The Greenfinch in the Garden

I was five the day I first discovered death.
A cat-got songbird on the lawn, frail, prone,
some final beauty to a mangled chest
that had been crushed mid-flight, a life undone;
I found a counting in my numbered breaths.

I carried the body about with me,
smoothing short feathers on the perfect head,
alive with a new-born empathy –
and then Dad saw us. Wash your hands. He said.
Instead I made a grave by the chestnut tree.

Once burial was done, I fled to my room,
sat cross-legged by the boarded fire-place
and one by one imagined every future tomb;
each person I loved in a cold tight space,
their eyes limed over into sightless stones.

I stayed, there stuck in this enormity,
until, again, Dad came along, saw tears
and sat to share the carpet, growing kindly.
He listened as I gabbled out my fears;
why live at all when death’s a certainty?

He did not laugh, or speak of God Above.
Instead he put a huge arm round my shoulders
and silently reminded me of love.
Then he said, why live? Well, for each other.
Besides, we’ve all got so much left to prove.

judi bailey - Greenfinch_judi


Poet: Ruth Irwin. Illustrated by Judi Bailey

‘The Greenfinch in the Garden’ was placed Second for the Poems Please Me Prize 2015.

Ruth Irwin is a poet from London. She recently finished an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths, and currently works as a Teaching Assistant in an East London secondary school. Visit Ruth’s e-zine here  – a new (Nov 2015) project with a friend.

See other illustrations of this and all winning and commended poems in our eBook Red on Bone


3 Responses to The Greenfinch in the Garden

  1. Melissa Gurdus Meiselman says:

    Ruth, you told my story! I was very moved by your words.

  2. Ash Dean says:

    Hello Ruth,

    Your poem has beautiful balance and excellently controlled rhythm. I also love the contrast in the lines…

    “and then Dad saw us. Wash your hands. He said.
    Instead I made a grave by the chestnut tree.”


    Best wishes,

  3. Robert Searle says:

    Hi Ruth,

    I really enjoyed this poem about death. However it is very reminiscent of a certain Larkin poem. Maybe try and channel your poetic voice more in the future. Look forward to it. R x

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