I’ve seen a real hedgehog only once,
while coming home from the pub.
We’d pulled into the driveway,
and there, in the headlights,
a small, sculptured roly-poly
prickled and stared, breathing
its own Zodiac sign into our mutual
portion of dark.
It had waddled right out
of an English storybook
with small woodland creatures
to scatter its magic in the moonless
garden of elves and trolls,
daring me to become a child again,
to enter a world of spider webs, berries,
and a mythology of hidden gold
in a forest where indecipherable mammals
chatter among themselves in strange tongues.
Turning its pointed snout
towards the car, it met my eyes
in a brief moment of quasi-recognition
before rustling back into the wild
geraniums, leaving the rhubarb
sleeping alongside the garage,
I am once again in a foreign country.
Clipped Anglo-Saxon is spoken here,
motorway traffic reversed, pubs
pull pints for the locals.
The villages are the same,
yet marked by plague,
like Eyam’s doors, where
centuries ago, “x” chalked
on a cottage door meant malady,
where a virus took half the village,
sequestered as they were.
The Vicar’s wife still haunts
the belfry of the parish church,
where death records now lie,
dusty and mildewed, but still
legible, in a book nobody
wants to read.
But for me, this is homecoming
after several years, I who need
brothers and sisters and cousins,
boiled vegetables, seas of roadside
daffodils, birdsong falling like rain,
hillsides glowing neon green.
The chimney swifts speak
the language of larks, and nightingales
answer in the deepening dusk.
Say your prayers. Ask to die like this,
a blackbird asleep among the stars,
as the sun breathes its last among the rills,
and the moon comes out to find me.
Donna Pucciani, a Chicago-based writer, has published poetry in Shi Chao Poetry, Agenda, Meniscus, ParisLitUp, Poetry Salzburg, The Pedestal, and other journals. Her seventh and most recent book of poetry is EDGES.