Who was the first person (surely not a cook?) to open her mouth and say ‘roost’ instead of ‘roast’ muttering about some fur-clad lord who ‘ruled the roost’, when before that moment the world and his wife had said he ‘ruled the roast’ – evoking a bird leaking its juices on a spit? And suddenly, with that single mistake, weren’t all our beautiful birds spared, befeathered, beflocked, safe for the night at least?
Were ferns the first tongues of the world?
What’s an apple without a seed? A tree without a bird?
What sort of sonnet do wrens sing in fourteen fruit trees planted in a row?
One where bird and leaf are two creatures in love?
Chink-chink of metal on metal – what bird is that?
If you’d kept a birdwatcher’s life list, what would it look like? A compass for listening? A notebook speckled with questions? These few words tossed in the air?
How far will your legs take you? What will you do when it’s over? Or just before? Do you know how to soar?
Will returning birds follow the river home?
Could you map their flight paths in the branches of the cedar?
Who’d mistake an aeroplane for a robin or a goose?
If all you could carry had to fit in a wheelbarrow, what would you take with you?
Before you go, look, from the blackbird’s shadow, what time is it in Cracow?
If we called this month Jackdaw, Rook or Crow, might we bear its cold, its darkness better?
On the greyest of days, how to tell when dusk falls?
What happens in that long moment when our bones let us know it’s too late to begin anything new?
How much of what we call home is stillness? After our labours, a little death? What is home but everything we’ve ever longed for, everything we fear losing?
Aren’t we drawn, like passerines, to trees for shade, shelter and food, company, friendship that gathers in the silence between song?
‘All that is mine, beloved and pleasing,‘ said the Buddha, ‘will become otherwise, will become separated from me,’ but – for now – can’t we flock, can’t we roost, keep one eye open while we sleep?