Simon Armitage

(26 May 1963 / Marsden, West Yorkshire)

The Jay


I was pegging out your lime-green dress;
you were hoping the last of the sun
might sip the last few beads of drip-dry water
from its lime-green hem.

I had a blister-stigmata the size of an eye
in the palm of my hand
from twisting the point of a screw
into the meat of the house. Those days. Those times.

The bird was crossing the gravel path
in the style of a rowing boat crossing dry land.
Struck with terror when I held it tight
in the gardening-gloves of humankind, we saw for ourselves

the mouse-fur face and black moustache,
the squab of breastmeat under its throat,
the buff-brown coat and blue lapels,
the painted inside of its mouth,

the raw, umbilical flute of its tongue
sucking hard at the sky for the taste of air.
Setting it free, it managed no more than a butterfly stroke
to the shade of the unnamed tree, where we let it be.

They say now that the basis of life
in the form of essential carbon deposits
could have fallen to earth as a meteorite, or comet,
and that lightning strikes from banks of static

delivered the spark that set life spinning. It's a beginning.
But the three-letter bird was death, death thrown in from above,
death as a crash-brained, bone-smashed, cross-feathered bullet,
so we could neither kill it nor love it.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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