As a girl, we lived in a small row of terraced housing on an equally small street with other equally small streets around us, right on the cusp of the country.  Round the corner of our street was a row of houses with an alley set in between them.  I hated going into this alley but the old woman in the end house, right at the bottom, sold odd bits of things, like a cupful of sugar, a jug of milk, a slice of cheese, and every time I went, I was convinced she was a witch, a magician, and I certainly watched my manners when I was stood at her door.


I was always afraid of gypsy alley,
Where, outside the last house
A Linnet in a cage sang its little melodies.
Standing on the doorstep, too frightened to move,
I handed over the coins to pay
For the mashing of black tea I had been sent for,
All the while listening to that little bird singing,
Each note pure as a flower,
Perfect as the seashell in my pocket.

Yet I was glad when a twist of paper,
Tea safely folded in, was pushed into my fingers.
‘I like your Linnet,’ I whispered, and the tough old face,
Beaten into a teak sculpture by the sun, hardened,
Beaky nose and beaky eyes becoming the Linnet,
The gypsy
magician singing my terrified feet
Down the dark alley and onto the street.  

Now, in my bed, candle long since blown out,
Quiet under the starry darkness,
I can hear the gypsy witch singing,
Her Linnet wings fluttering against the window.

                                                ©2020 Gwen Grant


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