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The Saturday Poem: The Birds of the Air

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by Jean Sprackland

I'm vague about their names –

laziness, yes, but also a wish
to keep them free. Isn't it enough
to foul their brooks and fields
and flay the high trees with our floodlights

without this last assault of language?
I limit myself
to the one thing I know:
that they are light

(the word splits on a prism,
revealing them luminous, weightless
and all tones between).

I learnt this as a child
in the little yard behind the chapel
where I would be sent with the leftover bread.
When I stepped out from the cool, screened interior

they were waiting in the sunshine.
They glittered in the branches
while I crumbled the host and scattered it
among the weeds and broken paving.

• From Sleeping Keys, published by Jonathan Cape, RRP £10. To order a copy for £8 with free UK p&p go to guardianbookshop.co.uk or call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846.


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