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Sparrow

 

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

 

our words

continue

to travel with the hours

down a road with coffee pots

and memories

of stairwells

 

Across my back

A creeping heat

turns corners with the sun

and spreads it’s shards across the floor

as the day wears on

 

the sparrow,

we determine

Is white-throated.

 

I imagine him

migrating;

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:

 

a white

throated

sparrow.

 

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

 

I dreamt

of a dream

 

And

There she was;

this bird.

 

I dreamt of a dream

And wished it into existence.

 

Have you ever done that?

Have you

Imagined

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 dance

A dally

A marvel

A ball

 

And then…

… a disappearance.

 

And she left. Faded away; just as she had faded in.

And left me

With this:

 

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

 

Holds it

Reticently

But steady

As she fades away

 

Into… me.

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.




Tiger

  

“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. 




Wither

 

The Predator Dance happened

It happened like this...

They came

They ran

They battled, hard

There were furs

And claws

And antlers and jewels

They won.

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

We stopped

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 smiled

 

And glanced back at the house

And imagined them sleeping there

In those icy flats, while we slept,

Too.

 

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 hats

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…

Of deer…

And then

Something else.

 

Two toes, scraped back, into the heel of a hand

And then we see there are not two toes

But five

And it looks like the print of a small bear.

 

For a while we track it;

Half hearted

Enjoying each others company

Enjoying the sun

And sparkling snow, and chatter

 

And then they seem to disappear

And so do we

Turning left

Away from the highway

And back, towards the lake

 

A door screen slams as we near the house

“Did you guys call 911?” 

“No!”

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”,

They say

And there is silence.

Eight people

Ten dogs… and silence.

 

And then we realize

What we saw

Bare feet.

Human feet.

 

“You know,”

We say

“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

Several cars

A truck. A small van.

Falling into disrepair.  

 

Such a pretty day.

 

“Just footprints?”

Says our companion

“No blood?”

“No.” We say.

“No blood.”

 

The sky, through the tall pines

Is a flat blue

Curling paler towards its edges

And everything looks new

And old.  

 

Outside

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,

Into shadows.

 

“Well, anyway…”

We say

“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!”

We say

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

 

Sometimes disappearing

And then

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

Leading away

In a curve

And turning over the snowy bank

Down towards some buildings.

 

That flat blue sky is still even

Fading to its edges

The sun

Is still lighting a little heat

Into the snow

As we search

 

“Hey,”

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,”

He says

“And then I realized, wait!

I know those idiots!”

 

Outside the storage unit

There are no footsteps

But one of us calls the police

Just incase

 

“They came to my dad’s house,” he says,

“Yes!

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

Pace around

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,”

He says;

“Seemed nice;

Quiet…

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.



The Buzz

 

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.

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