The magpie feels the chalk morning’s sun,
and knows another day begun.
Missing the refuge of the downy birch
she glides between buses and billboards in search
of a sunlit, solitary perch.

Quite far from greenery and white-barked trees
she treads the air over old walls adorned
with new signs: atop the one for Barclays
runs a belt of steel nests, shock-black and thorned.

They have none of the scarecrow’s charm,
nor do they guard a local crop;
those crowning coils of piercing harm
just keep the shrill bastards from stopping here,
keep windows shitless at the tip of a spear,
and spare from birdsong the customer’s ear.

They do not guard a local crop,
yet now they surround the roof of co-op;
above every bookies, chain cafe,
offie, shopping arcade archway,
and every bus stop.

Day after day,
they keep her winged kind away.

Evening’s light wets the broken glass
at the mouth of the underpass.
Carrying her comfort in a heap
of blankets she searches for a cheap
bed, or a bench, to get some sleep.

In the fading shade of South Bank Tower,
she finds in the safest corners sharp buds
planted in neat rows, struggling to flower:
a concrete bed of glowering steel studs.

They keep away no winged pest,
nor are they subtle in their shape,
but their installation’s been assessed
by the borough council, who said it’s fine —
they keep the street sides clear, and the design
works better than any “no loitering” sign.

They are not subtle in their shape,
yet more each day they fill the cityscape;
The architect’s anonymous resentments
gore from the floor of each office entrance,
shop window, and fire escape.

And the night police are eased on their beats
by the frosted bus stops’ sloping seats;
In the night’s cold, across the whole city
works a deadly, silent hostility
to clean up London’s streets.

Day after day,
night after night,
they keep her unkept kind out of sight.

Spilled south from the Square Mile to New Kent Road,
cashless suits hurry past the reminders
of the speed with which bad luck and rent owed
could throw them out to survive on the kindness
of hurrying, cashless suits.

And all the city’s honest, struggling, and condemned know
nothing of their part in its choral crescendo:

“Bye bye birdie”


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