Partridges in September

These partridges, released on Tuesday
so that men on Sundays now the autumn’s here
can mooch about and shoot them,
must, after months of cosseted confinement,
be — what? terrified? exhilarated? baffled?
They precede me on the road, putting a brave face on it,
an urgent delegation late for an appointment.
I slow the car to walking pace.
They quicken theirs, but slightly; dignity’s to be preserved.
We could be here all morning. I’ve been here before.
It’s only when their walk becomes a trot
and then a scamper, frankly fugitive,
that they will take the aerial route to save themselves.
Have centuries of firearms taught them
that they’re safer on the ground?
I’m in no hurry, and a minute passes
as my silly anxious escort runs before the chariot.
At last I’ve had enough; a change of engine note, my gathering speed,
and up they rise, compelled to demonstrate
a risky, last-ditch talent which you sense they’d rather hide.

Listen to this poem — read by the author