That is what it looked like: a bird’s foot. A triangle almost the same colour as the path on which it lay, with an appendage at the apex that could have been the ankle, or the leg.
It should belong to a seagull, a foot of that shape. It is nature’s paddle, flesh instead of toes to propel its owner through the waves.
I once lived in a flat with a skylight, and a seagull used to sit on top of it so all you would be able to see would be its bum and the triangles of its feet underneath it. Around the same time I used to see a pigeon at the bus stop with stumps instead of feet. He hobbled along and got fed by passers-by out of pity. No one knows how he lost his feet. He could have hatched out like that. They might have got infected and rotted away. They might have gone one at a time, so for a while he had to hop.
This foot lying on the pavement looked more like it’d just been taken off, as if it were a slipper for a seagull. Except that seagull don’t wear slippers, and the leg end looked like the result of an encounter with a knife.
As I walk along the pavement I find I cannot avoid the foot, it is all my eye will focus on. It is then that I see it is in fact a fishtail, not a foot at all. It is a triangle the same colour as the path, a fin to propel its owner through the waves.
A bird with no foot can still fly. How can a fish with no tail still swim?
click here to read, or listen to a recording of, New Zealand poet Brian Turner reading ‘Fish’ from his 1992 collection Beyond.
This poem reminds me so much of how as a child I was perplexed by the idea of defining a tree’s age by counting the tree rings in its cross-section, when to do that you’d have to cut the tree down. (Read the poem – you’ll see how the cutting down trees connects with chopping off birds’ feet/fish tails!)
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