Issue 3: John Whale


Starlings in the sixties

aped the simple bell

of a phone in the hall,

the surge of bath-water

roaring past the plug,

the ripping and zipping

when skipping stations

on a red transistor,

the fuzzy rise and fall

of sitcom laughter

muffled in the eaves.

And through the seventies

and eighties, they moved

along with us within

their own migrations,

as each elaborate alarm

sang through the electric range

of sounds for house and car,

punctuating our sleep

and suburban dreams.

And now I can hear

from the empty lounge

on what I thought was standby

the repeat of a documentary

telling me that keas

have started using

their parrotty beaks

to peel chrome from cars,

and to burgle the burrows

of helpless mutton-birds.

And in the rainforest

just north of Brisbane

the Superb Lyrebird has gone

beyond its natural limit

of twenty local songs

and for the pièce de resistance

of its theatrical display

now includes the click and whirr

of the naturalist’s final shot

and the regurgitating rev

of the logger’s chain-saw.


A very strange fish,

I heard them say,

at the bottom of the lake,

a blind brilliant fish

that the Welsh call

a gwyniad

which itself means

a shining.

There’s one inside

the Old King’s Head,

lacquered and framed,

its glazed eyes

dreaming of cataracts

it’s not seen for more

than ten thousand years

when the ice-sheet

made a complete

blank of Bala.

All this I heard

only in these glances

to the past -                       

my father’s bicycle

breaking on the A494,

the train leaving


the gleaming chrome

of a Vauxhall Victor

circa 1964 -

in which I’m crouched

with eyes tight shut,

as close as I can get

to the bottom of it,

the still cold point,

thinking  only of

our imminent arrival

in the crystalline

air of 

the mountains

and this pelagic fish

which is

not trapped

or even blind

but is 

brilliant briefly when it rises 

from the 


John Whale is a co-editor of Stand. His poems have appeared in a variety of magazines and his work was featured in Anvil New Poets 2, edited by Carol Ann Duffy. A collection, Waterloo Teeth, is forthcoming from Carcanet.

Copyright © 2009 by John Whale, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.