She’d been eyeing me shrewdly, from the moment I’d sat down.

‘You can twiddle your thumbs, and put on a ‘butter wouldn’t melt face’, for all you’re worth…’ my pained expression was not even worth her scorn. ‘Injured innocence is equally ineffective.’ she went on. ‘You might just as well be wearing a horizontally-striped jersey and carrying a bag labelled ‘Swag’: whatever have you been up to?’

I smiled at Miss Pronter.

‘I’ve been trespassing on your ground.’

She seemed not only taken aback, but taken back.

‘Apples? It’s a long time since I had Apple trees to defend against little boys, who’d always take one bite, shudder at the sourness, and throw it away. I caught one once, by the ear-lobe,’ she obviously relished the pain and ignominy inflicted still, ‘and told him …’ but she was still enjoying her ‘Recherche du temps perdu.’

Eventually, I coughed.

She frowned at me.


‘The ground – terrain, field – whichever, is Poetry, verse.

She sat back, smiling now.

After a little while she equably said, ‘I’ve thought for ages, you’d do well to – I won’t say ‘try’ – too tentative! – but set your hand…’

Pulling a sheet of two out of my jacket pocket

‘You know I spend far too much time on this ‘blog’ -thing, well, there was a series of comments, which it is the tradition not to read, about Swallows, Martins, Swifts, so I delved into my memory, and came up with this.

Image by Kev from Pixabay




As a July evening begins to cool,

Glancing upwards, I glimpse through sloping glass

Sickle-wings, almost black against the azure:

Swallows, at last, hunting down

Those prodigally-born Creatures, insects.


In another place and another time, I remember

Hearing the sharp click of incessant beaks

As, with balletic timing, swallows hit the pink wall,

Each claiming its juicy morsel, as streams

Of Queen ants, crawled up to reach, perhaps, take off.


Tea in St. Stephen’s Vicarage, before six o’clock Evensong

Where, in stained pitch-pine the cool Church reposed,

Brass Lectern dully glowing, perhaps blushing

As it recalled the amusement one of the ‘Saturday

Cleaners’ Rota’ had voiced, as she had cherished

The Eagle’s beak with navy cotton garments from her school days.


Then, I was not deaf, so knew that the Swallows’ descent

On its prey was not with a Stuka-like noise, only the modest

Click of its beak, betraying – yet belying – the infinite exactitude

Of its skill.

There was, though, a time when I heard the Swifts:

A poet had been giving us a reading from his

Soon-to-be-published next volume, his grim visage

To be all the grimmer later, when, among questions,

An innocent female voice had dared to enquire about ‘influences’.

It was Cambridge, and July, with limes – some in bud

Some past, some in swooningly-sweet bloom to which

Bees came, drawn by those wafts from who knows how far,

Tirelessly sucking nectar, gathering pollen, flying back to base.

But towards evening, we heard the poet, and I heard

Behind him, The Battle of Britain.

Or, at least, I heard those valiant Poles flying,

Against all odds and protocols, yelling to their fellow-knights

Their victories and their strategies.

Swifts, screaming in exhilaration; Swifts, delighting in ‘the chase’;

Swifts exulting in their swiftness, their speed, their accuracy, their all.


And, in a mean little house, half a Century earlier I had

Both heard and seen the Swifts, accepted their clamancy

As part of life, drifting off to sleep lulled by their shrieks,

Woken, perhaps, by the unwonted quiet when, at last,

They – and their food – had been exhausted. Awakening

One morning to find a Swift, claws caught in net,

Brown eyes full of foreboding, its small, warm body

Pulsing both with life and terror, brown head

Running with small creatures, as gently I, one-by one,

Untwined my innocent net-curtain’s strands from its claws,

Holding the warm body to the gap at the window-top

Where the new day’s air called it once more to its element.


There was an almost uncomfortably long silence. Then, almost sotto voce, she said, ‘Yes, Dear, yes. Now, what are you going to write about next?’

© Jethro 2023