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The Swan

after The Swan paintings by Hilma af Klint



No. 1


These birds know love is not 

monochrome / a painless tattoo.

When tentative bill-tips touch

imagine the scope for collaboration,  

what colours might spin

from colliding wings.



No. 2 


A blood communion foreshadows

ecstatic airborne struggle.

Wanton-pink bursts of plosion interrupt 

roughly-brushed lines 

of black-white boundary –

feather play.



No. 3


When confusion arcs towards 

synchronicity, a peace is reached –

worlds twined in cosmic intimacy,

separate entities altered, become one 

multi-winged, dual-hearted, 

tender flying creature.



No. 4


The diagonal past 

penetrates secret, squared-off corners. 

A swan angel transmits a warning memo,

targets exposed flank

where magic knowledge is stowed 

in a safety deposit box



No. 5 


Courtship rituals are repetitive, chaotic

— a day-night disruption of 

rising flame, astral flecks falling,

commingled counter-particles,

linearity forgotten —

a tumultuous, comic strip.



No. 6


An axis is a decision in spiralling time.

Haphazard participants

congregate in ceremonial dance 

clamouring for a perfect kiss.

Choose your player, choose a colour: off-white,

Philip Guston pink, rustic orange, autumn rouge.



No. 7


We’ve been here before

haven’t we? Though something has tilted,

the same necks extended, concurrently reaching

towards a single principle.

Tiles of mass-produced ambitions 

duplicate at a rapid pace.



No. 8


We’ve been here before, haven’t we?

Moon-blue, morning yellow, Venus, Mars etc.

Mathematical nature in all his n hers’ glory,

rings of blank dice suspended in 

a portrait of rival fortune.

Is it getting old yet?



No. 9


Why not reject

what you expect to see?

Instead perceive animal horns,

abacus skirts, women reading 

newspapers in public toilets.

[The feathered texture is constant, uncanny].



No. 10


The feather factory is so pretty  

stocked full of wisps of contrasting down,

bewitchingly still.

A static turbine poses as a flower

portending mischief, flurry —

equipment set up ready.



No. 11


Print & give this image 

to your lover on Valentine’s Day

for an instagrammable romance aesthetic,


a coiling colour continuum.

Ask your lover what bird [if any] it evokes.



No. 12


Turn your reflections upside down.

Notice how the sky ripples,

recall how you always hated

cutting into flawless cakes, 

violating their perfectly iced surfaces.

Break the surface, taste crushing zest.



No. 13


Lovely: softest symmetry, 

egg-timer in silhouette; a moonset backdrop

drained of synthetic-candy-blushing sweetness.

A person could die comfortably here

in pearlescent equilibrium

having almost known bliss [pastel happiness].



No. 14


A one-off encounter in a museum in Stockholm

is not enough to untether pessimism / feed eternal affection.

All the postcards sent since then

have required many quills’ worth of ink.

Your hands are smudged but your mouth 

is as clean & plump as a swan’s breast.



No. 15


A marshmallow moon with a saintly square 

stashed within its gleaming womb 

is an aspiration, a strange amalgam, a means of

avoiding an investigation into nightfall,

an orb of erotic abstraction

to swoop about in.



No. 16


An eye contains a multitude of gazes,

a lock without a single correct combination.

From here in a puckered sphere,

it could be a space baby in ether,

a half-droplet of focal ooze,

a target without an arrow.



No. 17


Wait patiently

& something always changes eventually.

The same subject in a different colour

may represent a different problem / an ajarness.

Keep looking.

Feather-dust your eyes if necessary. 



No. 18


Arrive at an apex —

a tunnel-vision pinnacle with 

an egg-yolk middle

but first traverse bracelets of black, red, blue.

It’s hard, not impossible…

think of all the lovely yellow. 



No. 19


An empty mollusc shell poised centre-stage

whispers through its open-lipped mouth

a message you can’t make out.

Follow its urgent ebbing tone

into the ocean. Wash your 

inky hands in muted rainbow waves.



No. 20


Rotate the shell 

till it becomes an ear.

Confide your brightest secrets in

vivid, easy to swallow segments

inspired by the honesty of playgrounds

[not completely safe]. 



No. 21


When a phallic star spins itself into 

Pokémon abstraction, 

there is a certain satisfaction –

relief in perception abandonment,

3D senselessness you can try to cuddle,

candy-twisted charisma. No hard-feelings.



No. 22


Diamond tapestry

or prism.

So much depends

on what lines your eyes align with.

Wander into ‘empty’ delineated space

criss-crossed by angles / clouded by haze.



No. 23


Which dancefloor in a three-storey

cellophane building should you lay your eggs in?

Such vertical decisions involve 

a process of scanning for swans.

Maybe they only come

if you dance with conviction.



No. 24


No site seems to know 

which way up or down the swans ought to go.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter,

perhaps they were hatched from above, 

or below, eyes closed — a supple 

impression of love.










Note on this poem:

The Swan is an ekphrastic sequence, responding to The Swan, a series of 24 numbered paintings by the Swedish abstract artist and mystic Hilma af Klint, created between 1914-15. 


Af Klint said of her work:
"The pictures were painted directly through me, without preliminary drawings and with great power. I had no idea what the pictures would depict and still I worked quickly and surely without changing a single brush-stroke." 

I wrote the poems reflexively, responding instinctively to the work – viewed in person, in books and online – making minor edits later.

Poppy Cockburn (2023)

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