive!
Bienvenido, carricerín común.

~ 6 ~

One day lying zonked in a carob tree,
Two more in a lethean almond grove,
But now your Devonian destiny
Revives you for the anchor leg above.
With pitiful heaves of feathery flanks
You ride with a heavenly Tour de France,
Match aching wing-beats with the avian ranks,
Allez-allez, petit phragmite des joncs!

~ 7 ~

There’s no Olympic lane on your commute,
No level crossing, toll or traffic isle.
You’ve no congestion charges to compute,
Just geodetic azimuths and miles.
You toil across La Manche and in
The distance spy a Union Jack
And then a holly hedge and wheelie bin.
Hello, sedge warbler, welcome back.