Today’s royal poincianas blaze on all the streets
their leaves a frill of green in May
and all day the mockingbirds sing
One comes to bounce across our grass,
spreads wings to show the white flash
that calls his mate to him.
When a mockingbird comes to visit
my friend the painter says,
it’s time to get your work into the world.
And what about a meeting with a manatee?
Yesterday’s long grey shadow lay only just
beneath the surface of blue water
before she raised her snout and rose
to show the propeller-scarred long curve
of her back; went down again
and swam away.
I never lived with such creatures,
was not born to them: the gun-metal blue
birds in from the storm last week,
the wagtails, Cuban finches, orange-striped,
perched everywhere. Yet perhaps
somewhere in the pull of planets
across oceans, the work went on
to move me here, dream me into tropics
I’d never seen, draw in the nets
of chance, choice, circumstance
to make me write of the mockingbird,
the manatee, the flaming canopies
that light fires in the heart.
What persuasion drew me across continents
from my birth in war-time London
where the only fires were buildings burning,
the only birds, black scavengers
after another night of wreckage?
Where the very idea of smooth bodies
moving like race memory through warm seas
was as far off as the stars themselves?
These decades on, I see my own
migrations, mapped on the world’s curve.
They used to say, dig deep enough
and you’ll reach Australia.
Dream deep enough and you’ll wake one day
where strange birds repeat themselves
until their language turns familiar,
and the waters of your birth month
bring up calm animals shaped like the barrage balloons
moored so long ago to protect you, newborn,
above the wrecked city of your origins.
Rosalind Brackenbury is the author of twelve novels, a collection of short stories, and six books of poetry. Her latest novel, Becoming George Sand, has been published by Doubleday (Canada), by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (New York), and by Piemme (Milan) as L'amante di Chopin. She is currently working on a new novel, and her latest book of poetry, The Joy of the Nearly Old, is available from Hanging Loose Press. Rosalind lives in Key West, Florida, and was a founder of Edinburgh's Shore Poets in the 1980s. At present Rosalind is Writer in Residence at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, USA.