Look to your Lesser Linen

Red Kite, photographed by Tim Flach for a 2019 Royal Mail collection

Look to your Lesser Linen

Red kites are as red
As golden eagles are golden,
And seen against the sky, they’re just as black.
But there’s no mistaking that forking tail
And fingered wings on which they sail,
As slowly they embolden,
Advertising how they’re back.

Just when Milton Keynes was thriving,
So they were released upon
Our unsuspecting hills and country towns –
From Chiltern ghosts to national fame,
So barely flapping, barely tame,
From Leighton Buzzard to Ducklington,
From Salisbury Plain to the Sussex Downs.

They breached the M25, of course,
And rode the tarmac thermals on,
Lazily and low above the suburbs and the parks –
Ev’ry year they’re getting closer
To the busker, judge, and grocer,
Hamstead Heath and Kensington,
Beneath their ever-wider arcs.

Picking up the roadkill,
Perching on the weathervane,
Weaving litter into nests, drinking from the overflows,
Stealing produce from the barrows,
Scattering the cockney sparrows –
Maybe London once again
Shall be a town of kites and crows.

Thunder Thrush

Blackbird & Nest by Harrison Weir

Thunder Thrush

“Cuckoo eggs are able to mimic dozens of other songbird eggs, but each female can only lay one kind.”
                                                                                                            – The Titchfield Twitcher
The first cuckoo of Spring,
And the war is about to begin agen
For the dunnock and robin, the pipit and wren –
But the blackbird nests at leisure
Knowing her treasured eggs are secure –
They’ve fought and won this battle before.
For cuckoos hens must lay their eggs,
Their undercover powder kegs, to match
The very nest from which they hatched.
So daughters follow mothers and grans
In their taste of prey that spans way back –
A family tradition in attack.

But not the birds in black.
They know an egg that’s out of whack, alright –
Imposters tossed on sight.
As for the parents, lurking still,
They’re pecked and mobbed until they quit –
A tougher host by far than finch or tit.
Thus all the cuckoos with the genes
To burglarise the forest queens have gone,
Wiped out, were rumbled in their con.
So when these gothic thrushes hear
That goading call – no fear, no doubt –
They just sing louder yet to drown it out.

Estuary

Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

Estuary

Downriver, below the final bridge,
The last of the swans patrol –
To meet the early terns, who reach
Only this far from their native shoal.
Passing strangers, side-by-side,
Sharing the brackish tide.

Up-ocean, above the muddy flats,
The first of the mussels are found
To meet the sticklebacks and sprats,
On the down-stream, up-bore bound.
Passing currents, slow and wide,
Sharing the brackish tide.

Cornucopia

Desert Bighorn Sheep by Bill Gracey and Two Ramshorn Snails by Destroysoil

Cornucopia

Ramshorn snails with ammonite shells,
A spiral without a hint of helix,
More like a wheel than a pyramid, I feel,
Just adding variety into the mix.
Some look drunken with sideways shells,
Half flat on their backs and half-falling off
Like a coil of rope – but they seem to cope,
And it’s still a home, and we shouldn’t scoff.

And honestly, they’re shaped much more like a ramshorn
Than any ram’s horn, which is more like a corkscrew –
Though any shepherd could tell you with scorn
That some horns’ spirals leave gaps you could walk through.
Unlike the snails, those geometric purists –
And yet they’re just tourists in the twist of fate –
They barely take a turn and let the helter-skelter churn,
Yet rams’ horns grow ev’ry which way but straight.

But I know what you’re thinking: what about the hermit crabs ?
What of it will spring-loaded scavengers make ?
Will they recycle these torus-shaped slabs,
Or are they afraid that their body-skew will break ?
Is such shelly symmetry unnecessary gimmickry ?
Or circular efficiency for streamlining’s sake ?
Much better suited than the filigreed or fluted,
Or the messy-convoluted coilings of a snake.

Ramshorn snails with ammonite shells,
So ambidextrous in their twisting –
Easy gliders or top-heavy sliders ?
Some are upright, and others are listing.
If snails have ramshorns then rams have crownhorns,
The biggest ones worn by the king of the dales –
And even when shorn, it becomes a shepherd’s cornet
To warn us of the wolves or the thieves or the snails.

A Halcyon Vision

A Halcyon Vision

A kingfisher like a galaxy,
We only see where he used to be –
A flash of white, a swirl of red,
But when we look again, he’s fled.
Searching with a lens, or two,
He’s there, he’s gone, a cloud of blue –
We scan the verge where the sparkles play,
As he dances in and out of the Milky Way.

