Monday, June 4, 2012

Amsterdam Nesting

Hope you won't mind -- I'm posting this at both of my blogs this morning, so there's the exact post over here as well.

Much as we loved Amsterdam when visiting it last month for the first time, we couldn't help but note how dirty it was. Perhaps the litter everywhere reflected the Queen's Birthday weekend, apparently a huge party that brings in tourists who don't know about garbage cans and assume that's what the canals are for.
We've heard, though, from other travellers who also find Amsterdam dirty no matter the date or season. Littering, of course, is not the worst of environmental sins although it renders those crimes more visible. The Dutch certainly get their Green on transportation-wise, impressing us immensely with their ubiquitous cycling.
But it was tough to ignore the mess, especially when the garish colours of consumerist culture ended up worked into the nest of one of the most iconically beautiful nesters. . .

I couldn't help but think of Sue Sinclair's poem, "Nesting," from her collection Breaker (about which I've posted before here).  I looked the poem up as soon as I got home and it is, indeed, as apt as I'd remembered it, and even more moving, troubling.

Swans groom the light,
prune it with a clip
of their wings, drift
through the clustered lilies.
To the left, stuck
in the shallow mud, a tire:
fat bruised lip, thick
black slug curled into itself,
water lisping around it.
The swans brush against the rim,
consider it a moment
then clamber up industriously,
assuming a purpose
in the worn treads, the functional
given up to the mud's stubborn
suck. By next week
the swans have gathered reeds
and dirt, clay and sticks
into an island, the tire buried
so that everything we've made so far
seems only a beginning,
a crude variation of a kind
of manufacture that ebbs and flows,
hums to itself under its breath.
Nesting, at home, the swans preen
with the insouciance of those
who haven't had to ask forgiveness.
They are not withdrawn,
turn the eggs over in the nest.
Are not lonely.

The poem strikes me as sonnet-like in the turn it makes from the imagistic assembling of its first 3 1/2 sentences to the introduction of "we" . . . and then the lingering smack of those last 3 lines, especially the last 3 words, the finger pointing back, away from "they" to whomever is "withdrawn," "lonely" . . .

The implications unfold, effectively, quietly. The poem rewards rereading in its attention to a beauty repeated across this world as resilient creatures adapt to our casual damage, a beauty that makes the banal horror of our irresponsibility clear.

I should probably stop there, let Sinclair's words echo for you. Here, though, are a few more images of other nests, these ones of coots, not as iconic perhaps, but troubling nonetheless and proof that the swan's nest wasn't exceptional in its assemblage of litter. If you peer closely enough at the last two photos, you should also be able to catch a glimpse of the chick. (Lest I seem to be pointing a finger too exclusively at Amsterdam, I should add that I have photos of very similar coots' nests taken over the past few springs along St. Martin's Canal, London),

Thoughts? Have you read Sinclair's poetry before? Been to Amsterdam?
Or should we just be quiet and let the words and images sink in?


  1. I opt for quiet. The photos speak for themselves.

  2. It's importance to think about the "insouciance" of the swans in Sinclair's poem. These photos knock me out. Incredible AviFaunaWatching!

    1. Diction-wise, it's really in a different register, that word. And thank you, AviFaunaWatcher extraordinaire!

  3. I admire how you have wed poetry to detritus, and a fine Canadian poet at that! Thank you for this thoughtful and moving post.

    1. Thanks, Duchesse . . . when I saw the swan, Sinclair's poem floated to mind immediately, just so apt

  4. Thank you for introducing me to this poem. We keep birds and though we provide sweet hay for their nesting...they are highly independent creatures and prefer to gather their own nesting materials, to include the lint that escapes from our dryer exhaust.

    1. I sometimes put dryer lint along with bits of coloured wool out on the deck rails during nesting season and they occasionally get scooped up -- I've never found the nests they presumably get worked into. Always loved that children's book, No Roses for Harry, about a dog whose rose-patterned sweater gets unravelled by a bird and made into a nest.

  5. I've never read any Sinclair. Right now I'm on the outs with both birds (thanks to one taking a crap on me in Spain), but that chick is really cute.

    1. Yikes! That would not be an experience to endear you to any of our avian friends!


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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