The Yearling Swift

‘’Although the yearling swifts do not breed, they frequent the colonies during the breeding season, selecting holes, forming pairs and even building nests.” — “The Home Life of the Swift” by David and Elizabeth Lack in 20th Century Bestiary, a Scientific American book, Simon and Schuster.

Bygones, begone! They trouble me:
Echoings from what used to be.
Study, instead, to soothe the mind,
These ultra-denizens of the wind:
Scarce here, than passed — sped flashing by
On after-images in the eye.
Before these Birds were got or laid
Parents in Africa fed and played:
Skimming the water’s film for drink;
Climbing, higher than you can think,
Screaming up spirals leading to
Winging a night-long cycle through;
Falling, as dawn comes wheeling by;
To snatch a gnat or an early fly;
Weaving up North — swung North, the Sun —
Back to the homesite, fought for, won;
Waiting about till — flap — who’s here?
The fellow you went with yesteryear!
Building anew the nest you built,
All out of airborne drift and silt,
Anything carried by gust or flaw:
Petal or feather or leaf or straw.
Gumming them — wall and flange and floor —
Leaving a drop-hole for your door.
Then, ah then, at the sacred hour
Poised betwixt dearth and dower
Balanced between night and day
Out on a brilliant wing of May:
Eight P.M. or six A.M.;
Then the aerial requiem:
Gliding down the cushioning air
Scream together the mating pair.
Two, or three, eggs: what toil and pain;
Chill England hung with mist and rain;
Hardly an insect on the wing:
Five hours of swooping but to bring
One bolus back to a gaping bill.
Until, one day when you’ve caught your fill,
What you’ve been feeding and fending for
Has quietly tipped through your drop-hole door,
Spread out its wings, unspread before,
Opened its lifetime in the air.
Beats it, maybe, to Africa.
Didn’t you, once, from a nest so steal?
Better gulp down that needless meal!
See now the yearlings, home again,
African flights enjoyed in vain,
Colony-circling far and near.
What is it now they play at here?
Outcomes, come out! They baffle me:
Samplings of what needs must be.