Beautiful Firetail

A poem by Pete Hay


.             Wounded sun, light leaking down.
Winter rules the growling beach, this treacherous
stretch I have trudged, lead-footed, with the dog.
It is ungraspable, a thing of surge and storm,
.             of sly, surreptitious shift.

.             In the wide dry land
beyond this island off an island off an island,
fates are being ravelled. Today,
broken and fretted as the island edge,
.             we vote.

.             The body politic
hacks and gripes. Switch metaphor: to clay
resisting the mould of fractious opinion, porous,
wanting adhesion. The sand wraps me in guilt.
.             Somewhere there should be paradise.

.             Guilt, then, its vague dis-ease.
Is it down to the cruel and joyous, grit-gripped wind
as it scalpels the dimpled Channel water?
It is a day to be as out of sorts as the nation.
.             It is not a day for metaphysics.

.             I trap the dog,
tramp the dune hollow to the shack-shackled road,
stride north, the dog Larry-happy on his string.
The wind is trapped within taut morning pines
.             cleaving beach from road.

.             Wetland
backs the creek, enjoys its sodden carnal time,
its temporary teal, nut-breasted, its lapwings,
the white-faced heron, mere sharp stick,
.             steeled and angled suspicion.

.             Ugly scrark of wattlebird.
Cuticle moon in a wasted sky. Stiffy’s Creek
is beach-strangled, scumbrous; the dog, thirsting, pulls for it.
But there is a tussocked secret on the bank. It springs forth,
.             a lightning strike of light,

.             shakes out glory,
its flanks barred like a comic burglar, eyes anime-round.
It flimmers the sedge, a pure unlikely package,
a miniature brilliance to catch the breath. It bares
.             the signature arse,

.             the ruby mooning
of a bird of peerless verve. The firetail
unstoppers the balm of love, celebrates, as it seems,
the fathomless flair of nonconforming
.             splendid life.

.             We reach the creek.
Here is the firetail’s curtaining reeds. At the road’s verge,
car-struck, blood-beaded, is the firetail’s cold mate,
all painted ruined love, this flight, I now see, a fleeing grey grief,
.             a heart-clutched death.

.             We vote.
We order our silly, futile affairs,
launch our budgeted assault on the quick and tangled world.
Our works puff us up. I stare upon beautiful death.
.             Know it too real.

Cranky Fan

A poem by Pete Hay

Published in ‘Physick’ (2016)


Here is her nest,
his stem-and-glass pride
lacquered in spiderspun silk.

And here my trickster friend
flairs his cardsharp hand,
her geisha flutter of fan.

My friend the blithe tumbler
snaps up midges on the stall
of his mad jinking flight.

She pipes on the rise,
this little reed of song squeaked out
as he dips and joggles down the creekline.

He is all tail to wag the bird,
and irrepressible – as random as amoeba.
She dances the jig of his light life.

I watch – I impossibly watch.
He is metaphor for distance,
for vast, evolutionary plotways.

In the grief of my time,
ironshod and slow,
I watch my cranky, delirious friend,

her weightless bounce,
his spinwheel progress,
the sauce in the spray of her tail.

I watch as he flips from sight.

It is impossible for the naked eye, even the experienced naked eye, to distinguish between the sexes of the marvellously erratic cranky fan’ (the grey fantail – so called, though it is a charcoal black). It is a favourite, irrepressibly cheery bird of my island bush.