“Philomel, or, Too Much of a Good Thing” by Marka Rifat

Marka Rifat


Ravi Shankar has arrived and I am charmed.
At first. Such inventiveness and stamina. But
this avian Miles Davis has set up stage
by my garden fence and will not stop
from red-rimmed dawn to yawning blue night.
The air is corona-clear, human competition banished.
Oum Kalthoum in a tawny feather gown
is lifting a creamy breast for the longest song,
all the way to the gods and beyond.
The driving rhythms of Anna Meredith,
percussive riffs, a Ginger Baker on a branch
untiring, unrelenting, unremitting, primal desire.

I am not who you want, this tin-eared audience of one.
I’m fast lost without the old four-four,
the three-minute melodies. If only I could find a female,
a fecund thrush to still your throat at last.
I would ply her with the finest beetles, worms and berries
and she would judge your endless composition and, my exhausted wish,
deign to be your mate and make a nest far, far away.
And I and my tin ears will rest again.

from Poets Respond
June 28, 2020


Marka Rifat: “The quietness generated by Covid-19 restrictions has led to many changes, including in the natural world, and I’m looking forward to the results of a new research project into this ‘human pause.’ My own experience includes being deafened by a songthrush (Turdus philomelos is its latin name, and poets have often opted for using Philomel rather than thrush), normally praised for its beautiful and varied song. I doubt the writers endured hours of avian extemporising for weeks.”

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