The wading bird ~ A poem by Gail Ingram

The wading bird

When I think of bitterns, I’m sad
I haven’t seen one

since that time I mucked out
the horse paddocks. I was 12.

It lived in the boundary ditch.
I don’t think it looked at me

but I studied it
for quite some time.

Long neck, the most striking thing
feathers dappled brown

beak pointed upwards, gullet
exposed to the sky

as if frozen, perhaps it knew
I was there after all. That day

it was warm, the zephyrs carried
the dusty smell of horses.

I never saw it again
but when certain people say

a bittern’s been sighted along the track
or at the end of another estuary

I take longer to walk that way,
staring over the bank to the settlers’ shore

where steam engines used to blow
and wonder if it’s hiding

or camouflaged in the brown reeds
because I don’t want to die

without seeing another bittern
booming to the breeze.

Gail Ingram

Gail Ingram writes and lives in Christchurch, NZ. She is the author of Contents Under Pressure (2019 Pūkeko Publications). Her poetry has been widely published and anthologized. In 2019 she won the Caselberg International Poetry Prize. She was also the winner of NZPS International Poetry Competition 2016. She is a poetry editor for takahē magazine and a short fiction editor for Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction. More at

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