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Wrong About the Nightjar
 
I saw a nightjar once, in Thetford Forest,
1975, a summer-end night,
moonlight strobing through the trees.  
I was half mad then
with unrequited love Ė so, yes, moonlight.
Thatís what I remember.
 
And there was music: a ghostly purring,
feathery and mournful Ė no,
regretful, unlocated -- 
fading at the edges
into a mere echo in the night.
Thatís what I remember.
 
And love, and romance, were they there
in the spectral flitting of the bird? 
Was it really a bird, that vague shape,
colourless, putative,
threading through the pinesí dark colonnade?
Thatís what I remember.
 
Except, that wasnít it. Just the other week
I opened, idly, John Bakerís hymn
to the peregrine falcon
and the Essex landscape and all its birds,
his obsession of ten years. 
And then I knew that memory had lied.
 
The nightjar is not spectral, Baker says,
not gloomy; it does not drift
through the woods like a shade.
No, it leaps up joyfully into flight, it dances,
its song is a stream of wine spilling from a height
into a deep and booming cask.
 
How could I have got it so wrong?
The sad bird half seen, half heard,
the forest-filling purring? Was I even there?
Iím sure about the love, though.
I clung to it for years.
Thatís what I do remember.

Mandy Macdonald
 

If you have any thoughts on this poem, Mandy Macdonald would be pleased to hear them.

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