THE HOST OF THE HOLLY To a host of sparrows, home is the holly bush…. By the end of December, between storms, the twilight sound of it tastes like raisins, orange rind. The following morning, each bird claims its place on the neighbouring rooftop – sensing the river, the Exe, which has risen with the downpour. The plumpness that comes is an East Devon herring gull: the purpose is to bully, to usurp the community perch. But the host is used to this: its rapid wings carry it to and fro between ridge and ridge – till the game becomes dull. Whenever a bird flies solo from its line – perhaps to alight on the cowl or the aerial – familiar sidesteps close the gap. In spite of the heft of her tartan trolley, her birdcage umbrella, the woman treads quietly on the twilight pavement: she approaches the feathery belly of the holly – its prickly guards. An only child, she is drawn towards extended families: she choreographs for community dancers: her poems are appreciated most when read aloud. Copyright © JENNY JOHNSON First published in Poetry Salzburg Review