Mockingbirds

Mockingbirds

OO is for Curloo,
U is for Duv,
O is for Swollo and Swon, my love.
M is for Emerald –
Pretty enough.
F is for Fessant and also for Chuff.
N is for Natcatcher,
K is for Kwail,
J is for Pijjon who’s bringing the mail.
I is for Ider,
R is for Ren,
T is for Tarmigan – ta-ta, my hen.

Fish & Physics

Amazonian Guaperva Fish by Francis Willughby (at least, I think he did his own illustrations).

Fish & Physics

Gentle Francis Willughby,
To best of his ability
Has written us a thriller – see,
The History of Fish !
Illustrated lib’rally,
Meticulous and jibber-free –
No charlatan or fibber, he,
But honest, if not swish.
The Royal-dubbed Society
Have praised his work most high and free,
And published with propriety
His dense and hearty dish –
Examining their parity
And countless similarity,
To classify with clarity
Each finble, scule and gish.
His work will lead inex’rably
To Karl Linné’s complexity
And Darwin’s sexy theory
That the bishops try to squish –
Yet mocked in perpetuity,
His book an incongruity,
For lacking the acuity
Of Newton’s masterpiece –
His grandiose Principia,
That makes the heavens trippier
And gravity much nippier,
Is straining for release.
But things are tight financially,
With profits down substantially
And Newton sees his chances flee
Despite the Fellows’ wish –
They cannot foot the bill, you see,
The budget’s blown on Willughby –
But don’t show Frank hostility,
He’s not so queer a fish.

Cecily Census

pigeons
Pigeons by Tim Dennell

Cecily Census

“Let’s count the pigeons !”  That’s just what she said,
As she pointed out a trio pecking pavement up ahead.
One was grey and one was blue and one was sandy brown –
“I bet we get to fifty by the other side of town !”
So hand-in-hand, we kept the tally,
Up the street and down the alley.

“Let’s count dandelions !” another time she said,
As she pointed out a golden host within a council bed.
Some were buds and some were clocks and some were full of roar –
“I bet we find a hundred round behind the superstore !”
So side-by-side, we kept on counting,
Till we reached the rusty fountain.

“Look at all the wrigglers !” on a rainy day she said,
As she pointed out the molluscs that had made us watch our tread.
Some were black and some were brown and some were rusty nails –
“I’ll count all the sluggies up, and you can count the snails !”
So one-by-one, we kept the score,
But I forget who had the more.

“Look at all the people !” on a sunny day she said,
As she pointed to the crowds that loitered while the man was red.
Some were old and some were young and some were inbetween –
“I bet we see a dozen more before the beeps and green !”
So back-to-back, against the crush,
We totted up the lunchtime rush.

“Look at all the pigeons !”  just the other day I said,
As I pointed out a posse crowding round a crust of bread.
Some were fat and some were thin…but none were worth her gaze –
“Oh dad, you always say that when we meet on access days.”
So that was that, no longer fun –
Our number-taking days were done.

Dürer’s-Rhino Syndrome

The Rhinoceros by Albrecht Dürer, though don’t ask me if it’s the right way round.

Dürer’s-Rhino Syndrome

Toothy-mawed pteranodon,
A stegosaur who drags its tail,
Old T-Rex with no feathers on,
Dimetrodon with a humpy sail –
However much they’re wrong,
At least they never hem or hedge –
They’re always big and bold and cutting edge !

Pity the paleo-artists
Who bring these skeletons to life,
Who are the public midwife
To a thousand playground dreams –
No sooner have they started,
When a fossil or a paper
Is transforming facts to vapour
And is picking at the seams.

One day, in a century,
They’ll laugh at our sauropods
For not swimming in the sea –
No wonder how they look so odd…
No matter how carefully
We draw iguanodon his thumb,
We are the Crystal Palace beasts to come.

Pity the paleo-artists,
Their work is only for today –
For if they don’t give way,
Then their errors just persist.
But don’t be brash or heartless –
Their legacy is in the seeds
That captures, stimulates, and feeds
Each future dino-tologist.

Crystal Palace Iguanadons, sculpted by Benjamin Hawkins, photographed by Jes

London Pebble

London Pebble

I found a fossil in the park today –
An ammonite in iron grey,
Hardly rare, this type of fare,
They get found in their scores –
They all died by their millions
Till they died with the dinosaurs.

But all the rock round here today
Is built on London Clay –
On the scene in the Eocene,
With its lush and tropic shores,
Yet laid down some ten million
After the end of the dinosaurs.

I guess the path on which it sat
Was older than all that.
I guess its gravel had to travel
From who knows where, of course –
He’s an immigrant, like the millions
Coming here since the dinosaurs.

Though I suspect it’s less of an ammonite and more of a snail.