I always look at this type of prompt, hoping that the line of poetry will be one that could possibly be slipped unnoticed into a piece of prose. More often than not, I don’t see it. Merril’s offered line from a poem by Sara Teasdale, though nagged at me because it suggested something that I only understood this morning. 144 words exactly.

You will do anything for me. Always have. Anything within reason at least; I’ve never asked anything truly outrageous of you. But am I just being selfish? I keep asking myself if I doing the right thing. How can I be sure?

I shall see again the world. On the first of May a new life begins for all of us, though I will be the only one to leave. I will take myself and my self-doubts to that shining city I have always dreamed of visiting and build a new suit of armour, but this time, made of sunshine and cicadas.

When I return to the familiar, shabby and humdrum, you will all be here, still, always, unchanged. The old house, children, cats and dogs, the birds and the busy silence, and most of all, you, generous and loving. My immutable magnetic north.

New arrivals

This time in two weeks, we’ll have two new members of the family. It’s almost six months since Finbar died, and we have never got used to his absence. We thought we would adopt another ‘dog’, then decided what we really wanted was not another ‘dog’ but another Galgo. And we wanted a happy Galgo, so that meant at least two. They’re sociable animals, pack animals, and in the countryside, the occasions for socialising are limited. In any case, they prefer their own kind.

These two are probably brothers. They’ve been together all their lives and were dumped together at the refuge because they weren’t any good as hunting dogs. They have been waiting a long time to be adopted. It was time to give them a home before they lost hope.

The photo was taken the day they arrived at the refuge.

Some things you can’t unknow

For the dverse prompt.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;

I snap the book closed in annoyance and replace it on the shelf. And while you were wandering so lonely did you spare a thought for the daughter you left behind in France and her mother, whose chances of a decent marriage you scuppered?
Poets are supposed to be sensitive, but you doubt the sensitivity of a man whose sister had to drag him across the Channel to finally meet his nine year-old daughter, and then only to tell her mother that all things considered, he was going to marry someone more appropriate instead.
William didn’t make it as far as his child’s home, but apparently they had a nice walk along the beach at Calais.

February walk

The day started with thrushes and a deer barking, the sun shining through early morning mist. I put on wellies to walk through the fields, past the woods along the stream, stopped to take a photo of some of the neighbour’s daffodils, the ones the sheep have left.

I always take a stick just in case, but by the time I reached the château, the tracks of wild boar were so fresh they were making me nervous.

I turned for home as the cranes were passing overhead, in their noisy, undisciplined formations. The wind was fierce up there, the skeins dissolving and the birds circling in directionless flocks. Tired and hungry, none wanted to take the leader’s place. In bird world, that’s the hardest, least enviable place of all.

The sun and the moon

For the dverse prosery prompt, inspired by John Masefield’s The Box of Delights (if anyone recognises it) is a short piece of prose of 144 words, including the line from Carol Ann Duffy:

It is a moon, wrapped in brown paper.

Tom watches as the old man with the hurdy-gurdy lowers himself onto the park bench. His dog, a rough-haired terrier sits patiently as he rummages in one of his deep coat pockets, takes out a tin foil package, unwraps it and hands the dog a ham sandwich.
“Here you go, Barney Dog.”
The dog takes the sandwich with a delicate gesture and in three bites, it’s gone. Tom edges closer. The old man bites into the second sandwich, then reaches into another pocket and takes out first a paper package then something enveloped in a velvet cloth, a milky glass sphere.
Tom’s eyes open wide. He blurts out, “What’s that?”
“It is a moon.”
Wrapped in brown paper, is an orange. The hurdy-gurdy man unwraps it carefully and holds it up.
“And this is a sun.” He smiles and holds it out. “For you.”

Foggy horror snow

The white goddess whispers
and the fog obeys,
stripping birds’ bright raiment,
clad in bone and frost,
flying with ghosts.

On the second day of the big fog, I went outside only to feed the birds. Beneath my feet the white-furred grass crunched, and fingers of fog ran through my hair, its voice muttered in my ears.
Body heat fled, and the voice became my pulse, my pounding heart. Fingers numbed and I retreated indoors.
Birds fluttered close to the windows, pecking at the scattered seeds but more insistently around the window frames, as if looking for a way inside. They fluttered silently, voices, like their bright colours, leached away. Tapping.
Fog clung to the frosted grass blades, frost flakes filled the foggy air, clumping thicker until even the tall trees were too faint to see. At evening, the birds left, sucked into the fog, and night fell on perfect stillness.
On the third day we left the shutters closed, intimidated by the ghost-grey that pressed against the glass, where condensation trickled like tears, afraid to see faces in it. If the birds had returned, we heard no insect-tapping on the wood. Instead, we heard the cracking of ice.

