early warning

sunrise over the Mediterranean. Malaga

Here in the UK, the spring equinox happens (occurs? falls?) tomorrow at 10:28. I’m a bit confused by that, as I don’t understand how we can have equal day and night at a specific minute half way through the morning.

Exploring the subject a little further, I find that equinox doesn’t mean equilux: day and night are not of equal length, whatever I was taught in school.

In fact, where I am, today was already almost 12 hours and 7 minutes long, which must, presumably, make the night some 14 minutes shorter. And from now until well into April, each day will increase in length by about 4 minutes, meaning that in less than a month, we’ll be having over 14 hours of daylight. Sadly, that’s not 14 hours of sunshine.

I don’t seem to have as many photographs of sunsets as I do of sunrises, but have found this one from some time last summer. Since it was taken locally, it’s rather weaker sunshine than the top photo, which was taken in Spain.

Sunset. UK Midlands. August 2016

As I’m talking about the equinox a day early, I think it’s fair enough to also post a poem in honour of World Poetry Day, which falls on the 21st.

This is an old poem, which won a prize years ago in the Scottish International Poetry Competition.

Spanish birds at dusk

Repetitive and unmelodic,
The sparrows are singing the day’s last song;
Hidden by a curtain of green leaves
They chatter and chirp:
Fat little birds,
Jostling for a better perch for the night.

High overhead
In the still-blue sky
The swifts glide by,
Slicing through the air like scimitars.
Devil birds,
They screech and scream,
Swoop and swerve,
Winnow, whirl,
Weave and wheel,
Stark silhouettes
Against the cotton-candy clouds.

In a tarnished cage
In the junkstore opposite,
Covered with a faded velvet cloth,
The parrot is asleep.
Under heavy lids,
His eyes sparkle like true jet
In a tray of pinchbek and paste trinkets.

On the street corner,
Sleek and plump,
Other fine birds primp and preen
Under the eagle-eye
Of the gypsy hunters.

Since the poem is set in Spain, I decided to translate it into Spanish, so here’s the translation as well. It’s a literary translation rather than literal. The original poem is nearly 20 years old and I think the translation is around 12, so I doubt I’d write either of them quite the same way if I started again now.

Pájaros españoles al atardecer

Insistente y disonante,
los gorriones cantan la última canción del día;
ocultados tras una cortina verde
parlotean y gorjean:
pajaritos regordetes
codeándose, colándose
dando empujones y empellones
para conseguir un buen sitio para la noche.

Allí arriba,
donde el cielo sigue azul,
los vencejos planean,
cortando el aire como cimitarras;
aves del diablo,
chillan y chirrían,
arremolinándose, abalanzándose,
serpenteando, zigzageando,
abatiéndose, evadiéndose,
puras siluetas
contra las nubes
de algodón azucarado.

En una jaula deslustrada
en la almoneda de enfrente,
tapada con terciopelo descolorido,
duerme el papagayo.
Bajo párpados pesados
los ojos brillan como auténtico azabache
en una bandeja de oropel y baratijas.

En la esquina,
orondas y rollizas,
otras pajaritas se pavonean,
mientras los cazadores gitanos
las observan
con ojos de lince.


Re-reading about all those birds, and remembering that I had to look up the word for swift when I wrote the translation as I only knew golondrina, which is swallow, I’ve remembered that today is the fiesta de San José. I spent some time living near the Mission at San Juan Capistrano and learned about the legend of the swallows returning on St Joseph’s day each year. I have lots of swallows in my poems, but this is one of my favourites:


with primaries taut, they finger-tip
the contoured air, screeching
a splay-tailed upward glide to peak

then tuck – dip – swoop –

and skim the puddled mud,
gape-mouthed and hungering.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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