Saturday, 15 November 2014

Fog Child

The little child is hen-size.
The people here
do not know where she has come from.
From whence? From now or yesteryear?

Girl shape with down-turned mouth,
sharp stones for eyes.
Mother of pearl cheeks.

Oh but feel the intricate work
of her, stepping, dancing.
Holding her skirt.
Hands like two left-handed roses.

The people here give the child a task:
set out into the fog and fill this tiny bottle.
She does not question and they love her
for the silence she brings.

Not quite daylight, stars sparkle
above fog
birds singing loud.

Louder and louder
as the girl tumbles down the hill.

Oh where does she go to stealing
our fog,
where does she go?

And not a word for hours,
ask the magpie,
not a song to her name.

The child is hen-sized,
no, mouse-small,
no greater than a leaf.

She is swallowed into the bottle of fog.
The fog lingers
and no one remembers.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Paths And Feathers


Where do you go when all you have is here,
a small circuit of uneven paths?
There are white berries that have no name.
They are brooding and pale against rain-soaked
natives, the evening primrose flowering late.

In a towering hedge, a gathering
of tiny birds gossip about anything
but the weather.

The trick is to look and again, see
this small route is filled with stuff
that just gets on with it, year on year.
I pinch a bit of this, a feather, a stem.
Pocket the colours for later mixing.

And in the night, all the feathers gather
and dip themselves in ink
to write the poems I have forgotten.

And in the night, the shape
of my curled body becomes a word
without a name. A thankful word,
a nothing particular, a soft burr.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Feeding The Birds

(a Grandmama story)


Grandmama likes to feed the birds. As the weather gets colder, so Grandmama makes sure the table is well-stocked. Jupp is given a slab of stale cake to place on the bird table.

'Really?' Jupp says. He holds the cake in one hand, weighs it like a brick of gold, holds it up. 'Really? We forget to eat this? Now it's gone hard and now the birds want to eat it?'

'Really,' Grandmama says and hands Lucas a plate of sandwich crusts. Lucas is dressed in yellow boots and a scarf, ready to go outside.

'He won't reach, he'll need a chair,' Gretel whispers. Lucas starts to eat a crust. 'Oh Lucas, it's food for the birds, spit it out!'

Lucas does not spit it out. He holds the plate carefully, takes a big step over the kitchen door threshold and walks into the garden.

Grandmama gives Gretel a bowl of grey boiled potatoes. 'Really?' Gretel says. 'Birds eat potato?'

'Really,' Grandmama says, 'with a little gravy, perhaps. But I don't have any to hand just now.'

Grandmama hands Hugo a whole apple on a piece of string and this he must hang from the pear tree in their garden. This year has not been a good one for the pear tree. It made no fruit at all, it leans awkwardly away from the sun, and has now been put on the list of things that might get the chop next year. Theirs is a good-size garden, full of plants, a patchwork of things planted over many years, by various tenants and owners. The neighbours throw their weeds over the fence and that is why they have so many dandelions but the family do not mind because Daddy is hoping one day to make his own dandelion and burdock wine.

Hugo steps into the garden with the apple and decides he will not climb the pear tree today. It looks weak and vulnerable, like a starved animal. Perhaps it needs feeding. 'Perhaps you are hungry,' Hugo says and tests how far he can stretch his arm to tie the apple on to a branch. He must tie it as high as possible.

'Where's Lucas?' Gretel says now.

Jupp is leaning up against the bird table eating a small piece of stale cake. 'I'm sharing the cake with the birds,' he says.

'Yes but where is Lucas?' Gretel asks again.

'He came out here with the crusts. Maybe he's in the shed eating the crusts,' Jupp says and goes to look in the shed. But Lucas is not there.

The children walk around and around the garden looking for their youngest brother. Jupp beats a bush with a stick and Gretel takes the stick from Jupp and throws it over the fence. Hugo checks the shed again and climbs the pear tree just a little to get a better view of things, but they cannot find Lucas. He looks toward the house, sees Grandmama alone in the kitchen, washing plates in the sink. When they go back inside to find Lucas he is not there either. They look upstairs and downstairs and under the stairs; Lucas likes to play hide and seek.

'Oh dear me,' Grandmama says, 'we must be thorough. I'll slip my shoes on and take a look outside.'

'He's gone into thin air like a magic rabbit!' Jupp says.

'He's slipped down a rabbit hole, most likely,' Gretel says.

'Dear me,' Grandmama says, very seriously and Hugo can tell that she is worried, even if Jupp and Gretel seem quite excited about Lucas disappearing. 'We must not panic,' Grandmama says and puts on Daddy's big old gardening shoes and her own cardigan, and shuffles into the garden and checks the bird table.

'He's not on the bird table!' Jupp says.

'Well yes dear,' Grandmama says, 'but I'm checking his movements. I'm checking to see if he delivered the crusts to the bird table - and it appears he did not. Now the side gate is always kept locked. But just perhaps it was not locked....'

They discover the gate is unlocked. Hugo feels something cold like a stone in his belly. He looks down the alleyway that leads to the street, he looks behind dustbins and bushes. They all look and look.

Grandmama walks up the left-side neighbours path and knocks on their front door. Hugo does not think anyone will answer the door. An old man lives in the brown house and the yellow curtains are always pulled closed. Grandmama knocks again.

'Good afternoon, I'm Mrs Wychwood from next door and I'm hoping you might have seen a small boy - a small boy carrying a plate of sandwich crusts.' The elderly man looks down at Grandmama and frowns so that his face looks like a screwed up newspaper, all grey and angry. 'I'm so sorry to bother you but is there a way into your garden?' Grandmama asks.

'We have a gate, like everyone else,' the man says then he turns and shouts a name and a tall, large woman appears. She is much younger than the man. The woman takes one look at Grandmama and folds her arms. The old man shuffles away.

'A small boy with a plate of sandwich crusts,' Grandmama mutters. 'We are looking for Lucas, the youngest one.'

'The youngest what?' the woman says. 'We don't have any.'

'Quite,' Grandmama says, 'but perhaps you could just, for a moment, let us look into your garden?'

The woman allows Hugo to look in the garden. Their gate has no lock, the woman explains, they got a lock for the shed instead. Hugo wants to shout but he lacks confidence and instead whispers loudly: 'Lucas, come here now Lucas.' As if he might be coaxing a kitten out of its hiding spot.

The woman shouts. She calls out: "Lucas! Where are you? Lucas come out now I'm a busy woman!'

Hugo thinks: Lucas will never come out of nowhere now, not with this big woman shouting. The garden is surprisingly tidy and there are few shrubs or trees to hide within. There is no bird table. There is a shed, a dark little hut with a metal roof and empty bird cages inside. Hugo is pretty certain Lucas is not here and would never want to be here.

'He's playing a game with us,' Hugo says to Grandmama. They are standing outside their house, looking up and down the street. 'He's moving about, so that when we move toward him, he moves back to where we were last time.'

'Well then, we had better go home and wait for him to get bored of it all,' Grandmama says.

Back in the kitchen, Hugo, Gretel and Jupp have a snack of biscuits and milk. They sit at the table. Grandmama is looking upstairs, calling for Lucas. 'We will have to tell Daddy, we will have to get Daddy to call the police,' Jupp says.

Hugo dunks his biscuit into his milk. He looks up to see Lucas's yellow boots by the back door. 'How did they just get there?' Hugo says, pointing. 'We just came in! We just walked there!'

'His boots! But what he has he done with the rest of him?' Jupp says.

They hear a tittering of laughter. Hugo opens the larder door. There is Lucas, standing against the shelves with his hands over his eyes and an elfish grin on his face. 'Hide and seek!' Lucas says.

'You are in so much trouble, it doesn't even have a colour for it!' Jupp says.

Hugo presses his finger hard into the podgy tip of Lucas's nose but Lucas does not seem to mind.

'Oh goodness me,' Grandmama says, coming quickly into the kitchen. 'Who's this little stranger come to visit?' Lucas looks baffled and wipes his eyes as if he might be tired.

'I bet he ate all the sandwich crusts,' Gretel says.

'And what did you do with the plate?' Hugo asks.

Lucas simply smiles.

'Well now,' Grandmama says, 'who wants a nice cup of tea?'

'You do,' Hugo says, 'I'll fill the kettle and Lucas will sit very quietly and watch, won't you Lucas?'

Lucas nods and pulls a small plate from under his sweater. Sandwich crusts and crumbs fall on to the kitchen floor.