Reading Leaves

A change of wind brings a few foreign leaves,
skimming the hedge and the dustbins,
landing on my lawn like splashes of blood.
I pick one up and try to read it, but the message
is in a language of reds I can’t decipher.
Its texture is of folded money, suggesting
a climate of plenty, wild parrots, a generous sky.

I set off to find the source: south-west,
somewhere beyond the school and the shoe factory.
I follow the scent of warmth and wealth,
leaving the town centre, the municipal buildings.
Then I’m lost in a tract of tower-blocks
and boarded-up shops, a children’s playground
with broken glass, the stump of a roundabout.
I carry my red leaf as a guarantee.
A young mother shrugs. Try the bloke in the hat
he’s not from round here either.

He leans forward on the concrete bench,
takes the leaf in his palm, squints a long moment.
He speaks, and the wind freshens in reply.
Litter tumbles about the playground,
washing strung across balconies creaks and flaps.
And here they come: a flock of red leaves
circling, stepping down the grey air,
settling like rumours on his coat,
his boots, the bench, the broken ground.

from Hard Water (Jonathan Cape, 2003), copyright © Jean Sprackland 2003, used by permission of the author and The Random House Group Ltd.

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