A SMALL DEATH

My daughter, Úna, wanders
off to play in the forest,
unafraid, her new rag doll
clutched under one arm:
a small fairy queen, trail-
ed by her elderly knight.

At the centre, I find her
beneath black hemlock, red cedar,
halted on a carpet, a compost
of fallen leaves, rusty haws
and snowberries, knobbly chestnuts:
decay's autumnal weft.

She has found a dead bird
which she holds up in her
other hand; eyes, bright beads,
but the long beak spiky, cold,
twig legs crisped inwards.
Why not fly? she demands

And as I kneel to explain
(taking the retted corpse away)
dead, she repeats, puzzled.
So we bury the scant body
under a mound of damp leaves,
a gnome's pyre, a short barrow:

Her first funeral ceremony.
Home now, I nudge gently,
past the slapping branches,
the shallow Pacific rain pools
she loves ploutering through
in her diminutive wellingtons.

Beyond the tall woods, lights
of Victoria are flickering on:
yellow flares of sodium
under dark coastal clouds
crossing Vancouver Island;
dream cattle swaying home.

by John Montague

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