(Listen to the poem here)
Paloma, paloma how many feathers do you have ?
The boy shouts as he hurtles round and round.
And when he sees a feather on the ground
From some dove or ‘paloma’
He rockets straight for it, uncaring that
His course may cross some object
Which has been there, solid and
Stationary, for centuries or years
Or if it intersects the circumspect trajectories
Of the hypnotically bird-watching cats
In their slow orbits around the fountains of the square
Or else careers through
People’s jobs, paths, quests or personal designs.
He ricochets off walls and poles,
Trips over ankles, falls into holes,
Does twisted tangos with entangled maids,
Adjusts his balance clinging onto shirts and braids,
Darts between books and eyes and mouths and pies,
Sprints off stretching his bright blue jumper’s size
To extra extra extra extra large
Impaling it on some passing handlebars.
Each feather bears a cost
In mud and sweat and … here’s
All of a sudden
Some black slipperish thing
On which he starts an asteroidal slide
Which would go on and on and take him shrieking out of sight
But that he bumps into
In her own little outer space.
He pants, sitting on the ground,
“Paloma, How many feathers… ?”
And then Paloma, for it simply is her name,
As if she had been pondering on the stars
Out in some distant galaxy and
Had just been called back to earth:
“Oh, twenty.two or twenty-three”,
She plucks a feather from his hair
Which he had never noticed had been there
“Oh, twenty-three or twenty-four”
She doesn’t have to search for feathers
They come and look for her.
Dispensing a brief, gracious smile
She turns away celestially.
And in the way she tilts her nose
Extends her toes
Tugs at her bows
In all her pose
She’ll always win this game –
And she’s not even trying.
Phillip Hill 2007
(This poem is included in my book The Observation Car which is available from