When I became a bird, Lord, nothing could not stop me
               The air feathered
                                                as I knelt
by my open window for the charm –
                                              black on gold,
                                          last star of the dawn.
Singing, they came:
                              throstles, jenny wrens,
jack squalors swinging their anchors through the clouds.
                   My heart beat like a wing.
I shed my nightdress to the drowning arms of the dark,
my shoes to the sun’s widening mouth.
   I found my bones hollowing to slender pipes,
            my shoulder blades tufting down.
                  I   spread    my flight-greedy arms
to watch my fingers jewelling like ten hummingbirds,
my feet callousing to knuckly claws.
              As my lips calcified to a hooked kiss
               then an exultation of larks filled the clouds
and, in my mother’s voice, chorused:
         Tek flight, chick, goo far fer the Winter.
So I left girlhood behind me like a blue egg
                                                        and stepped off
                                 from the window ledge.
How light I was
as they lifted me up from Wren’s Nest
bore me over the edgelands of concrete and coal.
I saw my grandmother waving up from her fode,
      the infant school and factory,
                       let the zephrs carry me       out to the coast.
Lunars I flew
                         battered and tuneless
       the storms turned me insideout like a fury,
there wasn’t one small part of my body didn’t blart.
Until I felt it at last          the rush of squall thrilling my wing
                    and I knew my voice
was no longer words but song       black upon black.
I raised my throat to the wind
                                        and this is what I sang…
Black Country/ Standard
charm/ birdsong or dawn chorus
jack squalor/ swallow
fode/ yard
blart/ cry

from Black Country (Chatto & Windus, 2014), first published in The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls (Tall Lighthouse, 2010), Liz Berry 2010, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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