Issue 32 – 2021 – Stephen Collis

Stephen Collis


A Single Starling is No Such Thing



Said this out loud

for no one and nothing

not starry regions

not avian minds hovering

you and I are nothing

swarms of particles


governed by laws

fuzzy states between

here and there


Said this to no one

said this to a bird

swooping pulse

throb and oscillation

I’ll have a starling

be taught to speak

but what if all it says

is untranslatable

gurgling and sputtering chatter?

A single starling is no such thing

as one grain of sand or one drop of rain

what is vision—what is harmony?

A swarm is what we want to be

flocking telepathic collective thought

flash out so many minds moving

though the starling has

much higher temporal resolution

has affinity groups in sevens

just these nearest seven in flight

sevens touching other sevens

you do the math

fractal and telepathic

navigating by quick norms

I am looking for love in numbers

if I form a flock I am leaving

get my breathe by being in sync

tunes me and sets my rhythm straight

an attraction zone / a repulsion zone

and angular alignment

votes being counted

despite the turn in the weather


What is at the limit of the infinite?

What is moving out this mobile mesh

of black purple indigo and deep green

background radiation scintilla of feathers

from out which cosmic depths  

stars shoot as million pinholes streaming

to make one bird plumed for night

rise into collective form

of flocks governed by their flock members

of the measure of sevens

of the nearness of wing-to-wing communication

of parables stars and spies of the midnight heavens


Said this was an accident

said it seemed a single bird

abandoned on a hedge

was nothing but an accident

couldn’t identify one without many

There is only one quarrel in the world

Hölderlin wrote:

which is more important,

the whole or the individual part?

And there was no one human way

to choose or maneuver

and sometimes accidentally en masse

thousands of starlings just will form

the fleeting and fluid image

of one leviathanic starling-of-starlings

is all we ever needed to know of politics

and the impossible

and what was common or

could be commoned 

crowd wheeling through dim streets

shouts smoke and breaking glass

the air and its breathing

the covert   the cell

sevens touching other sevens

the street of streetlights lighting

swells through cosmic voids

brilliant dark out of darkness splintering

earths dead or alive or still just spinning

all that is a bundle of feathers in flight

all that is bundled

into the bundle of bundles

Dear friend   Hölderlin continues

I need pure tones …

the philosophic light around my window …

I think we shall not gloss the poets up to our time

their lettered murmuration

I think   mere radiance   is what we honed

wing to wing   biome to biome





Stephen Collis is the author of a dozen books of poetry and prose, including The Commons (2008), the BC Book Prize winning On the Material (2010), Once in Blockadia (2016), Almost Islands: Phyllis Webb and the Pursuit of the Unwritten (2018), and A History of the Theories of Rain (2021)—all published by Talonbooks. In 2015 he was awarded the Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy, and in 2019 he was the recipient of the Latner Writers’ Trust of Canada Poetry Prize. He lives near Vancouver, on unceded Coast Salish Territory, and teaches poetry and poetics at Simon Fraser University.