Of the bird you pocketed last summer
to drive one-handed home, I remember
little but how sheer the tender sheen
on long probing toes and legs, slippery to grip,
delicate and wilful as a clutch of baby snakes.
A versatile design of pale lime scales
had been messed up, intercut with twine, a threat
to paint-thin skin tightening on flesh
bloating out between the hobble-net, like whey
through a straining cloth, or an overspill
of thigh above a stocking top.
Darkening her face, you held the creature still.
I fetched my strongest glasses, lacework scissors,
nuzzled steel under the bind, each snip a risk
– the dainty blades like tailor’s shears
snapping round our whippet’s leg –
unravelling the lazy fisher’s web.
Half my task was palming off her squirmy stride,
as filaments of limp nylon piled,
flesh refilled itself, and her limbs flexed
their prehistoric elegance, lithe again and free
of any scathe to skin or feather
when you slipped her back into the river.
‘Moorhen’ appears in Fay Musselwhite’s debut collection Contraflow. Listen to Musselwhite reading this poem on the banks of the river Rivelin, Sheffield: