Like a parliament of crows, the collective noun for lapwings comes from the birds’ diversionary tactics when they have young and is the sort of esoteric factoid that one day might just win you a pub quiz. When I lived on a smallholding among the bare hills of Lanarkshire in Scotland, the arrival of lapwings was one of the great seasonal joys. This poem won a prize in the competition organised by Peterloo Poets in 2008.

A Deceit of Lapwings

‘the false lapwynge, ful of trecherye’  
(Geoffrey Chaucer)

 

Consider the shame of that name

even as they roller-coaster over open skies,

over the secrets of ploughed fields,

keening and whooping to draw the farmhand on

away from their own open secret

nestled in its dark furrow.

See how she drags her uninjured wing

luring him from her little ones

as the boy with his bag counts his eggs,

and hatches in his mind

the money that will nestle in his purse.

 

Yet all over the down lands the skies are still thick

with the rush of their crossing, the thrum of their passing.

 

I know them by their secret names,

peewit, pie-wipe, chewit, tuefit,

the language of eggers and washmen and netters,

toppyup, peasiewheep, teewhuppo, thievnick,

telling their stories to tillers and ploughmen,

plivver, ticks-nicket, thievnig, peeweet.

 

And even now when a few come from nowhere

they are the sound of spring,

a pied handful thrown against heaven,

the sky’s calligraphy.

They swoop and tumble for the madness of it,

and cry, wheezy and slurred,

soft and wild, joyful and grieving.

 

I open my heart to their wing music

and watch their looping sky-dance

and how they play with the wind,

and want for nothing.

© David Underdown 2019