• Matthew Francis




You crack the shell and think there is yellow in everything.

It has claimed a sector of tablecloth, warms your right hand

as you go prospecting with a teaspoon for liquid yellow,

and scrape a lump of fridge-hard butter across your bread.

A few Easter cards stand on the sill with their yolk-coloured hatchlings,

beside a vase of daffodils blaring through their megaphones.

Not long after the first crocuses fingered through the earth,

the lawn is raging with dandelions. Look at the primroses,

each with a darker star at the centre of its corona,

and the forsythia spraying lemon by the fence.

What are they warning us about with their high-vis signage?

The lane is blazoned with heraldic suns of celandines,

and beacons of gorse and broom catch across the hills.

It’s there in the ring round the eye of a blackbird.

The first brimstone of the year, a floater at the edge of your vision,

dithers like a sunflake cast by a stained-glass window

A bronze thrumming in the cowslips reminds you of honey.

You crack the world and yellow runs out with the green.

Next come the buttercup meadows with their millions in gold,

and then one evening in May you’ll drive down the coast

with the overgrown hedgerows of laburnum on one side of you,

Welsh sheepdung fields hung with accessories by Klimt,

and a blob of yellow on the other, softening into the sea.




Frog, Crow

          after Bashō



Into the old pond

a frog has just launched itself –

the water chirrups.

                                                                A lone crow perches

                                                                on a branch stripped of its leaves

                                                                one autumn evening.

Frog-green, the pond’s skin.

Its black amphibian blood

swirls for a moment.

                                                                Tree dark as a crow,

                                                                and the wind preening them both:

                                                                feathered, featherless.

Most of those bubbles

belch from the pond’s marsh-gas gut –

one swallowed hiccup.

                                                                Deconstructed house,

                                                                all open doors and windows,

                                                                bare beams to sleep on.

Transparent life-forms

tumble in the tsunami,

flailing wisps of limb.

                                                                Once, crows flew like leaves,

                                                                a forest scratched at the skyline

                                                                with its upturned claws.

Cross-channel swimmer

in his wetsuit and goggles

breast-stroking the deep.

                                                                Inky oak apples,

                                                                a fungus hard as a shelf,

                                                                and this excrescence.

Its first home was slime,

its siblngs a soup of eyes.

Now it has legroom.

                                                                Asleep, eyes open,

                                                                on its misericord branch,

                                                                it dreams it’s a crow.

Slug-shiny water

where I caught frogs as a boy:

puddled reflections.

                                                                Long after the splash

                                                                has settled into darkness

                                                                the crow tastes that green.




Liberty Caps


When we rose in the morning the sky was the grey-pink of mushrooms

and we moved through the asphalt gills of the town, feeling our way

to where the fields were. The grass was longer than we expected.

We remembered caravan summers, white presences in the dew.

They are never there till they are, insidious and sudden as daylight,

the Parrot Wax Cap of dawn unfolding its red and orange.

We were looking for the magic Psilocybin, the Liberty Cap,

shaky-stemmed thimbles of hallucinogenic tomfoolery,

but found only an unidentified breakfast, marquees of Field Mushrooms,

aniseed bruisers of Horse Mushrooms, a Renoir dalliance of Parasols,

the Giant Puffball resting its meringue bulk on the field,

a fairy ring of darkened grass as if a cloud was passing inside the earth,

where the fungi stretched out their fibres, while buff pimples broke out on the surface

We’d seen poisoners in pictures, the Yellow Stainer bleeding chrome ink,

the Panther, the pallid droop of the Destroying Angel’s plumage, 

Deathcaps  the queasy green  of a hospital wall. Would we know them in the flesh?

Only the Fly Agaric, a madcap in red-and-white motley,

but it was autumn in the woods when we found those, and we knew better,

avoiding the Russulas with their paintbox colours, green, golden and purple

the Noddy-red caps of the Shining Russula and the Sickener,

and the Trooping Crumble-Caps making their way down a rotten log.

We were looking for the charred trumpet of the Horn of Plenty,

the golden trumpet of the Chanterelle with its fragrance of apricots,

the glazed crust of a Penny Bun shining among leaf crumbs.

In the smell of damp woodwork, the trees braced themselves

on the hardness of brackets and polypores, the  Beeftsteak Fungus, red

as a Sunday joint in a doll’s house, yellow Chicken of the Woods.

We winced from the ooze of Black Witch’s Butter, from Jelly Antlers

from the Shaggy Earth Tongue and the fly-draped phallus of a Stinkhorn,

but found mauve Wood Blewits, the Amethyst Deceiver,

a rubbery Hedgehog with its needles underneath, a Brain Fungus

crinkled and resinous between the roots of a pine.

Earthstars were coming out underfoot, the Rosy Earthstar

peeling and offering itself, inedible fruit on a basket of parings 

the Collared Earthstar on its crumbly, clay-coloured ziggurat

the Arched Earth-star, an H.G. Wells Martian on four straining stilts,

as we made our way back with baskets of slug-fretted fungi,

while the Liberty Caps rioted on the verge by the police station.