Drowned City

Drowned City
Ruth Jenkins

You've moved to the roof where the pigeons live.
Steal paper bags of grain,
bread, cigarettes.
In the rainy evenings
you write:
'I like them because they are dirty,
failed doves.'

	(From my slanted window, 
	rain slipped up and up. 
	You said. What would we be 
	if the birds weren’t here
	how would we know 
	our size against the sky. 

	Our old city was drowned.
	All paths mud, all
	childhood houses sunk.

	How small it was.
	Us in our opposite rooms.
	Tapping messages into 
	our cardboard wall at night.)

*

	(They say these birds remember.
	Bodies mutate but the longing remains. 
	Rooftops dreams of cliffs and tide.
	Sea breathes through the hurl of the roads below.)

I live in the oldest quarter.
Built a wall 
and the water didn’t reach us.

You in the new city
	
	(Fishes disguised as women 
	stroll along the streets.)

You write:
	
	'I've burnt the photographs 
	where we were beautiful.

	The softness a question.
	Do you remember
	becoming weightless 
	the moment
	the heft of your body torn from you.
	
	Do you remember
	running into the street
	its song of metal & light
	feet clean against asphalt
	saying hello
	I'm here.
	I'm still here.'

Years go by and you do not write.
I watch flash floods and angry wave gods
pray for my sons each afternoon,
come home.
Stumble through too large rooms,
think you drowned.

*

	(Sea salt fizzes
	into concrete, brick and glass.
	Pigeons carry messages in their beaks:
	Books of strange alphabets, rotting meat. 
	Letters from the front, each word blacked out.)

*
A bird arrives with a letter in its beak. 
Childish scrawl, green-inked
You write:

	Five years to learn 
	my new lightness,
	to stitch stray feathers 
	to my smoke body 
	with the simplest of threads.

	Five years to learn
	the earth's pull,
	to unpick 
	rooftops with my beak.
	This will be my last letter.

	How do you stay
	knowing what know?

	I have sent a bird for your reply.

I inspect the creature,
torn grey feathers, ugly jutting beak.

In cities shopkeepers leave trails-
rice to swell the bodies.
I have never been cruel. 
I keep it in the shed
with the oiled instruments and seeds
Bolt the door for foxes. 

*

	(We unpick the old house with our beaks,
	Carry it between us on a trapezoid system of strings. 
	Rest on water when our wings fail. 
	The sea seeps in everywhere.
	Salt tangles our veins
	dirties our eyes

	You will find me gone
	with no trace of blood or feathers,
	years afterwards you
	will say I was a dove 
	all along, like the bird 
	in your books
	who brought back the news 
	the water is abating
	from the earth's face
	who flew out 
	and did not return again)

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Ruth Jenkins lives in London and writes speculative poetry and interactive fiction on cities, coding and magic. Ruth’s writing has previously appeared in Strange Horizons, Stone Telling, and Verse Kraken.

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