on a castle-cliff
St. Kilda’s sharp drop to the sea
I am wrapped in my wings
watching men climb, gather our eggs,
400 soon-birds in every basket

before this, ruled and ruling,
I led men from mountaintops
to sail above floods and floating roofs

I used my mother’s telescope
father’s resignation
Hitler’s ignorant cave of choices
for my rocket-bombs

I wanted space

now I fold the sun underwing
spin clouds and valleys
but am earthed in the commonest aim
to evade the fowler who reaches for me
my body for winter food
bones for tools

we test ourselves on sliding rock
at the edge, at the top
for we must live and breed
let go and walk space

we are all St. Kildans today
a timeless cosmos
the experiment’s first stage
without explosives or fuel
—gliders, silent

© by Judy Prince.  Poem was originally published in Poems 2 (Phantom Rooster Press, 2009)


JUDY PRINCE, a retired college teacher and union activist, now lives half the year in Norfolk, Virginia, and the other half in Darlington, UK.  She has published articles in the L.A. Times and the Virginian-Pilot, and was a Chicago Dramatists Short Plays Competition finalist.   She is now at work on a play about Shakespeare the woman, and recently launched Frisky Moll Press with the poetry pamphlets of Robin Hamilton (Anacreon translations) and Patrick McManus (On The Dig).   Her own poetry pamphlets have been published by Phantom Rooster Press (2006 and 2009). Prince's work is included in the first James Kirkup Memorial Poetry Competition Anthology (Red Squirrel Press, UK, 2010). Her Poems2 is reviewed in SPHINX 12, HappenStance Press .

10 responses to “Werner von Braun as a St. Kildan Bird”

  1. Uche Ogbuji says:

    I do so love the music of this poem. A touch of Ted Hughes’s Gog here, and of Dylan Thomas’s Fern Hill there. It definitely carries the sense of approaching the utter mechanism of rocketry, but always shrinking back to nature at its shyest.

    The clear vowels rise like baloooooons 🙂

    Thank you so much for this gorgeous contribution.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Thank you, Uche. Music, poetry–in our very blood, aren’t they? Your own well practice hides behind your lines: “always shrinking back to nature at its shyest”……..”clear vowels rise like baloooooons”. Repetition, rhythm, fresh comparisons–very nice.

  2. Uche Ogbuji says:

    I forgot to mention, Judy, that my dearest, and now deceased cousin Ubu went to the University of Loughborough. I was there once to visit. A fetching college town indeed.

  3. Judy Prince says:

    Your cousin Ubu, then, went to the UK’s most highly ranked university department of sports, and with an excellent ranking for engineering, as well. My own particular delight’s in knowing that the Jaguar XKE was designed by Malcolm Sayer, one of Loughborough U’s students.

    Not many of L’Bro’s buildings are Very Old as in many English cities, towns and villages, despite its well recorded history. The Domesday Book of 1086, for example, states that Loughborough had 150 inhabitants. In 1387 Richard II visited the town, and after the Battle of Bosworth, Henry VII is said to have stayed at the ‘Great House’ which still exists and is now Lowe’s Antique Shop (where I recently bought 4 Edwardian chairs and a Georgian table upon which this computer sits].

    Robin Hamilton, publisher of my Poems2, from which the St. Kilda’s poem’s taken, taught in the Department of English and Drama at Loughborough University for 20 years.

  4. Erika Rae says:

    This was lovely. I wish I could say such clear, sharp things as my friend, Uche, but I’m afraid that night has dulled my lexical bank. Your words are beautiful, though. They speak to me.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Indeed, Erika, Uche’s a formidable wordsmith!

      I’m entirely pleased that the St Kilda poem spoke to you, and appreciate your letting me know.

      On your website just now I read “On the Night My Father Died” and found myself nodding assent to the odd-seeming feelings you describe. Earlier today I’d checked Guardian online’s Poetry Workshop, Roger Robinson’s assignment to write a poem on fatherhood, deadline to e-submit by midnight Wednesday, 2 December. Have a look, you may want to submit a poem: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/nov/24/roger-robinson-poetry-workshop

      I’ve e-submitted to at least a dozen of the workshops in the last couple years, never managing to get the poet’s comments, but certainly appreciating the practice, having come to poem-writing in order to better write plays. In fact, St Kilda was born from one of those monthly assignments.

      What we may have in common: calligraphy [me a year teaching English in Taipei]

      One of your accomplishments: “bagpipe impersonation”….??!



  5. Erika Rae says:

    Thanks for such a thoughtful comment back! I did check out his site and I may just try and work something up. In the meantime, you’ve inspired me to rework that piece. I may just post it on TNB soon…

    As for calligraphy, I DO happen to be a calligrapher – but, sadly, not of the Chinese character variety. How very interesting that you got into it. I’m envious!

    And as for that bagpipe impersonation, well, I don’t mean to brag…(tee hee).

  6. Judy Prince says:

    Let me know if you should post the reworked piece, Erika—TNB’s a BIG basket!

    Somehow Western calligraphy has always seemed daunting to do, though I’ve tried and would love to make it look as elegant as the examples I’ve seen. After much dogged practicing Chinese calligraphy in Taiwan to little effect, once home in the USA something ‘clicked’ and I seemed to ‘get’ the dance of brush on paper at last. However, now if you were to ask me to write anything except “ren” [person], I’d be at a loss, much to my embarrassment.

    Re the language, doubtless you know Cantonese, so we’d be conversing in Chinese without understanding one another [me with Beijing-hwa].

    Cheers in the universal language, then: bagpipe!!


  7. Uche Ogbuji says:

    How, how did I miss all this? OK OK, I know. It was too busy past couple of months for me to truly enjoy exploration of TNB, and I’m just catching up as best I can…

    You ladies are just too kind. Hmm. Here’s hoping 2010 offers more TNB time.

  8. […] a couple of years, and am proud of having introduced them to TNB through Judy’s feature (the poem ‘Werner von Braun as a St. Kildan Bird’ and her self-interview) almost exactly a year ago, and I’m delighted they’ve been so, ahem, engaged […]

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