Nothing is yet in its true form – C.S. Lewis
The bird-woman is in the field in her blue dress,
small bird wrapped in a rag of cotton in her hand,
legs like twigs, throat between songs.
The sunlight is squeezing her, squeezing the field-grass
until her blue dress is a distant boat
and the field is the sea,
somewhere used to slipping boundaries.
Then two men, hands in pockets,
feet sinking into the grey-black of the road.
The sun is hot and high and they wade into the field,
lose themselves to the waist in straight, green blades.
The bird-woman is scuffing the soft, loose earth,
making a bowl for the body.
She lays the bird with its broken neck
and covers it with clover,
small red flowers, lucky leaves.
When the men capsize her
the pleats of her dress unfurl.
The ground takes their weight.
Because when you see him you know – small light in a night forest –
that his name is Tog Muhoni and his smile tells the way the river
bends and how he crossed it, one foot dragging behind
like a snapped limb: to stay or to go? You’re late for something,
driving, and your whole life is mapped out in the arm he’s missing.
The shoulder blade is intact, you can see as you slow down,
rub the breath from the windscreen and stare
in a way your mother would have scolded: an owl
inside your head this morning; eyes; silent inquisition.
His body seems to shift, migrate from one shape to another
or he’s just a ghost waving in the cold, winter air wafting.
All those times you stood outside and watched your breath
cloud, large animal, moon face, hoofless. You know his days
go deeper. Snow hole with a man curled in it; small pack
stitched of deerskin; a fine knife; furs.
Instead of turning right, you stop the car and wait. Something in you:
a shiny, dark-skinned kernel, a need you’ve put away
like a button from your dead father’s coat, a need for history
or flight. No, both. Where you’re going, you don’t know
but everything you thought was true is false, everything
you’ve learnt flows out like guts from a split belly,
the strings of intestine you can read your fortune in,
your fate. But you can’t look forwards, only back
at the black hulk of the car as you walk off or through
or out. Where are you now? Wait.
The street is unfamiliar; you’ve never walked here before,
never walked like this with your whole face seeing,
eyes, yes, but also lips, nose, skin, and the skin’s soft,
barely visible vellus that marks you out as animal or bird,
a small hawk maybe, all seeing. You can’t be sure
but the figure walking over seems to be singing,
mouth wide like a warm dark stone and then the song
coming close, as though the singer’s inside you –
you’re the lone singer! Be still a while and listen.
Wide streets, wider than you imagined possible,
car-less now, each building flanking something beyond
the mind’s eye, something flickering inside an opening.
Never too late. A soul. Small black purse.
When he steps up you know his name is Tog Muhoni
and his life is a fire you forgot to feed, a time you forgot
to live. You drape your sorrow around yourself
but he laughs, and with his one good arm
lifts your chin to the sky like a mother might
tilt her child. Somewhere in the other town
your desk is waiting with its papers and books,
a lamp leaning in like an eye piercing the same space
over and over. Tog Muhoni looks at you
as though you’ve never known looking before.
A blue shawl of looking. An embrace.
There are no more people in Yarmouk, only skeletons with yellow skin – Umm Hassan, Syria, 2014
There’s nothing inside this morning
but a blackbird.
He’s pecking steadily into my eye-socket,
the yellow beak’s fidelity
making a clean meal of my eye’s meat.
But it’s OK.
It’s good to be useful.