Bird Souq: An Expatriate Guide


To keep its spitting, fusty-thobed vendor
In chewing-sticks, cigarettes, whatever,
A penned peacock spends neon nights, skyless days
Revising, then re-revising strides –
Moulting tailfan ten riyals per feather:

Spot here the champion of palace walks,
Fountain-gracer, lawn-lord, Sultan of fowls
Reduced at one mercenary swoop
To an inessential commodity,
The hapless treader of its own droppings;

Nearby, some chicks dyed turquoise and pink;
There’s a quivering batch of parakeets –
Some finches packed like aerial sardines,
Wings for now a caged irrelevance,
Cost negotiable in case of damage.

Watch, further on, uncooing doves and pigeons –
A falcon clawing blindly at its pole.
Sell-by date notwithstanding, an expired wren
Lifts tiny legs as if in prayer,
Its life prematurely turned litter.


Out of respect for local customs,
Mortgage mountain, your next month’s pay-cheque,
Suppress all impulse to play the lock-
Defying Blake or Leonardo
Breaking cages in some Florence square.

Birds of a strictly different feather,
Observe, but not too closely, that row
Of seated ladies veiled from top to toe.
(Wayward glint of eye or bracelet excepted,
One might mistake them for black silk tents.)

A small nest-egg in sales and profits,
Their stock of imported fireworks is set out
Colourfully across the concrete floor –
Roman candles, Catherine wheels, sparklers, rockets.
Watch... But stop! Dour cock of the souq, here struts

A cane-and-beard-wielding mutawwa,
Part neo-Pharisee, part Whackford Squeers,
Public Virtue’s guardian molester.
Swish-poke-swish of his long cane, a brimstone croak –
And vendors, male and female, scatter.

Cages clatter; old barrowboys turn tail.
Rights, whether animal or human, bah!
He scowls, and cannot see this rebel whimsy
Dreaming welcome in a woman’s smile,
Freedom disguised as a cloud of wings.

Martin Bennett | Mudlark No. 12
Contents | The Reading: A Nightmare