Monday, May 3, 2010

Tuesday Poem: The Construction of the Nest

The construction of the nest
By Mary McCallum

There is a touch of sparrowness
about her, about me, a touch
of sparrow's nest.

She is feathers and flight and freckled
eggs, I am a place, well,
I am a place of rest.

I wait, all attentiveness,
for the thrum of those wings
that wormish breath,

to hold those noisy bones,
while mine rasp and scrape
like an old man’s chest.

Here I am, unheld, unmet -
and yet,
I know this now as I know the wind:

I, once shabby sticks and grass,
needed her to alight here,
her to gather me in.

The air is bitter, prinked
with rain,
when will  I see you, sweet, again?


Tuesday PoemGo to the Tuesday Poem blog for the featured poet this week and links to 23 other poems by poets from NZ, the US, Ireland and Athens. Click on the badge to get there.

The Construction of the Nest is my first fully-fledged Tuesday Poem - inspired by the TP postings and written to publish here - and I am very pleased with it. (My other Tuesday Poems were written a while back and polished up for the blog.)

It began last Tuesday, in fact. Sated by Tuesday Poems, I went for a walk and misheard a woman talking to a friend, it sounded like she said 'sparrowness', and it seemed such a perfect word I was surprised I hadn't heard it before. Immediately the word attached itself to a friend of mine, and a friendship, and then ricocheted off  ... 'Wormish breath' simply fell from the sky and seems to me to be perfect in so many ways, not least because it echoes Middle English poetry (which is rich pickings). 'Prinked' also arrived before I had time to think. I liked its onomatopoeaic sound for rain. When it was in the poem, I checked its meaning (think of 'primp' but more showy than that.)

The idea behind this poem is something I've been thinking about lately: how we assume certain things about relationships (who's dependent on whom etc) when they're always much more complicated than that  ....  a bit like a nest that paradoxically provides shelter and yet only exists because a bird requires it and gives it shape.

I had a bit of driving to do yesterday and the day before, and I used the time to say the poem out loud - over and over - as I used to do with poems when I was walking to university thirty years ago. The Tuesday Poem project is wholly responsible for thrusting me back into that wildly poetic time. How could I not be? I'm reading over 25 poems a week now, with a good swag of them in one day, and then finding myself starting a poem, and another, and another, and then needing to finish them to put them online.

It doesn't take much to think myself back to my Aro Valley flat in 1980, and my friend Sandra and I sprawled on the carpet arguing whether it was Coleridge or Wordsworth who deserved our love (yes, love), or to Bill Manhire's Original Composition class and Kirsty Gunn introducing her latest 'thing'. Or to a poem I wrote about camellias that I recited over and over on my way to university. I see the route (the zig-zag, the clockmender's, the skinny steps) and overlaid - fat and clear - are words:  the pale petals will burn ....  That sort of thing.

I never tire of sounding words out and hearing the way they work. I find new meanings that way - for example, the way 'sweet' works in the final line of The Construction. I also chew and spit the gristly bits  until I hope they're gone. The final stanza of my Tuesday Poem this week came when I thought it was finished. The best poems in the TP blogroll, have reminded me again and again that a good poem needs to move beyond description and metaphor, and deepen the mystery, so I hung on in there a little longer than usual with this one.

Hence the bitter, prinked air, my sweet.


Elisabeth said...

This is a beautiful and resonant poem, Mary.

I love your use of words, like 'the thrum of those wings
that wormish breath',and
'The air is bitter, prinked with rain'.

Simply exquisite.

Melissa Green said...

Mary, this is a lovely poem--and not just because I'm partial to sparrows! It reads effortlessly, as though the bird herself had tracked out the words with her little
sparrowprints, back and forth, so that each word was essential and quiet and just right. I myself usually don't want to know how the magic happened, but your prose about how "The Construction" came into being was also a poem--I liked it all very much. And the fact that you're writing again--well, that's the best news any of us TP poets could hear.

Helen Heath said...

"Sparrowness"! Love that, no wonder it got you writing. said...

Hear, hear, I want to pinch that lovely line "prinked with rain" and the poem is simply lovely. :)

Fiona Kidman said...

This is a stunning beautiful poem, it turned my heart upside down.

LentenStuffe said...

Bravo, O Audacious One!

Your poem is pure vesper, an homage to the communal firing of poetic synapses that is becoming the TP nest.

The Paradoxical Cat said...

Beautiful poem.

Bee said...

It was very sweet to hear about your university days! - it's funny though you talking about needing to deepen the mystery, I feel like I am oscillating between that feeling and an urge to be as blunt as possible and defy any feeling that might occur...

Tim Jones said...

Impossible to add anything to what's been said above - this is a lovely poem!

Penelope said...

Mmm, the vulnerability of the nest. Thank you for 'hanging in there' with this one, Mary. Your comments had me recalling my own trudges home from uni about the same number of years ago, quoting under my (short — uphill) breath, 'Children are dumb to say how hot the day is...'

Claire Beynon said...

There is something quasi-transparent about this poem, Mary - like gauze, a whisper, a sacred place.
Beautiful. L, C

Anonymous said...

I read your poem on the train today Mary, and it left me helplessly full of mushy feelings-so beautiful - great post, I can't encapsulate why it was so wonderful, the nest, the wormy breath, the rain prinking the air, just gorgeous. ( tried to post a comment with my phone, but alas, I don't think it worked...)

Mary McCallum said...

Thank you everyone for your generous comments all. It's late but I'm on a high (ecstatic!) from all that's been said and from the joy of seeing the poem on the wing. Thank you again.

Mim said...

Graceful and courtly!

susan t. landry said...

your poem embodies "sparrowness"....
thank you!

Helen Rickerby said...

It's so great that you've been finding the Tuesday Poem inspiriting you to write poetry. 'Wormish breath' really stood out for me.

S.L. Corsua said...

It reads effortlessly, with no cinch in the flow, and so with all the more gusto do I admire the effort put into this. I know special attention to the sounds in a poem can be tricky, with the length of time spent determined by whether or not the right syllable is in the right place. The ear can be a hard judge to please. ;)

"I... say the poem out loud - over and over" -- Ha, ha. I myself can't finish a poem without doing that. And when reading someone else's poem that I instantly like, I tend to do internal vocalization. As regards your poem, I did both. :) Cheers.