Brydon Thomason

You wheel magnificent into the fray
dive, spear, soar, swerve away
from the thieving gang to serve your young
on the basalt cliffs where they nest in the sun
waiting and watching the war you wage,
learning the art of focused rage,
of switch, reshape, plunge,
zigzag through swells to kill in shoals,
so agile the art of keel and roll,
of a dance turned to fight,
of sardine pierced on a spike.
No matter the weather, the will to win,
the dazzling thrust of body and limb –
like Cleopatra, the power-lust,
the azure eyes contoured in kohl
head alert, in full control.

Photo: Tony Heald,
Photo: Tony Heald,

Like Cleopatra the gilded crown,
the shapely curves, the hint of down,
no sign of the battle, you stun and destroy,
queen of air and sea, subversive your ploy
sharp angled the thrust, the knife in the flesh,*
assassin instinct to keep your head high.
Yet on land you stumble, hop ungainly to your nest
the only place of rest.




source: isleofmaynnr

Gannets spend most of their time at sea, coming to land only to nest on crags by the coast to lay their eggs and nurture their young. They are awkward on land, often stumbling.  Male and female Gannets are similar with their white body, black tipped wings and tail, the crown on their heads a golden colour and their eyes blue and contoured by black skin.  It has been said that you can distinguish the female from the male by the line running down the front of the leg and onto the toes of the webbed feet: the line is yellow green on the male bird, bluish green on the female.  Females dive deeper – up to 15 metres – for longer lengths of time than the male. Even if this bird can fly up to 65 kms/hr, its flying muscles are under-developed in comparison with those of other sea birds, which means it labours to take off from the water, frantically beating its wings and using the wind to get lift-off.  It dives spectacularly, up to a speed of 100 kms/hr; it’s nostrils are located inside the mouth and can be closed in water.


*The notorious Cleopatra of renowned fame is said to have killed her sister and two brothers. The likeness here to the beautiful gannet’s head is striking, and her capability to strike when it suits is also similar…








Mute Swan


Smooth curve in the neck, wings arched,
like the ‘S’ I drew on the blue line at school
to prove I could write on the line like he, who
swims to perfection.
But like me, speechless in class, his voice sticks in his throat
Is it fear, or is it some tethered desire
makes him hiss and choke?

He squints down his face past his features nose
to a red blade-bill, weapon or wand
which kills or bewitches or seals a bond
or gather the weeds to feed his pair.
He struggles to lift – that heavy despair
hinders ascent – yet across the sky
headlong with his mates he flies
dazzling in a squadron of trouble
each limb and wing, muscle and whim
in missile formation fierce in attack.

Yet on land such harmonious form
the speechless charm, no hint of a struggle
all fashioned in feathers so light, as white
as the clouds, his voluptuous dance,
his ease as he glides over water so blue
like my pen on the page that one day at school.


The Mute Swan can be recognised by the large bump at the top of the beak. Source: All About Birds


Swan Patrol. Source: BBC

Despite its name, the mute swan is not totally mute: he makes various explosive and hissing noises.  In spring the black knob of the male on the bill is greatly enlarged, and his bill gets redder.  The mute swan is a sociable bird, but not in the breeding season; it can readily assume an aggressive attitude.  They were imported from Europe to the US during the 1800s for their beauty, and from then on, escaping into the wild, they reproduced. They normally mate – mostly for life – at the age of three or four years old and both sexes incubate the eggs which are laid April-May and hatch after 35 – 40 days.



Dragonfly hovering
mirrored in waterstill
fish stunned by neon-flash green-blue
doubleflick wings.
He flutters, snatches at
prey invisible, veers away
but for how long?
Alerted onlookers
gather in shoals of
immobilized disbelief
knifed in their turn by
agile kingfisher
rocketed in
by whom?

Kingfisher dive. © Malc on Flickr


The cat’s in the spinney and wears his white pinny
white socks on the tips of his paws,
he licks whiskers clean, rubs his ears so they sheen
and scratches the bark with his claws.

He stretches a yawn, sprawls out on the lawn
sinks down while his head lolls aside
and you think he’s asleep as he lies in a heap
but his tail jumps and flicks on his side.

Oh how nice it would be to have time like he
to lie back and slip out of this sphere
but there’s no open doors, no windows, no floors,
and you have to keep running for fear

lest the next overtakes and you’re put on the stake
for envying cats who don’t care
if the firm has gone bust or the car’s turned to rust
and you yawn without turning a hair.

How nice to have dreams so that everything seems
much nicer, much clearer than real,
with your tail twitching on, and your paw pouncing on
that delicious imaginary mouse;

for he tastes so good in this land of nod,
but oh, what a shock to awake:
for it’s only his pinny, it’s only the spinney,
and his dreams have gone floating away.



Tall Ship

Parade down the Seine estuary

She slides over still-water, sails spread like a swan
ribbons flickering, kites in the wind;
proud her prow, stroked by today’s summer breeze.
Sailors waver like swifts in the masts
as she parades down the Seine’s widening estuary
her memories locked in serene ballast.
For these aren’t the waters she once knew
when she rocked in battle against high seas
all the way from Valparaiso
belly brimming with black coals shifting
belly on fire with coals caught alight,
sailors shouting, pouring sea into her,
shadow-waves leaning in, tall over her
ripping her sails – wings in the wind,
shaking her entrails.
She, the tall ship, heaving, groaning
rounding Cape Horn.
The captain insisted his wife sail with them
she brings the storm with her
yet sews new sails as the rigging collapses,
nurses the sailors who keel sick on deck,
swears at the canons fired through the mist
from Spanish galleons shining with gold.
Wife and ship working together
sailing through centuries
maturing here into full rigged perfection:
La Dame Blanche in full wedding dress.


Polish tall ship Dar Mlodziezy on the Seine north of Rouen, 2013.
1880 Hand coloured wood engraving by Schell and Hogan. Featured in Harper’s Weekly.


The next Armada of over 50 tall ships, warships and other special sailing crafts from around the wall, will sail the 120 kilometres of the River Seine through the spectacular landscapes of Normandy in June 2019.  You’ll be able to visit the ships on the quaysides in Rouen from 6-16 June 2019 where concerts, fireworks and festivals will take place.