Birds and Tigers

When I arrived back in Leeds just over a week ago, it was like Christmas. I had been away for seven weeks, and my desk was overflowing with envelopes and packages. A one hundred and thirty pound refund from Yorkshire water. Photos of the Lake District and a Kookaburra card from my grandparents. Hagues chocolate teddybears in a tin from my unbelievably kind cousin in Adelaide, who thought I might need some cheering up. And, most wondrous of all, this.

Claire Souter had been touched by my previous post about her, and was interested that out of hundreds of paintings I’d included Birds and Tigers, which she said had never been framed nor exhibited, nor hardly seen. Waiting for me, she said. She sent it to me.

So now the beautiful bird perches in my room. I can’t quite believe how lovely it is. The bird’s soft grey feathers, its quiet, intense glance, the way it concentrates, the golden light, the golden ring, hovering. It is like a myth and a fairytale. A muse. Just looking at it calms me, and helps me think and write. I love the lace beneath it, too. I used to make lace. These days, when I’m feeling crafty, I stitch away at a giant cross-stitch of Henry VIII and his wives (two wives down, four to go). Claire’s delicate painting of the lace makes me think of women, and patience, and skill and love – and all the hours which must have gone into such creations. It is a metaphor for my own work as well – a thesis is built and held together by tiny stitches. And the tigers looks pretty happy, bounding in from unknown fields, as flowers bloom above them. It is a wondrous painting, a meeting of worlds. I can’t help but think it captures the fleeting, private, luminous act of creation itself. It reminds me of a poem I wrote, once. In the poem I mention a nest. Claire has painted one. Thank you. Thank you.


You would like a poem about a bird,
about that bird
which is a deeper grey than pigeons,
is delicate,
and is visiting our feet.
We do not know what kind it is
but there is something lovely
about grey wings which sheathe
realms of air beneath their quiet feathers,
about the pointed bright eyed head
which bows and bobs
and knows something, but will not say.

Apart from that
it is a bird, and birds
have soft breasts we long to touch
but cannot own –
brittle underneath and light as air,
warm quickly pulsing
(our groping hands would crush in loving
or die of gentleness)
– and mostly, a presence
which can dip away swiftly
but is near now.

I would like to build a nest with words
(nothing like a cage)
fine enough and firm enough
for the bird to live close to you.

You could carry her around like a good secret
you could take her out at night.

She would diminish the darkness
but you still wouldn’t own her –
the bird would be just as precious
just as rare, pure gift.

2 thoughts on “Birds and Tigers

  1. One of my favourites of your many beautiful poems. How amazing that it echoes the painting in so many ways, and that the painting draws together so many layers of your worlds and life. Happy thinking and writing in your nest!

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