The herons of Netherton Woods
are standing still to watch the stillness
that hangs at the end of their bills.
They are waiting for a movement;
a stirring underneath the silent glass;
a sign to herald the end of their hunger
here, this mizzled Devon morning.
I have watched them in my own stillness
and waited-them-out for what seems like an age,
but they have more patience than I –
they are masters of persistence; models
of how to vanish through your own being.
Once, I watched a ock of blue herons
at Witty’s Lagoon, Pacific North West.
Those birds showed the same perseverance;
just as the water there performed
the same tricks it performs here –
in and out, up and down, endlessly circling.
Now the Canada geese have landed,
their elegant vee reduced to a clatter
of ungainly feet across the water’s eye
some yards away where the estuary carves
gullies in the slow-emerging silt.
Soon they will begin their long passage
to fly across the Rockies where, even now
in life or memory, my daughter
washing her hair in a turbulent stream
keen to see a grizzly roll from the forest
and scoop a struggling sockeye from the blue.
There is so much potential in her bones,
in her mind, as she flips her head back,
slow motion droplets flying in the air.
To her side, her brother slips off
his shirt and shoes, to brave the rushing melt.
He stilts in like a wader; his skin taut. Nascent.
I look up: the herons are gone; the geese too.
It’s time to go back home. I dare not move.
A Doctour of Phisik
after The Prologue, Canterbury Tales
We took a doctor with us on our way
who understood the laws of surgery
much more than most. There wasn’t anyone
with more than him to say on medicine.
He knew about the heavens and had learnt
the precise timings and exact treatments
proscribed by the planets and stars.
He’d read you your medical chart,
or horoscope, to find the What & Why
of any illness – hot or cold, wet or dry –
where it was seated and what was its form:
blood, or bile, melancholy or phlegm.
He was a master! He’d get to the core
of what was up and proffer you the cure
toute suite – his peddlers of potions and balms
were close at hand to grease each other’s palms.
He’d studied masters like Dioscorides
and quoted freely from Hippocrates,
Haly, Averroes and Constantine.
I think he was a vegetarian –
he ate small meals and only organic.
He wasn’t spiritual, but wore a cloak
of red and blue taffeta trimmed with mink.
I never once saw him buy a man a drink,
despite the wealth he’d totalled from the plague.
‘Gold’s good for the heart!’ was all he cared to say.
Andy Brown is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Exeter University. His most recent edited books are the anthology, A Body of Work: Poetry and Medical Writing (Bloomsbury, 2016), and The Writing Occurs As Song: a Kelvin Corcoran Reader (Shearsman, 2015). His many poetry collections include Watersong (Shearsman, 2015), Exurbia (Worple, 2014), The Fool and the Physician (Salt, 2012), Goose Music (with John Burnside, Salt, 2008) and a selected early poems, Fall of the Rebel Angels: Poems 1996-2006 (Salt, 2006). He has published one novel, Apples & Prayers (Dean Street, 2015).