How the Curlew got its Curl
All the Summer, she shelters in her studio,
Under the North-sent light,
As she’s painting a curlew, a bird of the Winter,
That, like her, flees when the Sun gets bright.
She starts in April, starts from the tail-quills,
Nothing but browns and creams –
Slowly works forwards as evenings grow later,
Until she can hear its call in her dreams.
At five-times life-size, her bird is a monster,
A beautiful giant of the fens –
With every barb of every feather,
More real than in any photographer’s lens.
So unlike the shy things they are, them and her,
Avoiding the seaside crowds –
They to their moorland, her to her studio,
Waiting for the safety of the huddle’ing clouds.
By the late of May, she’s mottling the wing,
By June, she’s glinting the eye
By the height of July, she starts on the beak,
As the burning Sun is stoking-up the sky.
Inch-by-centimetre, longer and still longer,
Polished to perfection as she goes,
Longer than a godwit, longer than an avocet –
This beak is magnificent, and still its black arc grows !
All through August, she’s stretching it out
With the windows wide-open from dawn,
Bringing-in the songs of the blackbird and the goldfinch –
But the curlew cannot sing until its bill is fully-drawn.
Till finally, finally, it tapers to infinity,
Just as the September cools the air.
She locks up her studio and heads out to the marshes,
As the North-sent breezes blow the cobwebs from her hair.
This poem was inspired (but is not directly about) this painting by a friend, Anna Clare Lees-Buckley. She specialises in birds, but unlike the subject she doesn’t master in reclusivity.