Today’s royal poincianas blaze on all the streets

their leaves a frill of green in May

and all day the mockingbirds sing

chivvy-chivvy-chivvy; chee!

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.  

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