They were everywhere. No. Just God or smoke
is that. They were the backdrop to the road,
My parents’ home, the heavy winter fields
from which they flashed and kindled and uprode
the air in dozens. I ignored them all.
‘What are they?’ ‘Oh – peewits – ’ Then a hare flowed,
bounded the furrows. Marriage. Child. I roamed
round other farms. I only knew them gone
when, out of a sad winter, one returned.
I heard the high mocked cry ‘Pee – wit’, so long
Cut dead. I watched it buckle from vast air
to lure hawks from its chicks. That time had gone.
Gravely, the parents bobbed their strip of stubble.
How had I let this green and purple pass?
Fringed, plumed heads (full name, the crested plover)
Fluttered. So crowned cranes stalk Kenyan grass.
Then their one child, their anxious care, came running,
squeaked along each furrow, dauntless, daft.
Did I once know the story of their lives,
do they migrate from Spain? or coasts’ cold run?
And I forgot their massive arcs of wing.
When their raw cries swept over, my head spun
With all the brilliance of their black and white
As though you cracked the dark and found the sun.
You leapt up, the computer’s cat, then curled
On your own chair, before a glowing world
Of spidered text and viruses, would wait
Calmly, in paper drifts, as I worked late.
You tongued your ruff smooth, kept your grave eyes round,
Sniffed coffee, chocolate, till an end was found,
Or slept, sleek squirrel, in your feathered tail
So when I scooped you up, your long paws trailed,
Your chin lolled on my wrist, flowed warm past fear.
I do not think, in all your fourteen years,
You knew unkindness. But the tumour grew,
You blinked black lids to lamps as we walked through.
What sun or screen is now too bright for you?
No one is ever good enough,
or kind enough.
No one stays awake
through the lovely rush of rain which fills our dark.
No one can hold the music.
They are counting coins or frowning
they are toppling, they are drowning.
No one is good.
But nothing is as quick as us,
no screen can match us
tape’s whirr catch us
nothing tilts like sun
to light from sad.
Nothing in all history
can reach to take your hand from me,
the dark, the rain’s gift, O
we should be glad.
You know we are not lost. Nothing is lost.
The smallest crinkled petal of heartsease
Crumbles to ground. The wind that sweeps each face
Brings, wild with sun, your mother as a girl,
His vanished brothers, holds an endless place
For dogs, cats, ponies, robins that she fed.
Speak, as you must, of every fault and flight.
But never say of me that I am dead.