Shipshape in Shangri-La

(Listen to the poem here)




Up
on the Janiculum,
Garibaldi is riding
into town.
He isn’t getting very far,
but then he’s seated on a marble horse
and on his cap there rides
another rider. It is
a pigeon.
Down
in the city,
which he’ll never reach
more statues stand and sit,
some- angels – hover or
perch on ledges trying hard,
despite stiff joints, to have a
dangle with their feet.
But each one has upon
its pate, hair, hat or helmet
a bird of the same kind.
Cavour has one, so does
St. Peter on his helicopter halo;
and near the Forum
all the Caesars there are
kitted out
even Augustus with his nasty curls;
and if there were a statue of Columbus,
Christopher Pigeon himself,
he also would be captained by a bird.
So why don’t they throw in a
sculpted pigeon as a package deal ?
That way you’d always have one
which would fit the bill.
Or else, to those who dream
of living on
in stone
among the changing traffic lights
and blinking neon signs,
in parks and squares
their feet steeped in the alarming
future forms of garbage we
shall certainly devise,
I would suggest you take to wearing
a Pickelhaube on your daily rounds,
that headgear Bismarck and the Prussians
used to sport, a fascinating spike
protruding from the top. No birds
on that, I’d think.
And also it would make those
chummy gatherings on the White House
lawn look much more like
the thing they really are.
Or perhaps not, let us
not play with spikes,
the point of the statue,
it is clear,
is the pigeon
at its tip,
for I have never seen
a person look so self-achieved
or sure of purpose as does
a pigeon when it –
like a sherpa in some
shimmering Shangri-La
unshooable, shipshape
and shishkebabbish –
sits
upon some great man’s head.

                                                                                            Phillip Hill 2007

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(This poem is included in my book The Observation Car which is available from

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