Willow Pattern

Two toads laid out in the sun,
parchment skin vacuum shrunk

clutching at dirt, didn’t make it
to the shifting inch of shade

where a boat teeters on its hull.
The river has drunk itself. Only

photographers on the bridge,
ornamental now. Since the stink

of algae lost its grip, most of us
take the riverbed, mud channels

gone from curdled to craquelure.
A tour guide touts for punters

keen to hear of the hanging trees,
messages in bottles, suicides.

He used to work the docks, out
catching eels by night. Ask him

about the beached shells of tankers,
trawlers, container ships hulked out

by the estuary, sinking. Watch him
blink away dust, unable to weep.



Robin Houghton