Poem 176 – Riverbank Sketches I

The Cormorant:
He holds his head up high
to look down upon us.
His curled haughty lips
suggest amusement.
I doubt he’s ever glimpsed
his own reflection in
the ripples – unless his smirk
disguises self-denial.

The cormorant’s smile caught my attention as we walked along the Lea yesterday. I’ve grown to love these comical birds, so graceful in the water, yet so clumsy looking in the air or on the bank wings outstretched to dry.

© Ben Quant 2023
Photo by JJ Harrison licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Poem 117 – The Heron

The heron lumbers on
This prehistoric throwback
Envelopes with its wings
Turning the world to shades
Of grey forboding shadows
When passing overhead

Aloft it struggles to
Maintain its altitude
But on the river bank
Transformed and elegant
It perches, patient, wise
With poised anticipation

Its stillness is unmatched
The clock hand paused
The moment of decision
The throwing of the dart
A single precise strike
Efficient in its catch

Walking home from our Easter service a heron flew over, its struggles a clear contrast to its normal elegance.

© Ben Quant 2022

Poem 74 – Perfectly Formed

We stroll along the muddy banks
Mid-January Sunday afternoon
Opposing the New River’s waters
Breath catching in the growing gloom
Peripheral vision glimpses movement
A twitch descending accompanied by
A plop, the sound of water applauding
I turn but did my vision lie?
Scanning the water I seek the cause
But only ripples linger on
Alluding to that past disturbance
The water bare, the culprit’s gone
Look over there five metres past!
Its long beak piercing through the surface
And bobbing on the waters cold
A speckled cormorant emerges
It briefly turns acknowledging
Our passing presence, two chilly guests
Before descending once again
An artful dive into the depths
I marvel at its perfect form
So naturally adapted to
The river life when mud hinders
The ease by which we pass on through

Yesterday afternoon we managed a brief walk along the New River as it leaves Cheshunt before it got dark and were delighted to see a juvenile cormorant fisher in the water alongside us, something we haven’t seen before.

© Ben Quant 2022

Poem 68 – The Classroom Drummer

Remember the noise the ruler made when
You thrummed it on the side of the desk?
That drumming sound that slid upwards as you
Drew the springboard inwards crescendoing?
I swear I heard that as I walked amongst the trees.
I looked around but there was no classroom
Comedian, no scruffy school boy here.
Confused I turned again with searching eyes
But still no culprit was disclosed until
Skyward I lifted my attention, where
A flash of red revealed the avian punk
Headbanging yobbish rhythms on the branch.

Today, my afternoon walk was accompanied by the sound of drumming amongst the trees. I didn’t actually spot the culprit, but I knew who it was.

© Ben Quant 2022

Poem 59 – The Solo

So dark. It
Seems night’s deep blue has
Successfully silenced our
Skies. Victory appears
Secure until a lone
Soloist rebels, urgently
Sounding its call
Summoning us
Swiftly from our
Slumbers. How, so
Small, does it
Sing so loud? Hark,
Slowly, companions’
Songs join, resistance
Swelling until their
Symphony usurps
Silence. Day resumes

Okay, I know I said I was going to take a break, but the sound of a lone bird valiantly defying the darkness as I put on the kettle this morning caught my imagination. Why the alliteration? No idea, it just happened that way.

© Ben Quant 2021

Poem 16 – Swans in Transition

Spying us across the verdant water
The transitioning signet swims urgently
Dragging a deep dart in its wake
Once brown it’s noble ark now speckled
Flattens, reaching, pleading
Demanding food with a desperate shush

Scattered pellets bob summoning
Mottled siblings and parents to join
The royal throng that turns and tussles
Graceful wings raised in display
Becoming fierce enforcers of superiority
Sharp snaps send snowy feathers adrift

With pecking order firmly fixed
The mature monarch rules the roost
Yet young usurpers yearn for their chance
Raising their wings and wrestling
Until food finished joining those forced to flee
Calming, becoming again the beautiful bank*

Most days we take a tub of swan food down to the River Lea. Over the last couple of days there have been a significant number of swans, including yesterday one parent taking its offspring for a dramatic flying lesson. Feeding them today created a fiercely fought frenzy, most unlike the peaceful demeanour they usually display.

* Bank here has a dual meaning referring to both the river bank and the bank of swans, one of their collective nouns.


© Ben Quant 2021

Poem 11 – The Red Kite & Me

From somewhere in the heavens I hear a mew.
I scan the sky searching for its source
I know she’s there somewhere.
I remember walking in Wales with the school
Amongst mountains and buzzards
And being taunted, teased for saying, ‘I like birds’.
I can still hear them snigger at my riposte
‘But I mean the feathered kind’.
Even Sir smiled to himself
But not so hidden that I did not see.
I blushed.

I spot her, suspended, wings outstretched
Serene in effortless anticipation
Owning her stage, demanding attention
Whilst giving us none.
She’s seen something scurrying below
Total focus on some distant spot.
Now sweeping for her prey, swift and precise
Not a plummet like a stone
Instead a vaulting ballerina
Poise belying the strength within
Leaping with pointed toe and silent grace
Who couldn’t be moved by the sight?

Oh, that I could learn to fly like her!
To be free from barb and piercing wit
Immune from worrying about what others think
To fly without thought or regret
Composed without and within
To soar above whisper and gossip
Held above those petty spears that stab and wound
To strut upon my stage with the natural ease
That comes from inner confidence
My ready pose demanding attention
But not pleading for it, or seeking it out
Sufficient in who I am.

I have always loved birds! Walking today in Lea Valley I spotted a red kite flying above. Once never seen, since their reintroduction, these elegant birds have become frequent visitors. Sitting down to try and capture their essence in verse, I found myself wondering why I always call them ‘she’, and found myself smiling at a teenage memory.


© Ben Quant 2021