Read introduction

A poem from my work on genetics - www.thehumangenome.co.uk. It is about the brutal battle for survival every day of winter for small birds. We fed so many of them when we lived for a time in a totally wild and unspoiled part of the Highlands of Scotland - including these chaffinches! It is also about the practice of patenting the genes of living creatures - especially humans - in the hope of commercial gain, which I find both absurd and obscene!

‘Those opposed to gene patenting argue that the concept is absurd because genes are discoveries rather than inventions and that gene patenting acts as part of 'the race to commodify life'. Both the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Wellcome Trust in the UK have voiced strong concerns…’ Your Genome

‘…in 2000, half a million patents lodged to copyright genes from living organisms.’ Genewatch

Patenting Chaffinches

Gillian_ferguson_photo_high_resby Gillian K Ferguson16 Jan 2014

Instead of bothering much about anything,
I just watched the grumpy chaffinches -
jittery, jostling, jousting.
Squabbling, spatting, scrapping.
Flouncy, bouncy, huffing flutter-bluster!

Puffed bomb-bodies explode holstered weapon-wings,
aggressive Flamenco fans, blurring in furious dances.
Zebra flashes. Peckity-peck! Cheepity bleepin’-cheep!
Mass bickers; detonated dirty scrums, birdy dogfights.

All hating to be thought so cute,
bandit-masked nut-muggers -
as objects of human smiling.

For the bloody business of just staying alive.
Confusing their own heads looking every way
at once - for avian enemies that do not exist.
Birds on the verge of nervous breakdown -
neurotic, twitching, schizophrenic. Startling
at sounds in their own minds; invisible animals
of prey. At leaf-green eyes opening everywhere
in the innocent-seeming, floral scheme of things.
Even the sparkling stars of frosted gorse glitter
like the stunning gold iris of a hungry wolf’s eye,
though he sniffed here last a hundred years ago.
A cunning grey ghost still slinking, hunchbacked -
camouflaged in this suicidal grey palette; inhabiting
the shepherd’s mad genius collie - wearing his teeth.

Hyper-vigilant, hyperventilating, they stay alert –
shattered by any noise out of existence. Dimension.
So dramatically, clappingly gone, you would think
their quarrelling ghosts would be left still squabbling
at the brutal altar of nuts. But soon burring back whole
from healed blue sky. Pink finches from invisible hats,
pouring out of frightened trees to greedy seed carpets.
Seemingly none the worse for such total disappearance.

Such a pain, such a crick - eyes mounted on opposite
sides of your nervous skull; always jerking your neck
popping constant snapshots. Trying to solder the whole
pixellated picture. My own neck hurt just looking back –
when affronted, one feathery gourmand caught my eye
like a pecked nut; defied me to keep spying, try to take
his lion bird’s share. And it seemed only polite to look
back sideways, switch my giant blue questionmark eye.
(He didn’t seem in the least interested to learn, by the way,
it was me bought his dinner, nutritionally-balanced feast -
even approved by the RSPB: just glared, wee avian David).

Battling in a desperate heaven of nuts and crumbs - plenty.
Before the hellish Highland night rises, glossy young witch.
Each year rejuvenated by Winter’s elixir, (as the Moon hides
her wrinkles in foundation of light). Cheekboned - proud and
beautiful, merciless in her diamonds; oldest aristocratic jewels
in the Universe. Light’s blood frozen in star clots, dark sockets.
Black flesh pared to bowled blue bone, sky skeleton. Bloodless,
she wears the Moon pinned where her heart should be - smiles
ice as the Sun smiles light. Men have died in her glittering arms,
lost in her dumb beauty, as she breathes a scintillating frost skin
on immortal mountain snow, her feet stop water’s twinkling heart.
Crow-blue hair smoothed, shining; dressed up to the Gothic nines,
in sparkle and darkness - she is seasonal, natural, ethereal royalty.

Hours she lingers - stripping naked Birch trees to the white bone.
Even as the invisible mouse hand trembles, mesmerising humble
fields of common grass staring: rigid, overawed, until rigor mortis
stiffens spines - too late now feeling their vivid green blood freeze
to silver skeletons, simple as swords: each blade perfectly worked,
kissed solid by silversmithing lips. Tiny screams muffle; the mouse
stroked by her taxidermic touch, leaves growing furry white gloves
to insulate - nurse failing knowledge of how once they were green.
How they made green: light mechanisms, vibrant chemistry; danced.
Already seeming alien dreams, fictions in this nightmare of paralysis.

Until at last she has walked the sky - pole to pole
to meet the season: white Winter, lean and mean
as she likes him, reaching under her shining skirts.
He has entered, claimed the earth; offers its corpse,
his gift, like a hunter to his mate (but earth, though
she has lost all feeling, still secretly alive, comatose).

High, noble Winter and Night meet.
Icy breath gauzing her jewel Moon,
lighting her ribs, bony blue breast -
wreathing the pricking bed of stars.
Silent, deathly passion - for so long
even planets close their startled eyes.

Venus, yawning, lays away her solitary diamond.
Stars came to be this very night: offspring planted
in black sockets - star eggs. And soon she too will
take off her dark, sparkling finery; close blue-grey
blinds, white curtains, to rest. While he, energised,
will work all day – never, ever sleep until defeated
by the crazy Spring Princess, manically bursting out
all over from her flowered green frock, multi-fingers.

Their other sport is killing birds.
Yet the chaffinches must survive,
though they don’t know why –
like us; but don’t ask questions.

Intense effort winding clockwork hearts -
you can see nut fuel flooding - pumping
the fine lace of thready red pipes; lagging
with fat, pink breasts permanently blushed.
Merciful duvet feathers nesting cosily over
miniature hearts, a last pearly ghost of rosy
island light; like the painting of a fire might
warm a room a little. Dreaming fitfully that
frostbitten tree fingers - this night, will feel
the flint-spark mouth of Spring - flickering
like slow lighters, spurt brilliant leaf flames.

Of perching again in solar-powered, cosy bowers.
Twittering at peace. All arguing stopped - feeding
just for fun, and sheer gluttony; able to stop hating
mollycoddled humans - looking rudely; like a zoo.

And the Night Witch will pine - her beau
departing for awful pomegranate months.
Without his iron will, snow-bone support,
shrinking to a weakest, palest blue crone -
clutching tattered rags of wispy waif cloud,
scattering her sick stars, elderly entourage -
her thin, unpolished Moon, milky, cataracted.

But not tonight: this much they know.
Scrambling for life among our freak
occurrence of wilderness crumbs -

each one such a wonder of hysterical nerves,
I could cast each corpse in fairy silver but fail
to keep a single glimpse of fizzing bird life -
bright flutter of existence sprung into wings.

And if I plucked off rose and zebra feathers,
peeled back the bluish-silver glove of skin -
looked inside the shiny, tiny pulsing organs.
Then kept looking on and on - Hubble-like;
onioning off colour, substance and shape -
guddling among molecules. Further, further.
Until matter itself slipped off - like a ghost
in reverse; and what was there was The Bird.
Perfect presence of The Bird: a shining print.
A poem that means this bird and nothing else.

And if I saw, after all these creative millions of years,
even beyond the pterodactyl’s lingered spirit, gifts -
absolute Birdness there. How could I ever claim I had
written it. Out of the stars, light - the word of the Bird.