The Ringer

It was my mother taught me to watch
blood-breasted stonechats on a barbed-wire fence,

to listen for the mournful song of a linnet,  
a meadow pipit’s pseeping alarm.

I couldn’t count how many I’ve caught,
ringed, sexed, measured and weighed

but I’ll always remember the first time
in the woods beyond Skibbereen,

when I opened a mist net at dawn,
held a goldcrest hammocked between

finger and thumb, a rosebud in my palm.
Olive nape, yellow crown, eyes

black and glistening as Kilkenny marble.
I held my breath, lest I harm her,

turned my hand so she lay on her back.
She settled as if lulled into a trance.

I opened the cage of my fingers -
a heartbeat, and she was gone.

Jane Clarke

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