My wife Caroline and I live next to the Woodberry Down Wetlands Centre in North Hackney which was closed during the first lockdown. As a 72-year-old with health issues, I regularly walked our dog along the nearby River New footpath for exercise and to raise my spirits. In Spring the diverse local community became obsessed with the wellbeing of a pair of nesting swans, with a degree of intensity way above that in a ‘normal’ year as if their successful breeding could mitigate our anxiety and give us all cause for hope. Rituals emerged as we learned to make adjustments for social distancing while seeking prime positions to observe the swans. I drafted, and constantly re-drafted, the sonnet ‘Swannet’ to try and evoke something of the swans’ activities and struggles, while exploring the behaviour of our community of watchers.

Throned on last years nest, eggs descended,

Her neck charmed by the reeds to coil 

Among them while her cob forages a few feet away,

Refurbishment the task from which they do not stray. 

We onlookers on the pilgrim-punctuated path  

Cast peas, potato peels and too much bread.

Clicking like well-intentioned paparazzi 

Marshalled by an eight-year-old, “Two metres, please.”

Her sibling pleads indignantly, “Why can’t I play football on the grass!”

Brushed by sweating runners as if speed defies effect

We shuffle nervously to adjust our line. 

Suddenly, she’s fending off a rat attack, wings raised,

A gasp till eggs all counted and regained,

Their living has become our life-sustaining aim.


©Greg SpiroLondonJune 2020 [email protected]

Short-listed for Fish Publishing Lockdown prize

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