A Stunning Animated Poem About Our Connection to Nature and Each Other – Brain Pickings

by Jeremy


In a lovely echo of Richard Feynman’s Ode to a Flower — his timeless, poetic insistence that knowing the science behind something beautiful doesn’t rob it of enchantment but “only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe” — Macdonald unfurls the science behind the awe of murmurations:

Like all great essays, Macdonald’s begins with an observation of one thing and becomes a meditation on another, taking one fragment of elemental reality and polishing it to shine a sidewise gleam on a larger existential reality — in this case, the murmuration of human refugees trying to find their way to safety and belonging amid a gasping world.

Poet Linda France encountered Macdonald’s essay during a climate writing residency at New Writing North. Inspired by Neil Gaiman’s “What You Need to Be Warm” — his humanistic poem for refugees and the homeless, composed from thousands of definitions of warmth from around the world — she set out to compose a lyric murmuration, turning hundreds of crowdsourced verses into a single stunning poem, which artist Kate Sweeney then turned into a lyrical animated short film. Amplifying the poignancy of the project is its timing — it was created for the 2020 Durham Book Festival, while the human world was roosting in confused and frightened isolation, swarmed by a shared terror, suddenly more aware than ever that we are a single pulsing living dying organism.

MURMURATION
by Linda France

1
*
Because we love watching the flock’s precision glide
       upstroke for height, tilt of wing spun mid-flight
just for a moment
              we’re in the frenzied swirling rush

              home for the winged

       owls hoot their love through the dark
                     chiffchaff creeps up stalks
              fennel and flow
dipper and wagtail
              Arctic terns like darts
geese honking              each note weighed
a duck sits on top of the bowling club out king of the world

       if you love the bird, don’t cage it

              we’ll miss the starlings when April comes

*
on any high hilltop, breathing this air,
this precious air, remember those who lost their breath

       if you love the flower, don’t pick it

a sudden sweep of daisies in a green field
like counting stars
       losing count
              starting over again

more shades of green
than words scream Life!

life, damp grass between bare toes
light passing through poppy petals
the slow unfolding of a rose

              home for the prickly, those that slither
                     climb or crawl
                            for us all

       atom by atom
       cell by cell
       what else matters

we cherish these conversations when the vetchling speaks
the lavish eruption of nasturtiums, weaving ropes of white stems
orange flowers
       lush leaves
              hearts burnt open

       if you love wild things, let them be

*
follow the almost invisible path through the heather
summer’s easy grin, the slow smile of autumn
gaze of winter starlight

              isn’t this how we learn not to fear
change
       the seasons
              that mark time
shape our lives

       spangles of sunlight on a river
       otters rippling

the sting of cold sea on tight, red skin

       we feel it all, drink it in and love it

love honey, love bees
the smell of dust, hot rain
a damson tree
       dripping purple fruits

       love the kiss of a dandelion clock

wind-suck and time disappears

the pull of the moon
       waves that crash with forgotten history
              the rubbed edges of the world
                     a spider crab scurrying sideways

       we love the roaring isles
       the taste of a peach

       our neighbours busy in their vegetable patch
       the daylit gate

              tunnel of trees
              those little paths one-person-wide
              between hazel and ash
              warm bark

       in the city that birthed us
       bright tufts that grow in the cracks

*
because we love the way dawn wakes up
and switches night to day

       the twist and fall
              the surging sweeping joy of it all
              the visceral thrill

how dusk strips away the waste of worried days
       as birds yield to their roost
       and leave the night to moth and bat
beyond day, beyond everything

       we know we too are rock and star

but now              on the tip of our tongue

       even love’s not enough

2
*
At the midnight of the year
utter darkness
a million compasses fail
and the starlings don’t come
empty sky
no swallows, no swifts
no summer nests in the eaves
threads looped in the blue
a blackbird that isn’t there
opens his throat
into silence, thin air
no golden note

you wake to a dawn
unheralded
dusk, uninvited, doesn’t know
where to begin
ghost calls echo in the trees
dogs and deer stop barking
rain forgets to fall
its rhythm broken, lost
oak and elm hold their breath
you will never see another flower
the stars’ last vanishing act
no words left

3
*
April high tide
hurls driftwood
       oarweed
              sea-glass
a wreckage of shells

tomorrow comes soon

       how much would you pay to hear the sound
of rain
       or birdsong

what if couldn’t-care-less cared more
and we let the murmur of change
              change our ways

hear the roots of trees
                     whispering
dark soil’s cavernous memories
       tectonic plates shift

sit like a mountain
all weathers
in our hearts

       what if our flutterings become feathers
              the starlings lend us their wings

till we trust enough
              to fly together
       synchronised       one vast voice
all different, all the same
              to mend our wounded earth

ballads of continents crossed
       comrades lost to storm or predator
              the shockwave moving through the flock

see how we flit
       twist swell
                                   dive
co-mingle       co-exist       co-inhere

belong together

*
imagine we’re made of those slivers of sky
       know all the colours of light

hitch a ride on the bees’ flight
go to earth with badgers
       small as Alice       catch the worm
the keys of the ash
       rise like a dandelion
              the promise of a peony bud

where heather meets heaven
              home

this is the patience of the albatross
       a cormorant’s hunger
craning for a flash of silver
       beneath the water

the good omen of a crescent moon
       milky stars
              set in new stories
meadow orchids
       skeins of geese

a chance to constellate honesty
              justice
escape heroic fantasies
       gravity’s boots

so what if’s rubbed out
       and becomes what is

                     the path between

              then we can hear the hiss of rain

*
what is
       is more than the ear can hear
or eye see —

we will never have this time again
              can never rewind this moment

all the maybes, all the small things
       we touch
              gentle, curious
and let pass

like fruit in season
the secret language of earth
                     underland of coal, uranium, oil

              indifference banished by love

power to the parliament of rooks

it’s just this       us
       the people
              our footsteps
walking into all this wonder
       every day through every weather

              solidarity
                     the planet’s rage

making a stand
              for a different future

it’s just this
              our words
       building this home we share
       these bridges

nowhere else to go

       here we are
              turning over
       this tainted page

to start again

       and healing the earth
              the earth heals us

our better place
              not a destination
a method

       common ground

*
ask
       what if words could fly
              and this poem rose into the blueness
                     a whirr of black italic wings

breath by breath
       a prayer
              to give life back to life
                     all of us
       pieces of the world

what if all the time we were searching
       the sky
              the birds
       were watching for us

what, if not cartwheeling
       what, if not care
              what, if not a cadence
       like love
              held lightly





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