I have not heard a cuckoo here since childhood
when fields were wilder and trees less sparse.
I heard one this year in Gascony,
on the Plateau de Lannemazan,
on a wooded ridge with the late March winds
from the Pyrenees rasping the corn stubs
in the field below and rushing
through the budding trees bright with lichen
and ruffling the flowers on the blackthorn
and the violets among the leaf mould.
Between a gap in the trees the ridge way
was bare limestone. There were walnut shells
and empty 12 bore shot gun cartridges.
Before me, down the slope, was the village
that was a town until the Black Death –
fortified to subdue Basque and Occitan.
The clock on the Mairie struck a muffled hour
but the fell bird sang clearly over the wind.
As I descended the lane I passed a field
where an English ex-pat’s donkey brayed at me,
a Belgian’s house with dogs that yelped and howled
and a hunter walking up towards the ridge,
his gun broken on his arm. I heard dogs
and donkey distantly as he passed them –
and knew the wild woods would soon be silenced.