Monday, June 4, 2012

Amsterdam, Nests . . .

I'm posting the same text on both my blogs this morning as it seems to fit equally in both contexts. So it's over here as well . . . 

Much as we loved Amsterdam when visiting it last month for the first time, we couldn't help but note how dirty it was. Perhaps the litter everywhere reflected the Queen's Birthday weekend, apparently a huge party that brings in tourists who don't know about garbage cans and assume that's what the canals are for.
We've heard, though, from other travellers who also find Amsterdam dirty no matter the date or season. Littering, of course, is not the worst of environmental sins although it renders those crimes more visible. The Dutch certainly get their Green on transportation-wise, impressing us immensely with their ubiquitous cycling.
But it was tough to ignore the mess, especially when the garish colours of consumerist culture ended up worked into the nest of one of the most iconically beautiful nesters. . .

I couldn't help but think of Sue Sinclair's poem, "Nesting," from her collection Breaker (about which I've posted before here).  I looked the poem up as soon as I got home and it is, indeed, as apt as I'd remembered it, and even more moving, troubling.

Swans groom the light,
prune it with a clip
of their wings, drift
through the clustered lilies.
To the left, stuck
in the shallow mud, a tire:
fat bruised lip, thick
black slug curled into itself,
water lisping around it.
The swans brush against the rim,
consider it a moment
then clamber up industriously,
assuming a purpose
in the worn treads, the functional
given up to the mud's stubborn
suck. By next week
the swans have gathered reeds
and dirt, clay and sticks
into an island, the tire buried
so that everything we've made so far
seems only a beginning,
a crude variation of a kind
of manufacture that ebbs and flows,
hums to itself under its breath.
Nesting, at home, the swans preen
with the insouciance of those
who haven't had to ask forgiveness.
They are not withdrawn,
turn the eggs over in the nest.
Are not lonely.

The poem strikes me as sonnet-like in the turn it makes from the imagistic assembling of its first 3 1/2 sentences to the introduction of "we" . . . and then the lingering smack of those last 3 lines, especially the last 3 words, the finger pointing back, away from "they" to whomever is "withdrawn," "lonely" . . .

The implications unfold, effectively, quietly. The poem rewards rereading in its attention to a beauty repeated across this world as resilient creatures adapt to our casual damage, a beauty that makes the banal horror of our irresponsibility clear.

I should probably stop there, let Sinclair's words echo for you. Here, though, are a few more images of other nests, these ones of coots, not as iconic perhaps, but troubling nonetheless and proof that the swan's nest wasn't exceptional in its assemblage of litter. If you peer closely enough at the last two photos, you should also be able to catch a glimpse of the chick. (Lest I seem to be pointing a finger too exclusively at Amsterdam, I should add that I have photos of very similar coots' nests taken over the past few springs along St. Martin's Canal, London),

Thoughts? Have you read Sinclair's poetry before? Been to Amsterdam?
Or should we just be quiet and let the words and images sink in?

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