A Bird in the House
A Bird in the House - Elizabeth Jennings
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The next poem, 'A Bird in the House', is a piece of autobiography and it's a straight recollection of something that happened with my sister and me when we were small.
A Bird in the House
It was a yellow voice, a high, shrill treble in the nursery
White always and high, I remember it so,
White cupboard, off-white table, mugs, dolls’ faces
And I was four or five. The garden could have been
Miles away. We were taken down to the green
Asparagus beds, the cut lawn, and the smell of it
Comes each summer after rain when white returns. Our bird,
A canary called Peter, sang behind bars. The black and white cat
Curled and snoozed by the fire and danger was far away.
Far away for us. Safety was life and only now do I know
That white walls and lit leaves knocking windows
Are a good prison but always you have
To escape, fly off from love not felt as love,
But our bird died in his yellow feathers. The quick
Cat caught him, tore him through bars when we were out
And I do not remember tears or sadness, I only
Remember the ritual, the warm yellow feathers we put
In a cardboard egg. What a sense of fitness. How far, I know now,
Ritual goes back, egg to egg, birth to burial and we went
Down the garden softly, two in a small procession,
And the high clouds bent down, the sky pulled aside
Its blue curtains. Death was there or else
Where the wise cat had hidden. That day we buried our bird
With a sense of fitness, not knowing death would be hard
Later, dark, without form or purpose.
After my first true grief I wept, was sad, was dark, but today,
Clear of terror and agony,
The yellow bird sings in my mind and I say
That the child is callous but wise, knows the purpose of play.
And the grief of ten years ago
Now has an ancient rite,
A walk down the garden carrying death in an egg
And the sky singing, the trees still waving farewell
When dying was nothing to know.
from Collected Poems (Carcanet, 1987), copyright © Elizabeth Jennings 1987, by permission of David Higham Associates. Recording from the Poetry Quartets Bloodaxe/British Council 1998-2000 used by permission of Bloodaxe Books Ltd and the British Council.