The farrier hands me a stone like an egg, clefted, heart shaped enough. I carry it in my pocket, laden with love. On the way home, weaving past the reeds, rushing past the river, I picture a walk down the aisle. We will marry on a Monday when the church costs less. I will wear a plain shift, loaded with only one shade of white, water marks ironed off my back.
Outside the woodshed, Mother bites the webs of her hands to black scabs. I nod, we speak only hisses some days. Our are eyes varnish, keep what we don’t say intact. She knew it was coming. I’m old enough. One day I was going to be loved.
She lights the swan skin. We watch it burn like a sigh. The air plucks smoky strands, wisps dust the dusk. Forever, the skin felt too big, those hand-me-down feathers too heavy for flight. Then, it fit like a blizzard, down between my legs clawed my petticoat to bits, swept my skinny legs up. It was the same for her, I suppose – all this flying and loving and not knowing how to stop. The steel of our wings can break first love’s back –we do not know our span. Boys who got too close to the sunset balanced on my beak snapped, spines skinny reeds whistling to the wind. This love will be better, I say, I’ve practised.
The skin spits. Mother pokes the ash, her neck is a coat hook hanging up the moonlight. I, too, will marry a man who never saw me as a swan. He will not know as birds we miss nothing, yet when he kisses me, softly, woman, I miss my beak.
Angela Readman‘s poems have won the Mslexia Poetry Competition, The Essex Poetry Prize, and The Charles Causley. She is also a story writer, and winner of the Costa Short Story Award. Her short story collection Don’t Try This at Home is published in May 2015 by And Other Stories.