Starlings in the sixties
aped the simple bell
of a phone in the hall,
the surge of bath-water
roaring past the plug,
the ripping and zipping
when skipping stations
on a red transistor,
the fuzzy rise and fall
of sitcom laughter
muffled in the eaves.
And through the seventies
and eighties, they moved
along with us within
their own migrations,
as each elaborate alarm
sang through the electric range
of sounds for house and car,
punctuating our sleep
and suburban dreams.
And now I can hear
from the empty lounge
on what I thought was standby
the repeat of a documentary
telling me that keas
have started using
their parrotty beaks
to peel chrome from cars,
and to burgle the burrows
of helpless mutton-birds.
And in the rainforest
just north of Brisbane
the Superb Lyrebird has gone
beyond its natural limit
of twenty local songs
and for the pièce de resistance
of its theatrical display
now includes the click and whirr
of the naturalist’s final shot
and the regurgitating rev
of the logger’s chain-saw.




A very strange fish,

                                         I heard them say,


at the bottom of the lake,


                                       a blind brilliant fish


that the Welsh call


                                      a gwyniad


which itself means


                                       a shining.


There’s one inside


                                       the Old King’s Head,


lacquered and framed,


                                       its glazed eyes


dreaming of cataracts


                                      it’s not seen for more


than ten thousand years


                                       when the ice-sheet


made a complete

                                       blank of Bala.


All this I heard

                                       only in these glances


to the past -                       


                                       my father’s bicycle


breaking on the A494,


                                       the train leaving Woodside,


the gleaming chrome


                                      of a Vauxhall Victor


circa 1964 -


                                      in which I’m crouched


with eyes tight shut,


                                     as close as I can get


                          to the bottom of it,


                                     the still cold point,


                          thinking  only of


                                    our imminent arrival


in the crystalline



                                                              air of the mountains


                          and this pelagic fish

                                                              which is not trapped


                          or even blind                                                                                       but is brilliant briefly                           when it rises                                                                                                                      from the darkness.



[John Whale is a co-editor of Stand. His poems have appeared in a variety of magazines and his work was featured in Anvil New Poets 2, edited by Carol Ann Duffy. A collection, Waterloo Teeth, is forthcoming from Carcanet.]

Copyright © 2009 by John Whale, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.