Author: Giles Griffin, Inspiration, Nature


A frantic flapping as I ran by, watching my feet
Avoiding the shit dog owners leave
In this our shared strip of semi-wildness
Between grey suburbia and the wetlands
Between tamed nature and the real thing.

And there you were, entangled in the strands
Of an electric fence, thankfully disarmed
Majestic, dark-eyed, razor-beaked, one wing
Wedged up between the strands
You, not knowing what had trapped you
Me, not understanding how you got there
The two of us ensnared by fear
Of each other, suddenly face to face
With a species we had little business with
But also had no need to be afraid of.

So I stopped, inhaled your magnificence
Your taloned feet, your red-dark plumage
But also your white-barred-black wing twisted up
Pondering how I might release you, this
Not being a skill they teach at school or college
Even though dear friends are avid birders
This circumstance had not been discussed, nor
Notes taken for future reference.
So I simply said: “It’s OK, stay calm, let the wing slide down
Don’t struggle, you will hurt yourself, gently does it”
Or words to that effect, to calm myself as much as you.

You stopped, the wing, held in the upper strand
Slowly glided down, and you gathered yourself.
Then you looked at me, as if to say: “Of course
I wasn’t panicking, you just startled me and I
Well, I just got a fright when you came running”
Which I had been doing from a long way off
And surely birds of prey are, well, eagle-eyed
But I did not correct you: it was not my place.

We contemplated each other, as strangers sometimes do
Looked each other obliquely in the eye, considered
Whether this encounter might continue or was over
All in all, for Africa it was very British, frosty, formal, aloof.
Then you dipped your rufous head, spread your wings
Now released but not quite yet re-tested
And took off to my right, around the houses, slowly
In no great hurry to part from our strange meeting.

Further down the path, which I then followed, you stopped
Perched by the side of the path, gathering yourself again
Hoping, I suppose, that full flight would still be possible.
And so it was, because as I jogged up beside you, off you soared
Circled, glided across rooftops and out of sight, encounter over.

And as I ran on past the vlei-side houses with their mountain views
My heart crash-landed meaning: power and freedom
A moment trapped in ignorance, requiring only calm
And self-belief to solve the shock, tackle the new
Inspired to find release and strength to soar again
To summit rooftops, find new flight paths, ways to live.

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