Judith Wright and Birds

I saw a single Gang-Gang this morning, among a crowd of Sulpher-crested Cockatoos weighing down the branches of a young tree in the back-yard. This was just before I went for a run with dogs along the base of the Mountain, which was just before I met a friend for coffee whose company and garden reminded me of Judith Wright.

The following is from the beautifully illustrated 2003 collection ‘Birds’, published by the National Library of Australia. It was originally published in ‘Alive’ (1973).

Reminiscence

I was born into a coloured country;
spider-webs in dew on feathered grass,
mountains blue as wrens,
valleys cupping sky in like a cradle,
christmas-beetles winged with buzzing opal;
finches, robins, gang-gangs, pardalotes
tossed the blossom in its red-streaked trees.

My father had a tale of an old neighbour,
the kind of reminiscence one inherits.
Asked for difficult detail in stories
at those bygone ample crowded teas,
(cup and saucer balanced on his knees):
“Madam, you might as well
ask me to enumerate the parrots.”

Hundreds, thousands, birds uncountable
babbling, shrieking, swirling all around –
skiesful, treesful: lorikeets, rosellas,
lorilets and cockatiels and lowries,
Red-backed, Ring-necked, Orange-breasted, Turquoise,
Purple-crowned, Red-collared, Rainbow, Varied,
Scarlet-chested, Blue-browned, Scalybreasted,
Swift and Night and Paradise and Crimson,
Twenty-eight and Red-capped, Musk and Elegant-
I give up. But see him
sitting stiffly in a basket-chair
circled by their millions, formally
stirring three of sugar in his tea
in an afternoon I never knew
making conversation with the ladies.

Not a flock of parrots left to number.
Just a picture, fifty years behind,
left embroidered on my childish mind.
Parrots! They were something to remember.

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