'After, there are the birds' by Gina Mercer | States of Poetry Tasmania - Series Two

He sends me photos
of the singular crimson rosella
who observes him through the kitchen window
as he cooks dinner for one.

He sends me boxes of her best clothes:
designer jackets, silk shirts, tailored trousers.
Asks me to share them among family
even though she was the size of a wren
and we’re all currawongs.

He sends me photo after poignant photo
of white-breasted sea eagles,
                                             soaring       roosting      gliding.
Years before, knowing death might swoop,
she signed emails: ‘from The White-Breasted Sea Eagle’,
or sometimes, when energy was low: ‘WBSE’.

He sends me photos of her grave
in a paddock so close to the ocean
sea eagles patrolling there
sense the running of rabbits and fish.

He sends me photos of the funeral,
me bearing her coffin with his three sisters,
my face bleak as a cliff
as we lay her in that space –
best birds-eye view of the ocean
and she –
without eyes.

He sends me news of the satin bowerbird
drowned in the liquid compost.
He retrieves the corpse, places it on an ants’ nest.
Later, he sends the clean, exquisite skeleton
to an artist friend who draws skulls,
so frail, so strong.

There are no photos to send,
there can be no speaking of
how our sea eagle is composting now,        drowning
in the rich soil of her ocean paddock.
These, our desolate imaginings in that birdless hour,
round three in the morning…
              we simply cannot fly there together.

He sends me the last days’ photos,
her three sisters and a niece bundled
beside the aluminium bed
we all knew so well                 at the end.
We look so bonny and robin-round
beside her wren-bone frail.
She, still railing strong against
the determined flocks of starlings
roosting in her spine, liver, lungs.

He sends me copies of Australian Birdlife,
we speak of the plight of the orange-bellied parrot,
as the wind farms of loss
slice across his sky
as he attempts to migrate
from                  mated for life
to          flying solo.

After my sister dies,
her husband says,     Now,
there is the company of birds.

Published in Weaving Nests with Smoke and Stone, Walleah Press, 2015, page 62.


Gina Mercer

Gina Mercer

Gina Mercer enjoys a three-stranded career as writer, teacher, and editor. She has taught creative writing and literature in universities and communities for thirty years. She was Managing Editor of Island magazine, 2006–10. She has published a novel, Parachute Silk (Spinifex Press, 2001) and two academic books (UQP, 1994; Peter Lang, New York, 2001).

Gina has published five collections of poetry: The Ocean in the Kitchen (Five Islands Press, 1999), Night Breathing (Picaro Press, 2006), Handfeeding the Crocodile (Pardalote Press, 2007), and Seasoned with Honey (with three other women poets, Walleah Press, 2008). Her most recent collection, Weaving Nests with Smoke and Stone (Walleah Press, 2015), is all about birds.

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