Encounters in the Garden at CHOUSSY 1
Casual, with hammock and book,
I find a bushy apple tree,
Where, head in shade, and legs in sun
I set up my observatory,
This garden is not mine, please understand.
It is a space I share
with sundry creatures, great and small,
the biters and their prey.
If 1 am fortunate today,
they’ll honour me as one of them
by which I mean as natural.
(It will come as no surprise to know
the book I’m reading’s by Rousseau.)
Now 1 must be very quiet —
Not like a mouse,
for then the cats will be interested
Nor like a shadow
for that would make the birds take fright
I must be like a cow that,
dreaming of rain,
settles and chews, chews and settles,
content with grass.
I must be, anonymous among trees,
part of the furniture.|
I lie still…
I establish my rhythm…
Look. I can even turn a page,
and the butterfly that finds my knee
a pleasing place to spread and sun,
Slowly the garden relaxes. I can feel it.
My footsteps forgotten, my swinging accepted,
no doubt my smell is now one with the peony.
Slowly the garden, relaxing, reveals itself.
It’s business as normal in this busy market,
with all flowers open and ready to trade.
The bees that fumble and fuss round the Jasmin,
have no thought of stinging. Theirs is the very
sound of summer, and
even when they buzz my book, I am at ease.
They know an ear from a foxglove!
Encounters in the Garden at CHOUSSY 2
Bees are one thing, but
with the blue/black hornet
Iam more circumspect.
I have seen them move in pairs,
tacking along the eaves,
heedless of spiders, birds, cats and humans.
Ready to enter any dark hole that offers
a prospect of prey or sanctuary.
Some years ago,
working atop a ladder in the barn
I met two hornets face to face.
It was their drone I heard.
Close enough. Then closer still.
Then suddenly loud,
they rose before my staring eyes!
betwixt me and the ladder on which I stood.
No soldier caught in open ground
when enemy gun-ships roam the sky
could feel himself more vulnerable.
I dared not move or even breathe…
Side by side, a hand span from my face.
they held formation, inspecting me.
For I was their prisoner
No doubt about that.
I have been interrogated before.
Alone in a back room, just me and police.
Fearing a knuckle or something much worse,
the clang of a cell door, the turn of a key…
It never came to that, I’m glad to say… but
This was different.
This was rather wonderful.
For while I quaked in my shorts,
I admired the grace of these hunters, …
their stillness in the air, wings invisible…
each as big as a small hen’s egg
Each as black as midnight coal
Each with a sting that, in the right place,
could fell a mountain goat.
or a foolish man atop a ladder.
It never came to that, I’m glad to say… but
My mind has been wandering,
the way it does in a garden.
Let me just say that the hornets lost interest.
cruised away slowly, searching the rafters,
while I climbed down slowly.
But now you understand why,
when hornets are near ,
patrolling the garden,
I am very, very ,
Encounters in the Garden at CHOUSSY 3
I like the casual off-hand way
the birds all treat my garden.
For some it is a short-cut. Like the blackbird
that lives in the forest nearby.
It shoots through, four times a day
‘twixt house and barn, flying fast,
ruling a line, straight in the air,
knows where it is going, no time for small talk…
And there are the Martins that own the barn.
These are the acrobats of the air, fearless aces,
who dive-bomb the cats who hunker down,’
swish their tales and slink away.
There is a tree nearby, an Elder I think
where dwell the celibataires,
I mean the sex-starved males,
those who’ve not found a mate
and spend their passion in dispute
with every other bird that comes.
Once I blew my cover when I laughed aloud
at the squabbles and bluster and ruffled feathers
of indignant birds denied a perch.
Meanwhile that few, that lucky few,
that band of brothers with eggs in the nest
and the missus at home, preoccupied,
sit on the wires, casual as pimps, preening.
It was one of these that took the moth
that had spent some minutes on my hand.
I can not call it conversation, moth to man,
nor yet a meeting of minds, man to moth,
but we were, shall I say, acquainted.
Insects have such presence, though their motives
remain inscrutable. By and large they are happy,
I think, in that they do what they do unvexed,
relaxed at home and at peace with their lot,
with the miracle of their being.
So there it was on my hand, my moth. And then,
with no farewell, it lifted and fluttered away.
A second later, a bird on the wire ,
dropped like a stone, took the moth on the wing,
within my arm’s reach.
Was the moth unhappy? I doubt it.
Was the Martin pleased? I doubt it.
For all I know, it was a contract fulfilled
between Martin and Moth, at a certain time
and at a certain point in space – a fatal assignation.
But I was shocked, and privileged too,
for I had seen how this world turns.
It is for us as for the moth,
no matter how our hearts may yearn,
the only time we have is now.
Encounters in the Garden at CHOUSSY 4
Later, two days later, after my vigil,
I had another assignation.
It was not in my hammock, but out on my deck,
sipping red wine as evening fell.
It had been hot that day, and the walls
still gave out their warmth as darkness came,
silently crossing the face of the earth
like the outspread wing of a gliding bird.
Standing alone with head laid back,
watching the stars grow bright in the sky.
hearing the old rafters creak
in the barn, across the way….
Standing there, I saw, or thought I saw,
a something move within the barn.
(Ghosts are not unknown in this place
but that’s another tale to tell.)
And as I watched, more statue than man,
a giant bird, grey as slate,
dropped like a stone
from the ledge where we store the hay.
It fell straight! And I thought of execution,
that it surely must die, that the cats would be pleased
that soon I would know its weight,
as I dug a hole …
But, just before striking the ground,
the great wings spread, catching the air.
One glorious full-winged beat.
One move of silent precision,
and it lifted … Then …
Gaining height with every stroke of its wings,
it came straight at me. ….
Transfixed as any mouse, I stood and stared.
I saw every beat of the wings
for time slowed down, and
only when I could see the beak,
the ears, the staring eyes,
only then did I raise my arm.
In that instant, it banked and swooped.
I felt the air cool on my cheek.
Had I reached out my hand, I could
have touched the feather ends of the wing.
I saw the big boxed head,
black eyes set within saucers,
and fan-tail spread. Saw too the talons,
tucked up beneath, like witches’ hands.
Flying past, the square head turned,
staring a challenge right through me.
It said, “Were you a mouse or a rabbit, my friend,
I would be your death.
Hear my wings as I pass.”
But I heard not a sound.
They say the victim never does.
And it flew on, and up,
and round the barn,
into the gathering night …
What did I learn as I stood in the dark
before the moon hoisted over the barn?
That…in being there, is everything.
That…in being, there is everything.
In that broken moment of time,
more real than the wine in my glass,
two worlds had touched
and briefly joined… and then moved on.
And, for the moment, I asked no more.
My cup, as they say, was full,
though I wondered at the long
chain of coincidence
that led to this meeting
from the day I was born.
Later I thought I heard it call,
and hurried out on the moonlit deck,
but no bird came swooping by,
no second coming for me.
And indeed …
it may have been a dog I heard,
for they are often restless
when the owls are about.
I hoped that it would lodge with us, that bird,
making the barn its home,
that we might become more than
But since that night no sight I’ve seen.
Yet, it is out there, I know
that bird, my friend,
at home in the dark,
a shadow among trees,
calling me only
when a kill has been made.
One day we’ll meet again.