We had been talking for hours,
When he mentioned
he had seen a sparrow
He wasn’t sure what sort…
But “they are headed north”, he said
to travel with the hours
down a road with coffee pots
Across my back
A creeping heat
turns corners with the sun
and spreads it’s shards across the floor
as the day wears on
I imagine him
chancing this encounter;
tussling through the grape arbor
as he’s heading out
I am in Scotland
When I hear
How all the world descended
upon the southern home
of another friend
To see a rare bird:
And I day-dream
that our sparrow
became this secret vagrant
Drifting the ocean
with my messages
From one friend to another
[The idea of] A Dream: A Story for Nadine Boljkovac
of a dream
There she was;
I dreamt of a dream
And wished it into existence.
Have you ever done that?
something so hard
that time folds back and lets you in?
Just lets you
Close your eyes
And reinvent it?
There was a shuffling in; a fluttering;
a blurring at the brinks
She stood in white light, tipping on her toes
Edging back and forth at the edges of the shadows.
… a disappearance.
And she left. Faded away; just as she had faded in.
And left me
A tilt of the crest,
A flick of the tail
That sparkle in her eye
as she turns
that white eye-ring over her fauny chest
And she lifts her head and looks at me
As she fades away
Into the idea… of a dream.
[The idea of] Hummingbird: A story for Nadine Boljkovac
I think her first visit was on a still summer’s day; her silhouette spun through the sparse marsh trees, like a flipped coin. And was it her, too, that coveted me in the woods? Did she dart like a fly in the sun, warmed enough and moving on, away from me to avoid my noticing? It almost worked. But I think I remember her now; that magical clock-work whisper that I enlisted without my knowing, who follows me, and skips and slips through the chinks of the light, and rides in the folds of time.
She last visited me two days ago. Pinned up, patched down, removed from her usual everywhere. Or, not removed, but duplicated. Copied and copied and copied, and here she is again, cut out of the frame with an X-Acto knife; the skin, peeled back, is lifted out with a pair of fine nosed tweezers and moved, under the view of a microscope, to a new window – a world where her filmy translucent presence is fixed and convex. Stuck down and stitched. Magnified and permanent.
Or, so I thought.
But she is still a dancing silhouette. Omnipresent. She is still spun in those marsh trees, tilting in the heat, resting under glass, always over my shoulder catching stories. She tips her head and lifts herself on rusted limbs, trailing gleaming white-tipped rectrices. Her secrets are so silent even I don’t know them! But she sends them anyway, for me, on iridescent quills, from Florence to Providence, dancing from the wilderness at the edges of my conscious.
“We got a story!”, he says, afterwards. “[T]hat, right there, was a story!”
The light is falling, into the river, with the sun.
They are washing down-stream together; lighting up the trees and the skyline where we just were; smoking cigarettes and chatting on the back porch.
We walk through the wood, scoping out perching places for big cats; imagining cougars.
As dusk sinks into night, we emerge onto the shore and lay out our munitions on the rocks. I try some test shots; shooting into the glooming, seeing the eyes of animals blacken and dance in front of me.
Slate shale breaks beneath our feet as we head towards the waterfall, carrying our armaments and uniforms, and climb the rock face to a ledge where the river is roaring and leaping fiercely into the night.
He is laying at the edge of the outcrop. His right flank pressed against cool rock, his striped face turned; wide eyed.
I can barely see him. But his white stripes cast phantom spirits in the dark that dance and fall through the torrents, and scatter through the trees.
In my mind, I am lining up my aim. But my feet are ginger and fumbling as they edge back, dipping into pools and sinking through moss.
Outside this blanket of river mist, nothing else exists. We are torn out from the edges of this basin, and pinned up, just below the night sky.
The spirits dance in the white torrents,
but I don’t look.
I am fixed on the space where he is.
And then I shoot.
And those wide eyes leap out.
The Predator Dance happened
It happened like this...
They battled, hard
There were furs
And antlers and jewels
They always do.
Footsteps in Snow
We pass the frozen lake
Our footprints in the snow, on the ice
Where yesterday we ventured out.
We pass the place where
With arms and legs spread-eagled
At the booming judder of cracking ice
And carefully stepped back to shore
And climbed into the snowy bank
And continued up
Through tall trees and thick snow.
Higher, we pass the sleeping places
Of two deer
We stopped then
And glanced back at the house
And imagined them sleeping there
In those icy flats, while we slept,
We investigate the boathouse.
The wooden floors, the steps to levels, the storage space
The sitting place where, in summer, you can overlook the lake.
But we are in down jackets with woolen mittens,
And we notice the chew holes in the ceilings where tiny animals have crept
And we notice the draft from the door, and the chill in the bedroom.
Along the road
Where the track leads out to the highway
And the sun meets us, and sparkles the ground
We track animals.
We see more traces…
Two toes, scraped back, into the heel of a hand
And then we see there are not two toes
And it looks like the print of a small bear.
For a while we track it;
Enjoying each others company
Enjoying the sun
And sparkling snow, and chatter
And then they seem to disappear
And so do we
Away from the highway
And back, towards the lake
A door screen slams as we near the house
“Did you guys call 911?”
A perplexed shuffle.
A momentary silence.
As we enter the house
The smells of Christmas wrap around us
And pull us through the timbre-clad hallways
And into the kitchen
As the snow on our boots shifts into water.
“Someone reported a body in the woods”,
And there is silence.
Ten dogs… and silence.
And then we realize
What we saw
“There was this weird thing”
And then we tell them
About the footsteps in the snow.
