The Panic Bird

Recycled tin, wire, velvet and other fabrics

I first came across The Panic Bird by the American poet Robert Phillips in the Bloodaxe anthology, Being Alive, and couldn’t get the extraordinarily powerful image that is conjured up – and the chilling last line – out of my mind. Birds have long featured strongly in my work but this marks something of a new departure for me as they usually take a benign, even benevolent form. Working in metal also represents a new path for me and I would like to say thanks to silversmith Bryony Knox, my mentor for this project, for her inspiration and support.

The Panic Bird

just flew inside my chest. Some
days it lights inside my brain,
but today it’s in my bonehouse,
rattling ribs like a birdcage.

If I saw it coming, I’d fend it
off with machete or baseball bat.
Or grab its scrawny hackled neck,
wring it like a wet dishrag.

But it approaches from behind.
Too late I sense it at my back —
carrion, garbage, excrement.
Once inside me it preens, roosts,

vulture on a public utility pole.
Next it flaps, it cries, it glares,
it rages, it struts, it thrusts
its clacking beak into my liver,

my guts, my heart, rips off strips.
I fill with black blood, black bile.
This may last minutes or days.
Then it lifts sickle-shaped wings,

rises, is gone, leaving a residue —
foul breath, droppings, molted midnight
feathers. And life continues.
And then I’m prey to panic again.

© Robert Phillips

 

TEXTiles / Frayed Edges,
Patriothall Gallery @ WASPS, Edinburgh (2010)

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