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Catherine Watson


The Infinite Birdcage

Writing competition

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By Catherine Watson



1          Aim low


What happened? The annual lunch 

of the corporate arseholes’ guild.

Some bloated plutocrat crapping on  

about his vision going forward. 


More like a hundred ways 

to stuff the world. “Paradigm shift … 

Results driven … thought leader …” 

Yabber, yabber, bloody yabber.


Bottle by bottle, the talk got broader.

“Let’s line our ducks in a row,” said one. 

Oh Christ! I’d had enough. 

These guys are mental. 


An avenging spirit, propelled by rage, 

I sliced through air, landed on the lectern,

fixed them with a beady eye 

and commanded “Nevermore!” 


They hardly missed a beat. 

Death’s dark vale doesn’t rate with

these blockheads. The only futures 

they care about are franking credits. 


A cocky saw what I was up to.

“Give me a go,” he said.

He landed on the table. 

“Toilet rolls at Woolies,” he warbled.


The other cockies took up the call.

“Toilet paper. At Aldis too. 

Aisles and aisles of rolls.

No limit. Take your fill!”


You should have seen them scatter. 


Bloody cockies. I dips me lid! 

They nail it every time.

While I mess with the super-ego

They go straight for the id. 




2          Free as a bird


The same thing every spring

If I stand still too long 

that damned raven starts 

messing with my hair. 


Free as a bird, they say. 

How can you call a thing free that 

suddenly starts weaving twigs 

and doesn’t know why.




3          The open road


To be in or not to be in

That’s the question.

I’ve waited years. Finally! 

She forgot to latch the door.

To fly, perchance to soar 

in the wild blue yonder!


Oh heavens! What fears

may come so far from earth
must give me pause.


I dunno. I might fly right back in.

It’s kind of nice in there.

She’s got this new seed mix.

Paradise, “highly palatable 

for your feathered friend”. 


Winter nights are cosy.

She draws the curtains 

Lights the fire and

turns the TV on.

Neighbours, nibbles, news.


Sometimes on a sunny day

she puts me on the porch

so I can talk to the wild birds.

I used to think … if only!


But I dunno, they seem

a little rough to me.

A little scraggly..

They sure could use

some Paradise mix.


“Feathered friends” 

are well and good

but what would I 

talk to them about? 


To stay; to go;
No more Paradise mix;

or Neighbours.

No more her.  


But soft, she comes. 

Quick, back inside!

And pull the door behind me.




4          No strings


“No strings,” he said.

“Just try it,” he said. 

“If you don’t like it, 

you don’t have to stay.”

There are always strings!




5          The sudden tug


Why at dusk the sudden tug, 

the overwhelming tenderness? 


Daddy’s home, sweet peas. 




6          So much time and space


“Chook, I heard it said 

that when the fires came 

and everything was lost 

some people felt relieved

at the end of the old life.”


“And when the footy stopped

and there were no more meetings

or festivals, people marvelled 

at so much time and space.”


“Chook, when I went shopping

and the shelves were bare 

I felt an unexpected lightness.” 


“Mistress, you grow more 

like a chook every day.”




7          A woman’s work


The magical finish to the day 

an effortless sailing into 

a never-ending horizon

of greys and blues and pinks. 


Oh damn! I forgot to get 

something for tea. I’d forget 

my wings if they weren’t screwed on. 

Now where did I leave my babies? 




8          My kind


But why an unkindness?

A conspiracy of ravens? 

Officer, get me a lawyer. 

I’ve been racially profiled. 




9          The family curse


♫ “Oh what a beautiful morn …” ♫♩


Hang on! What’s so beautiful??

Lonely bird in a little cage. 
Why burst into joyful song?


Wittgenstein would say I sing

because I have no choice. 

That’s what canaries do. 

Dulcet tones and delicate trills

are the family burden. Did my father

curse his father, I wonder,

and so on down the line?


Well this little bird won’t play the game. 

No more singing till you open the door 

of this damned cage and let me out!


Cage. The very word is like a bell 

to toll me back from thee to my sole self.


And yet I’m trilling still.

Perhaps I sing therefore I am. 




10        Set free


“Give me liberty or give me death,”

she said. They shot her. 




12        My heart soars with hers


They said it couldn’t work.

“You can’t have a cow and crow.”

“Not crow,” I said. “Raven.”

“Crow, raven, that’s not the point.

A cow can’t be with a bird.

It’s not natural. It’s sick.

Stick to your own kind.”


My own kind? Heaven forbid.

That endless standing around,

chewing the cud, waiting … 

“The grass is greener on the other side,” 

we say, and wisely nod.

But no one does anything about it.


Not my Raven. She’s off on a whim.

Brings me news of what’s happening 

over the hill and down the dale.

Ducking, diving, weaving, plummeting ... 

To see her somersault, 

oh bliss! Though earthbound, 

my heart soars with hers. 


Of course there were confusions.

She likes dead things. I eat grass.

She’s Cancer, a little bit fey.

I’m Taurus, of the earth. 

She calls me her rock. 


At first her voice grated.

But I’ve grown attached

to that gravelly caw.

She’s seen me at my worst. 

The syringe of semen shoved in.

The midnight calf yanked out. 

My daily waddle to the dairy,

Swollen tits swinging, Farmer Joe’s 

angry curses and brutal blows. 


And at the end of five years’ toil

the final journey on the cattle truck

from which no cow returns.


You thought we didn’t know?

We learn it with our mother’s milk.

Not that there’s too much of that.

Our time on earth is short. 

Make the most of it. Enjoy 

the nuzzle of the autumn sun, 

the glory of the winter moon.

Friendship. Love. A feed of corn. 

Be kind to one another. Don’t bleat. 


The same fate awaits us all. 

Even you and Farmer Joe. 

You’re the ones getting and 

spending as if there’s no end. 


Even My Raven, queen of the air,

Knows it comes to all. The

downward spiral, the death fall.




13        No worries


Of course I don’t mind! 

I don’t feel a thing. 

But thanks for asking. 




14        This one’s for them


Here’s to the ones who 

kept playing the horns

as the ship went down


Here’s to the one who 

held up a flower as the 

tanks rolled into Prague


Here’s to the one who 

didn’t give up her seat and 

move to the black section 


Here’s to Tank Man who 

refused to stay home 

after the massacre


Here’s to the one who 

hired the blacklisted worker 

and lost his own job


Here’s to the one who

said girls should be taught 

so the Taliban shot her


Here’s to the one who

kept writing the articles 

that annoyed the Kremlin


Here’s to the one who

never stopped believing

during 30 years in prison


Here’s to the ones who 

linked arms and sang 

as the firing squad took aim


Here’s to all the unknown ones

who spoke truth to power 

and wore the consequences


Here’s to the valiant ones. 

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