What can I tell my son to help him sleep?
The narratives of grief are still unripe:
a song of hammers in the pale dark.
I could tell him how the pine trees work to bear
their cones, to write the book of their ancestors
among sharp needles: the strange-looking fists

and fistulas that the slow green sap feeds.
I could tell him the shade is saner than the light,
despite what they tell us about ‘gloom’.
The darkness is more honest. It listens harder, too.
He knows that, he feels that, in August’s airless room
when all the world is changed by dulled

night-vision and the sparkling in his owl-ears.
I could tell him that the nascent cones break
out in the pine limbs as though sorrow
could take on form. Or is it only that I see
grief everywhere? I open the window.
Outside, the parched trees creak with the weight

of stories that are slowly losing sense.
How to be a tree without rain?
How to climb a mountain if a mountain isn’t there?
He can’t sleep until the story ends, he says.
Outside, the hammer keeps pounding the nail.
But what are we building, if it’s not a future?

I can’t tell him what I see with my eyes closed –
the many mouths pushing up against
a dry earth, as though they were fish at the edge
of a pond, and they cannot breathe.
What they say, I can’t hear, relentlessly –
the membrane between us will not yield.

My son asks if it’s a door banging in the wind.
He says he sees a figure standing by his bed.
I could tell him we live in a porous world
and that the door is never closed.
But we still must sleep, I say. I know you’re afraid.
What ripens the cone if it is not hope?

Jemma Borg trained as an evolutionary geneticist. Her first collection, ‘The illuminated world’, was published by Eyewear in 2014 and won the inaugural Fledgling Award. She won the Rialto/RSPB Nature and Place Competition in 2017.