Brian Johnstone is a poet, writer and performer whose work has appeared throughout the UK, in the Americas, Australasia and Europe. His poems have been translated into over a dozen languages and are included in the UK Poetry Archive website. He has published seven collections, most recently the pamphlet Juke Box Jeopardy (Red Squirrel Press, 2018), shortlisted for the Callum MacDonald Memorial Award 2019, and the full collection Dry Stone Work (Arc Publications, 2014). His memoir Double Exposure was published by Saraband in 2017. He is a founder and former Director of StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival.
House-swallows have some strong attachment to water…and, though they may not retire into that element, yet they may conceal themselves in the banks of pools and rivers during the uncomfortable months of winter.
Gilbert White, The Natural History of Selborne
At summer’s close, a level branch would see them
all in line, perched in readiness for what
no-one was sure. They quit
their favoured places – eaves and chimney stacks –
all of a piece, so swiftly none could swear
they’d seen them take to wing.
The limbs that saw them gather in their scores,
spread out by rivers, ponds and meres,
gave some a clue. The soft soil
of the banks might offer habitation, make a place
to see the winter out. But others, not at all
convinced of this, and noting
how they skimmed the water’s surface after flies,
theorised they found a refuge in the deep
there to sojourn safely
throughout the coldest months. And knowing
none of this, the swallows made
for Africa, instinctively.
The moon, the depths of ponds, their very banks,
each in plain sight. Who knew of Africa,
if it was anywhere at all?
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