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Witness

CHRISTINE COLEMAN

The trees are doubly bright and upside down
dangling from the ceiling of the lake
the day they see the swans.

Something unspoken between
them is starting to grow – a mirrored
tilt of head, a certain look, an open palm.

They watch them glide together side by side
into a kind of dance, their necks precisely
matching curve with curve. And now

those thick white ropes are intertwined.
She sees the gesture as a knot of love
and he, a biological imperative –

what they witness next is violence.
She bites her lip to block the words
no wonder myth interprets that as rape.

He slips from her. She doesn’t fly away, or
dip her head to forage in the mud. What
follows now becomes a further truth –

face to face, they rise up from the surface
of the water – their gleaming breasts are
resting on each other’s. Their necks

are craning up towards the sky, and beaks,
upheld like palms in greeting, touch.
It takes a while before they realise

where that deep-throated call
is coming from. Their fingers lock, until
the final echo of the swans’ duet has faded.

‘Witness’ won third prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2017).