Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Starlings by Tim Upperton

Anger sang in that house until the scrim walls thrummed.
The clamour rang the window panes, dizzying up chimneys.
Get on, get on, the wide rooms cried, until it seemed our unease
as we passed on the stairs or chewed our meals in dimmed

light were all an attending to that voice. And so we got on,
and to muffle that sound we gibbed and plastered, built
shelves for all our good books. What we sometimes felt
is hard to say. We replaced what we thought was rotten.

I remember the starlings, the pair that returned to that gap
above the purple hydrangeas, between weatherboard and eaves.
The same birds, we thought, not knowing how long a starling lives.
For twenty years they came and went, flit and pause and up

into that hidden place. A dry rustle at night, fidgeting, calling,
a murmuration: bird business. The vastness and splendour
of their piecemeal activity, their lives' long labour,
we discovered at last; blinking, in the murk of the ceiling,

at that whole cavernous space filled, stuffed like a haybarn.
It was like gold, except it was more like shit and straw,
jumbled with their own young, dead, desiccated, sinew
and bone, fledgling and newborn. Starlings only learn

a little thing, made big from not knowing when to leave off:
gone past all need except need, enough never enough.

This is a favourite poem of mine by Palmerston North poet, Tim Upperton, who is also at the Tuesday Poem hub this week. It is from his collection A House on Fire. I love the craftedness of it, the sounds of birds and people - soft and maddening at once - evoked with words like 'thrummed' 'chimneys' 'dimmed' and the blissful 'murmuration', the secrets in rooms and eaves and hearts, the gold and the murk, the unwinding emotional centre. Fabulously fairytale and sadly real at once. Thanks Tim for letting me use your poem here.

You can hear it read. 

The Starlings was selected for the Best NZ Poems 2009 and Tim explained it there:"The starlings" was originally an informal epithalamion, a poem to commemorate the wedding of my sister, Katrina, and her husband, Steve. That version was, appropriately enough, a lot more celebratory than the final version you see here. The poem includes details my sister would remember, such as the immense starlings' nest in the ceiling of our family home.

I kept revisiting and revising this poem following its first publication in the NZ Poetry Society's anthology, tiny gaps (2006), and each time it got a little darker than before – notes of elegy seeped in. A last-minute change before my first book of poems, A House on Fire, went to print last year was the addition of the word 'murmuration' – a lovely old collective noun for starlings.'

Now see Tim's poem at the Tuesday Poem hub. 


T. said...

Mary, we must have starlings on the brain! Ha.

I read this aloud at lunch to my co-worker. So many metaphors contained herein, weaving in and out of each other, like twigs in a nest.

Rachel Fenton said...

The smallest things speak so largely of mankind, I find. I love the image of a midden the nest calls to mind for me; the poet as archaeologist; and Larkin's, "what will remain of us".....

Tim Upperton said...

Thanks for posting my poem, Mary. And I'm glad to see my other poem over at the Tuesday Poem hub. Quite a few years between the writing of those two. Cheers!

Harvey Molloy said...

This is such a finely wrought poem Wonderful work. Thanks for posting this here, Mary.

Helen McKinlay said...

This poem is a lovely mysterious story. What a house! I really enjoyed the lead up to discovery of
'that whole cavernous space filled, stuffed like a haybarn.
It was like gold'
Thank you Mary and Tim.

And now O have to prove I'm not a robot but a potebod which seems serendipitous...a poetbod I think they mean:-)