Sunday, April 19, 2009

new poems from jonathan skinner

With Naked Foot
a new collection of poems from Jonathan Skinner, now available at Gulf of Maine Books. Here's a poem from the book:

Birds of the Holy Lands

Jerusalem is just above the thirtieth parallel
about the latitude of Charleston, Montgomery, Jackson

I often listen for the birds of the Holy Lands
sometimes you can hear them
behind the news, between the gunshots
and imagine the dappled shadows
beside the fountain in a courtyard
with olive trees and myrtle bushes

and the peaceful chirping of sparrows
creates a restful space for the mind

I would like to go birding in the Holy Lands
For sparrows alone, there is a great
Biblical tradition - with forty instances
of tzippor, Hebraic chirping or twittering
in the Old Testament, and two
strouthion (sparrows) in the New

According to my Bible Dictionary,
"The birds above mentioned are found in
great numbers in Palestine, and are of
very little value, selling for the merest trifle
and are thus strikingly used by our Saviour
Matthew 10:29 as an illustration of our Father's
care for his children."

Unfortunately the Authorized Version
renders the Hebrew indifferently
as "bird" or "fowl" ignoring
the great variety, such as -

the Yellow-vented Bulbul, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Crested
Honey Buzzard, Lappet-faced Vulture, Cream-Coloured
Courser, Crowned Sandgrouse, Little Green Bee-eater, Mountain
Chiffchaff, Arabian Babbler, Palestine Sunbird, Isabelline Shrike,
Yellowhammer, Cinereous Bunting

According to Dr. Thompson, the house-sparrows
and field sparrows of Palestine "are a tame,
troublesome and impertinent generation,
and nestle just where you do not want them

They stop up your stove- and water-pipes with their rubbish,
build in the windows and under the beams of the roof,
and will stuff your hat full of stubble in half a day"