Battledore and Shuttlecock
The shuttlecock soars upward
In a parabola of whiteness,
And sinks to a perfect arc.
Plat! the battledore strikes it,
And it rises again,
Winged and curving,
Tracing its white flight
Against the clipped hemlock-trees.
Orange and sparkling with sun,
Rounding under the blue sky,
Fading to grey-green
In the shadow of the coned hemlocks.
"Ninety-one." "Ninety-two." "Ninety-three."
The arms of the little girls
Come up — and up —
Like mechanical toys.
The battledores beat at nothing,
And toss the dazzle of snow
Off their parchment drums.
Back and forth
Goes the shuttlecock,
Leaping at the sharp-edged clouds,
Tinctured with pink
From the upthrusting shine
Of Oriental poppies.
The little girls sway to the counting rhythm;
Yellow heat twines round the handles of the battledores,
The parchment cracks with dryness;
But the shuttlecock
Swings slowly into the ice-blue sky,
Heaving up on the warm air
Like a foam-bubble on a wave,
With feathers slanted and sustaining.
Until the earth turns beneath it;
Poised and swinging,
With all the garden flowing beneath it,
Scarlet, and blue, and purple, and white —
Blurred colour reflections in rippled water —
Changing — streaming —
For the moment that Stella takes to lift her arm.
Then the shuttlecock relinquishes,
And the sharp blue spears of the air
Thrust it to earth.
Again it mounts,
Stepping up on the rising scents of flowers,
Buoyed up and under by the shining heat.
Above the foxgloves,
Above the guelder-roses,
Above the greenhouse glitter,
Till the shafts of cooler air
Past the greenhouse,
Past the guelder-rose bush,
Past the foxgloves.
"Ninety-nine," Stella's battledore springs to the impact.
Plunk! Like the snap of a taut string.
The shuttlecock drops zigzagedly,
Out of orbit,
Hits the path,
And rolls over quite still.
Dead white feathers,
With a weight at the end.