I hold a strange bird the size of a little child or a large duck, my arms around her chest, the feathers firm and cool under my fingers, her beak rested on my shoulder; feel the pulse
in her neck throb against my own neck
and we are flying, soaring away underwater spinning through salt spray, the glorious swoop like a dream of flying downstairs. When I think
‘this is a dream’ I wake in a small place
where I stand alone on a rock with a bird
the size of a baby but she’s wooden and cold, her feet held rigid with wire. Recognizing
Case 20 in the display, where Harvey
and Kirby and Davis passed the bird to Burkett who, with arsenical soap, cured this last
skin of a young female ‘not in good plumage’
I’m peering in. No, in the way of dreams, I’m both outside and inside, trapped by a case picturing bludgeoned birds crying and bleeding behind me. And then I wake, I really wake up this time,
with a shatter of glass on the museum floor, heart- blood pounding my ears though we lost the great auk one-hundred-and-fifty years ago. No more sleep in the emptying night; no more sleep on this watch.
Jane Robinson’s Journey to the Sleeping Whale’ won the 2019 Shine-Strong Award for best debut collection by an Irish poet. She has a PhD in Biology.