a poem by stephen watts


When you live on the twenty-first floor of a tower 
      and way past midnight you hear a fracture 
of wings and in the morning there's 
     a collar-dove on your balcony 

		    is that a dream ? 

When you live on the twenty-first floor and you get 
      home just at dawn from a party - or you've 
          been working at the desk all night, the  
	    desk of words I mean - and the  
		mist you've travelled 
		      home through 


      	          flannelled just beneath 
	   your feet so you cannot see the 
	        ground and yet the whole 
	              sky is king-fissure 

from the palest horizon to the most golden baroque 

		is that also a dream 
			but is it not also 
				the most real ... ? 

And out of such skies come birds and bombs ...   

When you live on the twenty-first floor and you 
         notice that in a crack in the cladding 
	    a few metres down a kestrel 
		has made her nest 

			and when you see that kestrel 
	pinioned on its wing-bone, sitting at ease in 
	        the middle air, shifting sideways on sudden 
		   gusts - its unperplexed ligaments 
			ready to dive it through 
			       skies of reality 

		 through torn webs of nerves 

				 and when you catch 
			the feather of the collar dove 
			        floating past your eye ... 

		is that not a dream and 
				is life only a dream ? 

Or when you see Arctic geese flying beneath your feet 
     toward the landing stage on the Camargue just 
	        as once you saw them flying 

	between the mountain and the sea - in 
	    the gap between sight and nothing 
	        right there above your head - 
		  on those far islands of 
            mica schist 

			        way out west and beyond 
					the times of 

		is that only a dream or does life 
			just dream us ? 

And language has broken down, language has been 
       bandaged - like the sun, like the bandaged 
                sun - and we speak in chunks 
		 of betrayal words 

			when language itself 
				has become ..... 

Or when at eye level from your balcony you see black 
       darting swifts mewing in the fine drizzle or 
	    turning their sleek bodies in the 
	       sun as they bite tiny insects 
	            simply for sustenance 

		    is this just a dream of 
life ? 

Or the gannet that plunges down cliffs of light 
     (as a broke lift might through shafts of 
          darkness) and breaks the surface 
	  of the curdled water leaving 
	      its tongue's graffiti on 
           the shoal beneath 

          having picked out just one fish 
	    	      for its gizzard and gullet  

	O my toppled sanity : O my maytime 
		market : O my bridge of 

		   Or as a cormorant might 
			fly straight into the sun 
	and either it will crinkle and fizz in the black 
		heats - or else it will heal the sun's 
wound : 

(for this is what birds know that we 
no longer know) 

Or the stormy petrel sleeping on the heave of 
          the ocean, giving countenance to 
	     the wreck and the wrack 
		waiting for the spigot or flag 
			of seaweed or the onrush of 
maritime tide 

One time in my house on the burnt island a wren 
      deep-dived by a buzzard fled in through 
          my blue open door but then was as 
	    bone burst by human space 
	        as by any beak or claw 

			though I spoke to it 
		in bird words from the piece of 
			      my hearth 

		  and I cupped it in my hands 
			 until off it flew

	but my mind is a burnt island : as is 
		  everyone's in this bruised 
		     world, or in this world 
		          			of bruised minds 

			and is everyone just a 
				     dream ? 

When you live on the twenty-first floor and the old 
       Ukrainian man twelve floors down keeps 
	   racing pigeons on his balcony - 
Popa he is called 
   and he sings 

	   the sunlit pub on Cable Street
          the pub that is not yet 
     shut down - 


       his pigeons fly in wide arcs, in circles 
           from his balcony, but they cannot 
	      return him to the village 
		near Lv'ov (shhh 
		         shhh : 

       this is his mother hugging him close 
           shielding his eyes, clasping him 
	     to her body lest he moan 
or whimper when 
    the partisans 
          piss in 

           the bushes she's hiding him in as 
	        they pass through the 
		   burnt village : 
      shhh ... shhh) 

       Is this then just a dream ? 

Or when you live on the twenty-first floor and 
    you see two cormorants sweeping the sky 
        making wide arcs of their own choice 
	    bargaining with no-one and 
	        compromising nothing : 

			what in their bone structure 
		do they know that we will never 
				know ? 

		      what in the balance between 
		          their gut and their eye ? 

	and suddenly from sweeping the city they 
		  streak and scud from one 
		       sector of the city to 

			from one skerry to the 
				burning sun 

(corporations named cars after animals, governments 
		named bombs after birds) 

	even language has its final answer, even 
		words fail - or else soar - 
			where we most need them  

		      even birds fly in East London 
	     coming from Iceland or the Western Isles 
		going to Morocco or Algeria or 
            south of the Sahara ...

Is this just a dream ? 
	parliament of birds, these 

	this flight path of swifts and swallows 
	       this discourse on the sanities 
		this journey to be made 
		        across breath 


	    the stupidity of ever drawing 

When you live on the twenty-first floor and down 
        there in the paved market you can see 
		  your friends ... 

(January/April 2002)