From our April/May 2019 issue, which you can buy here.

Raymond Antrobus

With Birds You’re Never Lonely

I can’t hear the barista
over the coffee machine.

Spoons slam, steam rises.
I catch the eye of a man

sitting in the corner
of the cafe reading alone

about trees which is, incidentally,
all I can think about

since returning.
Last week I sat alone

on a stump, deep in Zelandia forest
with sun-syrupped Kauri trees

and brazen Tui birds with white tufts
and yellow and black beaks.

They landed by my feet, blaring so loudly
I had to turn off my hearing aids.

When all sound disappeared, I was tuned
into a silence that was not an absence.

As I switched sound on again,
silence collapsed.

The forest spat all the birds back,
and I was jealous—

the earthy Kauri trees, their endless
brown and green trunks of sturdiness.

I wondered what the trees would say about us?
What books would they write if they had to cut us down?

Later, stumbling from the forest I listened
to a young Maori woman.

She could tell which bird chirped,
a skill she learned from her grandfather

who said with birds you’re never lonely.
In that moment I felt sorry

for any grey tree in London,
for the family they don’t have,

the Gods they can’t hold.

For Rashan Charles

And after the black boy is
strangled by police, after

the protests where the man,
his Rottweiler on an iron leash yells,

let’s go mash up dis city
and another crowd bulks,

the parents of the murdered
beg us not to become

the monsters some think
we already are—even when

the barista shakes her head
at the banners, says actually,

police be killing whites too.
Look how scary it is

to be here and know
if we die someone

will make a sound
like her before earth

is tipped over us.
Who hasn’t had enough?

Enough burning
bins, pushing

shopping trolleys
into static and sirens?

Who isn’t chanting
enough, enough,

enough, throwing spells,
the rebellious

holding what they can
in front of a supermarket

or police stations
or voting booths—I am

kind to the man
sitting next to me

in C.L.R James Library, even if
his breathing disturbs me.

Can we disagree graciously
I am tired of people

not knowing the volume
of their power. Who doesn’t

some silence at night?

In 2019 Raymond Antrobus won the Ted Hughes Award for his collection
The Perseverance.
For more information, visit

To discover more content exclusive to our print and app editions, subscribe here to receive 6 journals a year from The London Magazine, and full access to our extensive digital archive.


Dearest reader! Our newsletter!

Sign up to our newsletter for the latest content, freebies, news and competition updates, right to your inbox. From the oldest literary periodical in the UK.

You can unsubscribe any time by clicking the link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or directly on Find our privacy policies and terms of use at the bottom of our website.