Giles Watson

Giles Watson

Posted on 06/22/2014

Photo taken on June 22, 2014

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White-Vented Crow

White-Vented Crow
White-Vented Crow

After the execution, I walked out among the trees
oblivious to danger. This, I shall not be including
in my journal. The youth had crept into a tent
belonging to the supply ship Charlotte, stolen
a pound of sugar, and on his gibbet, confessed
to other trifling thefts: an old offender, he said.

One less mouth to feed – but his eyes were wide
and frightened, his beard whiskerless, and still
I see the twitch of life going out of his thin legs.

And now the branches, strung with blue-grey
leaves, are filled with crows. They spill the air
with liquid songs the natives know as gurawaruŋ:
lapping, welling outward, drowning the canopy
in ebbs and surges of numinous sound. One flies
down to a lower limb, strops his long black bill
and fixes me with an eye of sulphur – then he too
sets to carolling. My hand touches my gun, then
withdraws. Some other chance will present itself,
and I shall shoot, skin, dissect, report, never mention
that this day, fathoms deep in singing, I wished
to drown. Home by nightfall: the shocks of flogging,
and that old, gaunt warning - a felon swinging.

Poem by Giles Watson, 2014. Picture: The Zoological Miscellany : being descriptions of new, or interesting animals, by William Elford Leach ; illustrated with coloured figures, drawn from nature by R.P. Nodder, Volume 2, 1815, Plate 86: ‘Noisy Crow’. ‘White-Vented Crow’ is the name given to the Pied Currawong by the surgeon John White in his Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales with sixty-five plates of non descript animals, birds, lizards, serpents, curious cones of trees and other natural productions, (1790), a book illustrated with a number of depictions of Australian native birds, which are observantly described, but without reference to their distinctive voices, of which the Pied Currawong’s is one of the most melodious, particularly when a whole flock are singing simultaneously. I have placed his encounter with these birds after the events described in his diary for 1st May 1788: “James Bennet, a youth, was executed for robbing a tent, belonging to the Charlotte transport, of sugar and some other articles. Before he was turned off he confessed his guilt, and acknowledged that, young as he was, he had been an old offender. Some other trifling thefts were brought before the court at the same time, and those concerned in them sentenced to receive corporeal punishment.”