Greenhouse Gallery Writers
Poems for ‘Flight 2014’
The night bees
Guided by star maps
and blind instinct,
sometimes we come back –
the under-hum of dreamtime,
a furring of night’s vision,
seeding the future.
How sweet the nectar tasted
in night’s garden,
until the trap’s false moon
drew them in. Now they play
dead on his kitchen table,
where daylight threatens
with its sharp beaks and claws.
We are leaf, we are bark.
We are lichen, we are stone.
He flicks through the books:
Satin Wave, Feathered Footman,
Marbled Beauty, Lunar Thorn…
only when he’s pinned a name
to each and every one
will they fly free again,
leaf and lichen, bark and stone.
Off the edge of the map
She’s seized with the birthday choice of the whole
opened-out rest of her life – now older than either
parent had lived to, she’s done with civilised, safe.
Decides on dragons. Buys two.
Surprisingly heavy, their hot dry bellies
like swags of gold. Their eyes suspicious.
Their walk stealthy. They bask on shelves,
lie head to tail across the glow of the laptop,
stretch elegant along the sofa’s arms,
take turns collar-curled round her neck.
She feeds them well with admiration. They swell
beyond all the man in the shop’s assurances,
the literature’s predictions. Soon, they can stand
and rest their shell-hard feet on her shoulders, turn
and fix one teacup eye full in her face. Soon,
their tails slip out the end of the duvet. They scrape
the doorframes and collapse the furniture.
She despairs of feeding them, leans between them,
arms round their haunches, and explains her limits.
It’s like talking to the sun-hot sides of parked tanks.
She puts their small meals in small dishes, ashamed.
One night, she opens every entrance in the hope
In the morning, she hears
a lumping like crocodiles over the roof,
the rafters creaking, the thump of the loft hatch,
a clatter down the ladder: understands
the dragons are home and bringing tribute.
This poem appeared in an earlier version in The Rialto 2012
On the edge
I am little
and the playing field is big.
Pale orange dress,
pattern: white blossom, green leaves.
The grass sweeps away to the far corners,
dipping down to the dangerous glen.
Daisy-spangled turf where I sit
on the edge of the world,
pierce the stems with child-thumbnails,
always fearful of blundering
and breaking the eye.
Daisy chains on our heads,
around our necks and wrists and ankles.
Little brides, wards of the moor.
The boys were aeroplanes.
Arms outstretched, they soared
up through blue and over purple,
out into the stratosphere.
Fred Hoyle sat here
years ago, when he was a boy.
Looking at the daisy-spangled universe
he thought of stars,
of reaching Venus.
two million light years away
Skin a star
like an onion.
See how it works.
This poem, which draws on works by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, accompanies Murmuration 2, a work in Liz McGowan’s Time Passes series
Not one bird
Remember that Sunday early in spring
when day broke to birdsong and the scent
of orange blossom floated up from the valley?
We tossed towels on the back seat, drove
south beyond Faro to a favourite beach.
Parked in shade by the sign for the new nature
reserve. You teased as I listed waders to spot
from the long wooden footbridge that crosses
the marshes to dunes and the sea. Dunlin,
curlew, glossy ibis, little egret, purple gallinule,
black-winged stilt, little bustard, spoonbill, flamingo…
You saw them first, eight men wearing camouflage,
hunched over guns propped on the bridge rail,
sights trained on the marshes. Remember the shock
of that first blast of gunfire? Not one bird took flight.
You turned me around, led me quick to the car.
Reported the crime to a uniformed guard.
Remember his shrug? ‘Ué! Just birds.’
Remember the gunshots as we arrived home,
the hunter in our garden who, when you strode
toward him quiet in anger, opened hands proudly
to show what he’d killed. Two blackcap warblers,
the nightingale, silenced. Hot stones, smell of heath,
reek of death, carobs rustling. Do you remember?
The night they turned off the street lights in our town
five thousand pink-footed geese landed
in the cemetery grounds,
crowded on wings of angels,
gaggled on ledges in front of coloured glass,
pulled grass between gravestones.
Sand martins circling the lighthouse
turned to the reflection of the moon on water,
fell with soft splashes into the sea.
Swallows that slept with one eye open
spiralled to sparks from fireflies in the mud flats
thinking they were a new cluster of stars.
Other flocks flew closer to visible constellations,
flapping back in confusion of discovered magnetic paths,
they took shelter in the stately home on the hill
where peacocks perched on signs, cried among thyme,
rustled as a lone owl swooped for an eye.
This poem appeared in an earlier version in Ink, Sweat and Tears (August 2011)
I’d love to see an airship
blundering about the sky,
heavy with gold braid and brittle porcelain,
knocking those unlikely harpists off their clouds.
Droning, creaking, it dips, ribbons trailing,
tempting wild boys to leap
and grab, to swing and drag,
laughing through the tops of trees.
Its engine threatens thunder –
thick clouds chugging from its firebox,
gold and scarlet plumage blinds the sunset,
outshines the moon and challenges old Sol.
The armchair has a cover
of flying parrots,
green and red,
orange and blue.
All night I sit
in a welter of wings,
feel them round me,
the nibbling beaks,
marching up my shoulder.
In a room with the fire
cold and dead,
where no one reaches out
to switch on the light;
parrots come, circling,
a vivid coronation
round my head.