Flight of the Magpie Geese

© Catherine Lee, 2010

Winner 2010 Ipswich Poetry Feast ‘Babes of Walloon Award’, Ipswich Queensland.

When the endless sky turns pink and dusk’s descending,
when the brolgas finish dancing on the shore,
and the flitting of the nimble, light jacanas
has abruptly ceased and all is still once more;
while the water lilies close their blooms in slumber
on luxuriant, thick coverlet of green,
and the subtle parting of this vegetation
is the only sign of crocodiles unseen;

when the downy clouds are trimmed with gold and crimson,
turning softer with a luminescent rose,
and reflected on the river’s tranquil surface
so the atmosphere appears as if it glows;
as the silence of the emptiness around you
seems to burgeon with the coming of the night,
it is then your eyes will witness humbling splendour
as the magpie geese of Kakadu take flight.

In their thousands, in arrangements of perfection
that recur above your head with flawless grace
is a spectacle—a timeless grand procession—
moving swiftly yet at calm, unruffled pace.
What’s the reason for this vast configuration?
What’s the instinct that compels them all to fly,
to migrate to fruitful waters for the season
in their V-formation patterns through the sky?

These assemblies of the Genus Anserana,
with their plumage of distinctive black and white
are majestic as they soar across the wetlands—
silhouettes against the dying of the light.
They are hunted, and their habitats are damaged,
yet expectancy of life is quite a span,
though they’re threatened by the many noxious poisons
of environmental weeds, as well as man.

Yet remain they do to colonize the country—
they’re the only waterfowl to feed their young,
and although their population is enormous,
they are largely disregarded and unsung.
They construct their floating nests and breed in threesomes,
and their feathers moult sporadically at best,
so it means the magpie geese are never flightless,
and will never to a land-bound life be pressed.

There’s been many geese in history regarded;
even Ovid called them ‘wiser than the dog’.
They’re revered and tales are told of them in legends
and in fairy tales, an endless catalogue.
There’s the goose that drew the chariot of Vishnu,
and the Great Nile Goose that laid the egg of life
out of which the sun emerged in all its brilliance—
so the superstitious chronicles are rife.

In Siberia, a goddess shook some feathers
from her sleeve, which then abruptly turned to geese;
they employed a sacred status with Egyptians
in mythology and tales from Ancient Greece.
There are talking birds, and golden eggs and goose-girls;
there is Mother Goose, and simple geese on farms,
painting picturesque and old familiar pictures
with their waddling, honking, snowy-feathered charms.

But to cruise along a billabong in silence
when the outback sunset’s tempered to a blush,
with the only sound the lapping of the waters
as you wait serene, with reverential hush,
then to feel such chills when suddenly these creatures
join in thousands for their nature show supreme
and astonish you with mystical impressions
that remain like some extraordinary dream

is to know a surge of peace and calm reflection
and experience a supernat’ral awe,
even gain a fresh perspective of your troubles—
and perhaps this is the secret of their lore.
I can promise that forever you’ll remember
this remarkable, electrifying sight,
for you’ll seldom witness much that’s more uplifting
than the spectacle of magpie geese in flight.

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