Heather Shakespeare



We never did know where the water went that summer,
whether through some vast straw a rain cloud sucked it up
and held it there, heavy above our heads,
or if they carried it away in bottles, one by one
while no-one looked, till every drop had gone.

More curious still, the life was nowhere to be seen,
no flash of mallard green, no skimming wing or
shimmering scale, no drifting silent leaf or swan.
It was as if they’d fled to waters new like refugees,
afraid of what might happen if they stayed.

On one hot afternoon, with nothing there to watch,
no deafening demand for our stale bread,
we moved in from the edge to take up this new space,
to occupy a place that wasn’t ours, first cautiously,
feeling our feet on the imagined floor, now real.

But then with necks extended, arms full wide we ran
laughing, fluttered and flapped, dipped and dived,
all feathers and fins, beaks and silvered gills
until our hoots and shouts died out, as breathless
we fell still and stopped to rest and preen.

Since then we have not seen the floor again,
except a glimpse beyond the sedge on still, clear days.
When we returned a fortnight on it all was back in place,
the birds and fish and plants at home once more
and we were on the edge.

Published in Antiphon, Issue 24 – February 2019