16 MAY 1992, Page 27

Phil and the Peacock

It was not old age; she was always lame, born in Argentina, to the dazzling dawns, then polio, which caged her in a limp.

She did not marry. She bought children cards till she forgot, grown looser in her skin which yellowed to the colour of the slabs pinning down the weeds of her small garden.

No one answered in the snows. The dustbin rolled, the church's letter told us of her death.

Now I forget her, surely, as she was, her throat in loose folds, like a chrysalis.

It is March. The air is dull, but it grows warmer as I hurry for my daughter, out of school.

Something thin and black lifts from the pavement, a crisp leaf, a survivor of the snow.

The bent legs are slow stilts. I pick it up, thinking it is a battered tortoiseshell.

The great wings are unbroken; as I set it down at her gate the wings dip briefly open.

Blue circles are the peacock's startling eyes.

It has no strength, I'm sure, to walk away.

When I come back, I'll show it to my daughter, lift it in careful cup to our viburnum (above the tawny cat she used to call.) We reach the place, beside the steady stone.

There are roots, a blue crisp-packet, no black wings.

It has crawled to safer darkness. Or has flown.

Alison Brackenbury