Bones of Birds

Bones of Birds is a book about flying and falling, about the earth and the sky, a celebration of all those who achieve the miracle of flight, and of those who struggle to accept our earth bound lives. Zeppelins and birds, transported lovers, angels and witches, Soviet women fighter-pilots and pioneering aviatrix Amelia Earhart fill the skies of Jo Colley’s imagination, wings beating frenetically in an attempt to rise above the constraints of the everyday. As ‘the chicken daughter of an eagle and a wren’ the longed for meridian is always beyond her grasp, although this doesn’t stop her launching herself into the fathomless blue.

Sample Poems

Air hostess

Back then, it was different: us girls aspired
to serve. Miles high in polyester pencil skirt,
our taut thighs held in sheerest nylon
a nifty cap perched on hair sprayed stiff as wire.

Solicitous, skin pancaked to perfection,
we soothed the weary men, always ready
with lighter, ice and paper bag. Up there, heads
hollowed out by butane, we communicated clink and fizz.

Just in time, my unwavering lipstick smile
bagged me my BOAC man. Grounded at 30,
with a new life in the Cotswolds, I’ve adjusted.
Turbulence is rare. I tend my garden, planted

in neat rows, like the seats in business class.
The flowers lift their faces as I pass.

Amy Johnson’s Pigskin Bag

Secure in your glass case like Snow White
in no danger of an awakening kiss,
everything you know contained.

Your thick skin resists the January sea.
You bob above the waves, whistle
a shanty, as she strives,

then slips beneath the ship’s stern.
Time on your side, you float, oblivious,
as another weaker vessel sinks.

Sole survivor, you let yourself
be hauled on deck, move on to glory.
All her journeys hidden

in your unreflective maw.
You keep it zipped, lolling tongue
firmly held in your pig’s cheek.

Amelia Earhart’s Little Red Bus

Museum of Air and Space, Washington, May 2011

All week, the heat of new summer, against
the dark rain-heavy skies , thunder rumbles,
spreads unease. Today, skies flag blue,
people drink iced sodas outside cafes,
the city loosens its belt. Unruly kids
in coloured polo shirts roam in packs,
click digitals in front of history,
missing the point. Humble, I stand before
the little red bus. Your cardboard figure
leans, gazing back: the disguising fringe falls
towards a shy smile, a wide mouth divides
the flat plains of your face. I’ve crossed an ocean
to be here, to see the bus, flamboyant, lipstick red
its cheerful glamour refusing to fade.
On a distant atoll in another dimension,
your American bones and teeth
bleach white beneath the sand.

Lilya Looks Back

I was so young: I didn’t know
what it was to be afraid. Lying
on my back in summer grass,
long before the war clouds gathered.
the sky called me: my element,
more bird than girl.

The Nazis came, darkened the sun
like a flock of crows. I made myself eagle,
clenched my tender heart into a fist,
watched bullets stitch a perfect seam
through the blue to undo the cocky boys,
fine examples of the master race.

Even as I watched my sisters die,
melt like candles in their Yaks,
I felt alive. Our days were short
but we made them long: each night
ended in song, our girls’ voices
offered to the stars.

Like Baba Yaga, I covered my tracks,
swept away all traces, left them wondering.
The lily painted on my side beguiled them
as I unleashed a rain of burning petals.
Dressed to kill, I led them in a dance
more intimate than love.

Now and then, drifting home,
dawn colouring my cheeks,
I would recall a night before the war
swaying to a jazz band, a boy I hardly knew.
His hands on the small of my back,
my face against his chest.

In the end, I didn’t see them coming.
I was tired, and the sun was in my eyes.
They tore at me like a pack of dogs,
ripped away a wing. I spiralled down to earth,
bid my mother goodbye.

Such noise, such pain. Then silence.
But here I sit, a grandma in a tidy German garden,
my white hair carefully arranged, cheeks like wrinkled apples.
The broken bones mended, though they feel the cold.
I had to seal the jar to my past
with a good thick layer of wax
to make this trade: my country for my life.
Only the sky knows no boundaries.

Reviews

‘A very good book.’

London Grip

‘deftly composed... a pleasure to read.’

The Recusant