I am a writer of fiction, not a poet, but when a poetry-reading event was announced for the recent Stand Bi Us online forum I felt inspired. The fact that it had the awesomely punny title of Bi-Ambic Pan-Tameter made it all the more alluring. I had an idea rattling around in my head that I had been thinking of writing into a song, but instead I crafted it into a poem, the first poem I’ve written in a couple of decades. I read it out loud at the event and really enjoyed the experience, so much so that I’m thinking I’d like to keep doing it.
Preamble aside, here is my poem. It’s about doing love and commitment your own way and rejecting what mainstream heteronormative society tells us love should be. Hope you like it.
The native garden
by James J. Dominguez
The chirping and the squeaking let us know
That the birds are here today.
When we moved into this home together
We filled the front yard
With grevillea, bottlebrush, tiny seaside daisies,
Brightly coloured sweets
For the birds to enjoy.
The tiny silvereyes with voices like bells.
Honeyeaters that scream excitedly at everything they find.
Jewelled green parrots that browse the blossoms in dignified silence.
Bulky wattlebirds that strain the thin branches under their weight.
Our yard has become an oasis for the birds.
At the start of spring, with winter still clinging,
The scarlet and magenta bottlebrushes flower early
Defying the frosts that still might come,
To provide for the first to return.
In the scorching summer
The sprawling, monstrous minicog provides shade
As the birds keep a wary eye on the sleepy old cat
Who shares their sanctuary.
Autumn comes, and as the birds prepare for another long migration
The bottlebrushes’ glorious second coming
Gives them fuel for their journey.
In the windy wet of winter
The belligerent grevillea and seaside daisy
Flower in the cold,
Apparently out of pure spite,
And feed the little ones that stayed behind.
The birds come and go,
As freely as their proverbial namesakes.
Some days bring a clashing, deafening riot of shrieks and chirps and trills and whistles.
Others are silent,
As if we only ever imagined them.
We could cage these wild things
Surround the yard with mesh and wire,
Trap them inside.
“They will be safe!” we might tell ourselves.
“The garden will provide.”
“Why would they go anywhere else?”
Every day we would hear their calls,
The sudden bursts of song.
There would be no sad, silent days
Because they could not leave.
How sad that would be.
When a bird cannot fly away
The magic of its presence is diminished.
The random surprise,
The daily gift of noisy visitors,
Would become predictable, mundane.
Never again would you ask,
“I wonder if the birds will come today?”
Because they are trapped
In a lush, green prison.
. . .
The soapies and the romcoms and the love songs tell us
This is love.
“Love is a cage,” the singer croons.
“You have no choice,” the romance novel declares.
“Love is fate. You cannot resist.”
The language of romance glorifies
Obsession, jealousy, soulmates, predestination, “the one”,
An irresistible edict handed down from on high.
“Enslave your heart,” they demand.
“Be happy in your comfortable cage.”
“Drink from the sweet flowers.”
“Shelter in the shady branches.”
“Cosmic forces beyond your understanding
Or ability to resist
Have decreed that this will be so.”
The most beautiful flowers,
The sweetest nectar,
And the safest shelter,
Cannot stop a cage
From being a cage.
. . .
I wake beside you
You are beautiful
You are sweet.
You provide shelter for my frightened heart
And make me feel safe
From the not-quite-shut eye of the sleepy old cat
That pretends to sleep under the shady bush.
No bars make me stay.
I know that I am free to fly, because
No great cosmic fate has bound me to you.
The eons-long dance of distant stars
Has not written in the sky
That we must be together.
I am not trapped within a gilded cage.
I rest in your unfenced native garden,
Because every day
I look around
And I say,
“I like it here.”