Reading Leaves

A change of wind brings a few foreign leaves,
skimming the hedge and the dustbins,
landing on my lawn like splashes of blood.
I pick one up and try to read it, but the message
is in a language of reds I can't decipher.
Its texture is of folded money, suggesting
a climate of plenty, wild parrots, a generous sky.

I set off to find the source: south-west,
somewhere beyond the school and the shoe factory.
I follow the scent of warmth and wealth,
leaving the town centre, the municipal buildings.
Then I'm lost in a tract of tower-blocks
and boarded-up shops, a children's playground
with broken glass, the stump of a roundabout.
I carry my red leaf as a guarantee.
A young mother shrugs. Try the bloke in the hat -
he's not from round here either.

He leans forward on the concrete bench,
takes the leaf in his palm, squints a long moment.
He speaks, and the wind freshens in reply.
Litter tumbles about the playground,
washing strung across balconies creaks and flaps.
And here they come: a flock of red leaves
circling, stepping down the grey air,
settling like rumours on his coat,
his boots, the bench, the broken ground.


From Hard Water (Jonathan Cape, 2003), copyright © Jean Sprackland 2003, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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Jean Sprackland

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1Note from the Outside

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2Hard Water

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3Fibre Optics

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4Reading Leaves

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5The Apprentice

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6The Currency of Jellyfish

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7The Light Collector

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8The Room of Saints and Virgins

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9Seacoal

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10Losing the Dark

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11Holy

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12No Man's Land

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13Barbie on the Roof

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14Lovell Radio Telescope, Jodrell Bank

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15The Hairdresser's Across the Street

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16And They All Lived Happily Ever After

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17A Baby in the Filing Cabinet

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18Before There Were Weather Forecasts

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19Caravan

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20The Man who Comes to Empty the Bottle Bank

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21Shocks

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22A Hangman's New Career

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23The Mission

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24An Old Friend Comes to Stay

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25Everything Must Go

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26Shadow Photograph

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27Learning to Love Money

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28Teaching Frogs to Fly

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29Deadnettle

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30In the Planetarium

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31Radio Silence

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32Tattoos for Mothers' Day

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33Ice on the Beach

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34You

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35Physics

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36Spilt

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37Underfire

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Books by Jean Sprackland