Before he fucked off for good with his tart,
his wife dug in a thin row of saplings
along the paddock edge to slice the wind.
Driving past this November afternoon
I saw their leaves shiver orange and gold
against a low dissolution of cloud.
Beeches. Slow growing and platinum barked:
sentinels lancing the uncaring air.
Others might have planted ash for the fire;
or a timber crop, spruce perhaps or fir?
Fruit trees? Apples, plums, pears: all could grow there.
Instead, she bunched her hair and planted beech,
that tall, proud and pretty tree which despite
the winter frost still wears its golden leaves.
Stabbing orange beaks into kelp and wrack
they collect dark weed to cover a child
lying naked where the tide licks the land.
The baby is dead but the birds can’t tell,
compelled by a biblical instinct
to hide her from some unseen pursuer.
No one knows the mother’s name, how she came,
why she strapped such a cross of pain to herself,
leaving her baby on a cockling sack.
The small corpse, layered with weed, might be just
a washed up jellyfish, a salt bleached stump.
The birds scatter to sand spars and rocks.
Long ago they concealed a different child,
cowering under a coat of seaweed
and the count of time itself was altered.
Black flags emblazoned with white crosses
tip in the cold breeze. The Mussel Pickers,
the Sea Pies, whine like a winded klaxon.
A sleight of blue across a clouded pool,
carp concealing, overhung by catkins.
Maybe where an antique river curls through
hoof-poached meadows past the vapoury end
of an oxbow moon? Or hung on a cord,
imprisoned in a House of Blown Glass
diving forever at goldfish jigsaws?
I would take you to see her, watch her fly.
The bright azure would quicken your heart,
the orange warm the palette of your eye.
But I dreamed my fabled halcyon
over sleeping waters I haven’t known.
Kingfishers mostly live in dreams.
I’m sure one night you’ll find your own.
Marc Woodward is a musician and poet living in rural Devon. This line is the one with something pithy or enigmatic. Oh well.