In early winter every year
the starlings in their hundred thousands
come to Rome.
They populate the branches of the trees
from where their shit rains down
in abundance and unceasingly.
Umbrellas must be opened
as you rush across the road,
weathering their excremental storm.
They whistle, grate and screech hysterically.
I’ve always wondered whether
it is the overwhelming thrill of being a horde
which causes them to shed
so many city-stopping droppings or whether,
conversely, it’s the collective defecation
which drives them to this state of frenzied ecstasy.
But then, at once and all together, they
take off. They fly as if
a giant hand were stirring up the sky
and they were swirling foam upon it.
Great swarms arching
at breakneck speed
across the air
splitting and recombining,
in balls, bursts, spirals and abrupt
Birds flying in all directions inside
one greater common course
so that it would not be hard to believe
that skiddily those flocks are shaping,
too swiftly for our earthly eyes,
the secret letters
of a text of revelation
high above our heads.
It is magnificent.
It is, it is.
A pity then that these displays,
at some point have to end;
the starlings all regain their trees
and at that very instant,
if you are thereabouts,
a sudden truth descends:
shit – it strikes you –
sometimes outdoes magnificence
I keep on walking past this hoarding half-way down via Giulia, in the one ugly spot on one of Rome’s most beautiful streets. I always wonder, “Is this Rome’s new traffic plan?” Because that’s what it says at the bottom: Rome – Traffic and Mobility Action Plan.
And I wonder “When is this going to start? It looks exciting. Am I ready for it? What is going to happen?” Read more…
on the Janiculum,
Garibaldi is riding
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
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
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
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
and shishkebabbish –
upon some great man’s head.
Phillip Hill 2007
(This poem is included in my book The Observation Car which is available from