In the cut grass a bird
is searching for things
perhaps a bracelet or a gem
more likely a worm
maybe something he put there yesterday
or a previous incarnation.
I used to go out and lift rocks
out on the red ridge where
nothing much grew but spinifex and tea tree.
I’d lift rocks to see
what was underneath: a centipede, an ant
their chambers—so neat and hollow
then I’d put the rock back.
There are things you’ve lost
things that linger in the half-remembered
the reason behind an action
a treasure or a gift
most often teaspoons and clothes pegs
something you overheard
hiding behind curtains in your parents’ room.
Sometimes I can almost make out
the things that I’ve lost.
They are puzzle pieces or clues
and if I could just grasp them
they would complete something or make sense of it.
Then I’d understand what’s underneath
and could put back the rock.
The Great Bowerbird deserves a poem of its own. A nondescript looking bird of grey, the male builds the bower to attract and mate with the female. After which he takes no further part in the care of her or her young. She builds the nest and looks after the young completely on her own.
He is too busy looking after his creation: adding new objects, shifting them around, protecting it from other males. He collects red, green, white and shiny things and arranges them together in groups. The white things are mostly sun-bleached snail shells. This male has put a few shells inside the bower itself, purely for decoration. Another day they wouldn’t be there. He will steal anything that takes his fancy, including from other bowers if he finds one unattended. In fact, he will completely destroy another bower, scattering the objects and tearing apart the construction.
This bower was near my sister’s house. We were doing the rounds that day looking for lost cotter pins from a vehicle being serviced in the maintenance shed. There were clothes-pegs, lids, and various bits of plastic, glass, silver coins, aluminium foil, and other metals. And the cotter pins, though we visited four bowers before we found them all.
Other things my sister has searched for over the years include a dental bridge, eyeglasses, and jewellery, including a diamond engagement ring belonging to a visitor.
The bird is also a consummate mimic. Once when I was staying with my other sister in Townsville, we were searching for a lost kitten. I went towards a mewing kitten sound and found instead a Great Bowerbird giving voice. He mimicked a number of other birds, various ages of cat, dogs, human whistles, and the most amazing sound of someone shovelling gravel. Apparently they also do car alarms, static, and radio noise.
turning it over in my hand
a shell from a bower