Heather Shakespeare has been writing poetry for several years and her work has been published in Antiphon and The Interpreter's House. Having taught English to adults for 17 years, she now works on a freelance basis facilitating writing for wellbeing workshops. These focus on the writing process and provide a space for people from all walks of life to discover the joy and therapeutic potential of creative writing.
We never did know where the water went that summer,
whether through some vast straw a rain cloud sucked it up
and held it there, heavy above our heads,
or if they carried it away in bottles one by one
while no-one looked, till every drop had gone.
More curious still, the life was nowhere to be seen,
no flash of mallard green, no skimming wing or
shimmering scale, no drifting silent leaf or swan.
It was as if they'd fled to waters new like refugees,
afraid of what might happen if they stayed.
On one hot afternoon, with nothing there to watch,
no deafening demand for our stale bread,
we moved in from the edge to take up this new space,
to occupy a place that wasn't ours, first cautiously,
feeling our feet on the imagined floor, now real.
But then with necks extended, arms full wide we ran
laughing, fluttered and flapped, dipped and dived,
all feathers and fins, beaks and silvered gills
until our hoots and shouts died out, as breathless
we fell still and stopped to rest and preen.
Since then we have not seen the floor again,
except a glimpse beyond the sedge on still, clear days.
When we returned a fortnight on it all was back in place,
the birds and fish and plants at home once more
and we were on the edge.
Pointing to the edges of the potted palm
She exhorted us in that velvet Aberdeen accent
To look between, around, anywhere but at the leaves
And in a rare moment of compliance we all, blue-overalled,
Took up our brushes and half closed our eyes
Seeing for the first time how what is not or has not been
Becomes something in the defining of what is
And that without the lamenting and the lost things
There would be nothing there to paint
High and low we looked that afternoon
in The Roughs, invited ancient trees
to yield a word no-one had spoken,
stooped to peer down holes, under hedges
searching for stories yet to be told,
stopped to catch on the wind a pheasant's call,
a quivering of wings, the musk of damp earth
unfolding spring's first celandine.
Startled by steam and the thrust of an engine
crossing the valley, crossing the decades,
we gasped, cried out and wished it slow so
we could hold it there, halt time somehow,
pull back the years to see who trod these paths,
who tilled this soil – the chalk and trace of flint –
who rested here on banks of bee orchids and vetch
gazing half-eyed on green scarp slopes.
Back and forth we looked that afternoon
in The Roughs, invited those who'd passed
this way before to join us in our search,
pledged to bequeath our words to those who follow on.