by Helen Marshall
My mother tells me of the swan:
beautiful, she whispers, anasa mou,
her eyes shallow with the love of him,
her mouth a shape
that some men might call love
It was not that, love is not that look.
When I was young, we kept no birds in cages,
we worshiped the hawk, the sparrow,
and we lay beside the river
to draw him forth.
Once, he came, once:
awkward and snake-necked,
kettle body on tiny legs.
(Birds are not meant to walk on land.)
He laid his head in my lap,
and I stroked the fine feathers of him,
the long neck in the cage of my arms.
I thought of love.
It was not what she said — great wings beating,
knees made drunk, terrified, but yearning still.
But a mild indifference really, my hand
touching, allowed to touch.
One day I shall shed my skin
one day I shall not walk on the land.
This is not love.
Helen Marshall’s poetry has been published in ChiZine, Star*Line, Paper Crow, The 2006 Rhysling Anthology, NFG and the Ontarion Arts Supplement. Her chapbook of poetry Skeleton Leaves, a dark retelling of Peter Pan, is available from Kelp Queen Press.