As we approach Wayne’s house
Our eyes move over the small pale building
A truck. A small van.
Falling into disrepair.
Such a pretty day.
Says our companion
“No.” We say.
The sky, through the tall pines
Is a flat blue
Curling paler towards its edges
And everything looks new
There is a black and white squad car
And the sheriff’s buff and hazel nut Chrysler
With gold trim.
Wayne wedges himself
In the small space
He has created
Between his door
And the fly screen.
For a moment
The shoulder of a policeman is visible behind him
And it drops away, slowly,
“just thought the police might want to know.”
And Wayne stares at us for a second
With vacant, glassy eyes. Tired eyes.
And then he says
“Patty’s been here all morning!”
“Well, that was weird!”
As we retrace our own tracks.
On the highway, the sun is still sparkling
As our feet crunch again
The shady side of the verge.
We track, first back, then forward.
The footsteps seemed to emerge from our road,
But there is no sign further in.
They pace a little way
Leaving reliefs in the thin snow
They leave us all together.
We search for a while
But they are gone.
Cars pass steadily
Drip-fed, like molasses
But a gap opens up
And I look into it
I see a track on the other side of the wide road
In a curve
And turning over the snowy bank
Down towards some buildings.
That flat blue sky is still even
Fading to its edges
Is still lighting a little heat
Into the snow
As we search
One of us says
To the others
“That storage unit has been forced
With a crowbar”
A pick-up truck pulls into the hard shoulder
On the side we just left
And a man is climbing out
Back-lit by the sun that is spooling through a gap between the trees.
I see a man crossing the road towards us
And I wonder – why?
But then I see him smiling at us
I know this man.
“I saw some idiots, hanging by the road,”
“And then I realized, wait!
I know those idiots!”
Outside the storage unit
There are no footsteps
But one of us calls the police
“They came to my dad’s house,” he says,
They said they called from 16680
But no one knows where that is…
Yes, Highway 54
No, we don’t know who made the call”
We watch him
Clutching the borrowed phone to his ear
Furrowing his brow,
“No!” he says
“It was my brother-in-law
And his friend
Who saw the footsteps
In the snow
Oh, sure! You can call me!
But this is not my cell …”
He hangs up
We split into groups.
“Something’s weird.” he says as we walk to his truck.
“Yeah”, I say.
And he keeps talking all the way home;
“I only met the wife a couple o’ times,”
You just never know”
Butterfly on a pin
A small white horseshoe crab moves in a thick glass aquarium in the Hancock Museum, Newcastle, UK. Cast, in a beautiful royal blue light, she pulses her gills, and balances on her tail spine as she beats her five pairs of spidery legs. She is perfectly evolved. She has remained unchanged for an estimated 350 million years. Her arachnid body breaths with lungs, her copper rich blood flows with endotoxins that protect her from infection in case of attack. The only species that can penetrate her tough shell are turtles, sharks and humans. Her alien motion is hypnotic.
It is unusual to find living animals in museums. But, when animals are encountered out of their contexts, they incite such voyeurism; the alien; the freak; theWunderkammer of life. She is a butterfly twisting on a pin.
Outside our house the North Sea slips past; back and forth – the tidal pull of fish and men. The bank – on their side – slips with silt and ships and, further down, fishing boats. Our side is a fertile bed of razor grass and sea beat. When the July sun is high, heat beating into the dried grass and shimmering above the boat house, a symphony is commissioned along the bank that seems to drive the daily turning of events. The Buzz.
The board walk clatters beneath my feet over throngs of electric clock-work hoppers. They oversee the fishermen: three old-timers that crouch at the edge of the rushing tide. One stands to reach for his line – the sun flashes blind on his silver braces buckle, pressed to the centre of his back.
The Buzz is the perpetual state of the sun on the river bank.
The gulls are washing past in ribbons – the tide spinning and twisting them in streams. They cannot hear The Buzz, but it commands them all the same – drawing them in, tempting their curiosity. It expands into new ground: where fruit factories have given way, finally, to tall waving sun bleached grass.
LN57, a sky blue and vanilla cream fishing boat casts past, heading open-sea-ward on the high tide. The day-glow orange jackets of her crew fade into rust as they pass the docks. They are pulled by The Buzz, pulled along the bank, past the church spire topped by the ever watchful cockerel, straining up skyward to overlook it.
Cormorant green in the fishing trawler wake, lamenting gulls above the telegraph hum. Timbre banks itself, washed from the wood yard amongst it. Seals on the outgoing tide. Razor grass blue. Greyling butterflies flick their warning eyes at hoverflies and bees. All, rotary to The Buzz.
I am pulled down the bank. Around my feet they jump and fly, dry grass pricking at my toes – a deformed specimen catches my eye; one leg curled like a withered leaf. He cannot buzz. He is pale, sea bleached, green and brown – almost translucent. Almost.
Two of the fishermen wade their way through to retrieve their stashed bicycles – tucked into the sea beat under the board walk. They leave their friend – white haired, brown skinned, surrounded by The Buzz.
Eventually, as the temperature drops and the breeze lifts off the water, a subduing wash is thrown over the opus. It knocks it back, into the subconscious. The Mary Angela draws another wake – a white butterfly beats frantically against the broken surface relief and plummets headlong into the dormant drones.
In the end it is inevitable – as the foot ferry putters in I join the lifting buzz – the tern twist and dive. White gulls still spin high above – soap suds in a blue whirl pool: clockwork cogs - driving on.