The night is deep now, perhaps dark, but I suspect it will be grey, thick like city river water. There will be no sky no stars, no frost shimmer on the meadow, no moonlight. Only fog, grey, dirty, pale, like winding sheets unwound from ancient graves.
It presses against the shutters, the roof, and we hear it sigh. The tapping begins again, and it is not birds.

Fly before the wind, birds,
before winter jaws snap closed,
before the marrow freezes
and the song dies—
find the sun.

Fox night

For the dverse prosery prompt, a 144 word prose piece.

I dress in their stories patterned and purple as night’

from the poem, When we sing of might by Kimberly Blaeser.

Painting by Franz Marc.

Fox night

Light falls in pale bars through the shutters; mist rises, thickening to fog. The earth will be soft, the mud deep after the rain, and full of prints. I heard them in the dark, the foxes, the dog fox barking on the hill, the circumspect padding beneath the window of the vixen, the dash and leap of the cubs. I will find a tale beneath the tree where I put the food, a tale of full bellies and a full moon to light the way home.
I dress. In their stories, patterned and purple as night, are the pangs of hunger, fear of the hunter, the joy of cubs not lost to sickness or starvation. In the dance of their prints I read a little, but no human heart can ever know the wild tastes and tangs, loves and lives of such as they.

Theirs but to do and die

I haven’t done one of these in an age. For the dverse prosery night.

The general finally wound up his speech.
‘So, if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.”
His horse shook its head and the general raised his, to stare into the middle distance, a heroic poise. He pulled on the reins, and to whoops and cheers, turned his horse around to ride off majestically to the rear.
“They need not fear the firing squad for insurrection, he means.” Alfred spat on the ground and nudged Bill in the ribs. “He wasn’t talking about that lot out there.”
The two men stared over the sandbags at the line of men, advancing through the dust raised by armoured cars and tanks. Bill wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Because they’re going to do more’n harm us. They’re going to fuckin’ wipe us off the face of the fuckin’ earth.”

In the constellation of Homarus Gammarus

A story Visual Verse didn’t want, but here it is anyway.

In the constellation of Homarus Gammarus

The waiting room is empty, she picks up a magazine opens it anywhere, as you do, just to give her hands something to do, to focus her eyes on something because there’s nothing else, nothing on the walls except a poster with line drawings of toddlers with blue faces, their heads inside plastic bags, or toddlers with red faces being held down in baths full of water hot enough to boil eggs. She wonders what kind of parent sits in a doctor’s waiting room staring at this kind of poster and thinks, hmm, maybe I should stop giving Jayden/Emma/Butternut/Jigsaw plastic bags to play with.
She picks up the only magazine and opens it in the middle. It might be a story, she doesn’t know, she just lets the colours run. Her own pastel colours drift across the ceiling making a dream landscape you might find over the bed of a luckier toddler than the red and blue ones in the poster. Drifts of clouds, moons and stars, all sunlit and rippling with tame water fill the pale room. The colours gather in banks and billows so thick the doctor can barely open the door.
“Amy Narwhal?”
The girl uncrosses her legs and closes the magazine, blows a kiss to the rocking moon, and follows the doctor into the surgery.

Another girl enters the now full waiting room, pushing her way past a bouncing lilac cloud and sits down. She glances at the poster and wonders, are there really parents who don’t know that babies are like lobsters, that if you boil them they change colour and die? She picks up the magazine, opens it in the middle and the colours shrink and change like jumpers or lobsters, and the room darkens. The girl flicks on the light and begins to read.
Once upon a time, in the deep dark ocean depths there lived a lobster. As everyone knows, the universe is peppered with constellations of lobsters, each bigger and more brilliant than the next, and this was the biggest, brightest of them all. One night, the biggest, brightest lobster climbed out of his pot—
The door opens. The girl looks up.
“Is this Dr Beluga’s surgery?”
“It is. Sit down and I’ll read you a story.”
The lobster clicks his way across the waiting room and takes the seat next to her. He peers at the magazine and taps the page with a blue pincer. “I know this one. Great writer.”
The girl smiles and begins again. Her voice mingles with the dark green clouds, and soon the water has risen over her ankles. Somewhere, a toddler gurgles with laughter.