Have a go under the waterfall

This is The Dipper, a poem by by Scottish poet, Kathleen Jamie. It’s impossible to write about a bird and make it breathtaking, but here it is, completed and placed by an expert for us to consider. Honoured.

 I saw that she wrote issue instead of flew. As soon as I saw issue, I saw the water give birth to the bird. The poem itself (in my head) flooded and fell, green with experience and cold and difficulties. When I saw solitary, the poem itself soared away and lit (her word) on a rock, alone, and looked at me with sunlight behind it and mockery between its claws. When a poem contains this much information and experience, I have to keep reading and re reading, clenching my small claws and hoping.

When she wrote lit instead of perched, that’s when the sunlight entered the cold, and the poem, and me. When she wrote swept stupidly, I stood still and admitted old age, a huge hot relief. This because it may be possible that I no longer have to stop the flow. When she wrote wrung, I saw the bird turn and turn again to give that ripple of solid sound. When she wrote supple, undammable, I saw bird muscle, throat muscle and opera and anger. Value and beauty are not ownable. They are beyond our hands. The last two lines won’t finish. They keep playing, calling on courage.  

This poem, if you allow it, is a massive experience.

Is this right? I don’t know. Kathleen Jamie is a master. She extracts and then sculpts what she wants to say. I am an amateur reader and can’t do that. But she makes me try hard and dig for it. Or the bird does. Something does.

Photography by Michael Woodruff

The Young Man who Looked at a little Bird under a Glass Tree for a Really long Time…

Little bird.jpg

He came into the shop with a friend, but the friend abandoned him: she had books to find and a list in her hand.

He stood still at first and kept his hood on and his hands in his pockets and prepared to wait. But he looked at everything. And for so long and so carefully. Sometimes he bent forward, eyeing the spines and the titles, reading everything he could without picking them up. Then he looked at the shelves, from top to bottom, he leaned in and looked upward at the small roof of each cabinet. Once he put his face close to Pinocchio, seemingly intrigued with it, all by itself on one shelf. He stared at a cover of The Worst Band in the Universe for a long time.

I thought that I have never seen so close an examination of volumes and displays and walls in here, never such an intense scrutiny of covers and pictures and for such a long time.

He stopped at a little stone bird. It sits under an absurd small tree made of wire and glass and which hosts a poem called The Dipper.

The poem is printed out and lays underneath the tree and next to the bird and the blue and green and gold glass beads settle around them and it all goes unnoticed by everyone except small children who often ask: is it real. And I say that it is not real and they stand back, unimpressed by a tree that is not real.

This man leaned in and read the poem. He leaned over it for so long I though he must have read it eleven times. Then he examined the tree, the hanging glass drops that weep evenly around the poem and sometimes drop their beads or the gold leaves on the floor for no reason at all. He leaned over the rock, a real one, it embraces the base of the tree, holding still a nearly invisible idea.

He didn’t say anything, his attention was the song.

Then his friend returned with her book, The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, and said: ok, I’m done.

He straightened up and they left and that was that.


The Dipper

It was winter, near freezing.

I’d walked through a forest of firs

when I saw issue out of the waterfall

a solitary bird.


It lit on a damp rock,

and, as water swept stupidly on,

wrung from its own throat

supple undammable song.


It isn’t mine to give

I can’t coax this bird to my hand

That knows the depth of the river

yet sings of it on land.


Kathleen Jamie