The Guardian

That garden of émigrés and locals: sacred
fig, date palm. I was sent to clip the shockhead
orange tree, and dropped the shears when I saw
I’d committed murder: an inch-worm, halved.
        Chubby infant pythons, its four siblings
cowered under leaves. My sister and I salvaged them,
provisioned them with lime-twig offcuts, camouflaged
from sparrows and the boys who dismembered
soldier-ants in Science.
         Seven years since the swarm of Nighthawks
burst the sound-barrier, each bearing its high-
explosive clutch, zeroing on Baghdad. Shots
imaged the troops, mantis-eyed in gas-masks.
         They shredded leaves to veins for a fortnight
then inverted their skins, like the werewolves
that stalked my Grimms’ Tales. Armoured
chrysalids folded their flight.
         North of the border, the local despot unleashed
nerve-gas trialled on insects. Birds fell to earth
from nests, dogs choked on bloody foam; finally,
people hacked up their lungs. That memory still
stung behind the eyelids. When Tornados howled
overhead, their sonic boom detonated the night-
terrors of my sister.
         We watched their eclosion – damp wing-rags
unscrolling like hibiscus petals, the oil-sheen
shot with lemon. I couldn’t say whether their checked
dappling was the likeness of a silk prayer-rug, or
a stained-glass icon. Four chequered swallowtails,
flexing symmetrical wings. We watched each
dart through the doorway, into the flowering
season. A season inconceivable without them.