Sport 35: Winter 2007
Black curved swallows were everywhere
that late summer. Sleek fighter pilots
with no regard for buttoned-down cottages,
aerials or smart renovations,
they zoomed between roof and tree,
then out to sea and back again.
When black arrows whizzed through
the wide doors of our rented house,
it was like they'd darted through our bodies.
We felt the ocean flood the rooms.
The huge kitchen, with its green island
of steel sinks and impenetrable oven,
was no hiding place. What saved me was how
you cradled the lost fluttering ones
in your hands. On the deck, again and again,
you launched a shivering bird into the air.
One morning you instructed me
to put three birds in a poem.
'Look—evenly spaced', you said.
I reluctantly admitted there were
three grey birds, evenly spaced,
on a black wire. 'A haiku perhaps?'
You grinned. Smartarse, I thought.
'And put in the mist!' Grey mist rolled
over the sky. For days afterwards,
I fretted about what I would put in.
Something in me believed that if we saw
the penguins, the missing harmony between us,
the birds and the ocean would be restored.
Seeing a penguin, in its solemn suit, would give us
our place of ease. One freezing afternoon,
we drove the winding road to the cliff's edge.
In the wooden hide, carefully ignoring
the other people, we lifted heavy, metal binoculars.
One penguin stood high above the steel sea.
While seals flopped in and out of the water,
and we pressed into the binoculars until our eyes hurt,
the stately bird shuffled two steps up its cliff.
When I heard the scrabbling sound
and wheeled to see the little swallow
dancing in the woodstove's metal firebox,
all I could think, stupidly, was
'It looks like an astronaut.' The squat
swollen box with its stained glass,
was the bird's helmet, and through it
we stared at each other—both of us, alien.
I stared wordlessly at the woodstove
then recovered my voice. You opened the firebox door
and cupped the agitated swallow until it escaped
and flew against the glass. We placed
the dazed bird outside on the wooden table.
For a long time it sat unmoving
looking in at us. What did we look like—
two people in a rented house, pretending
they lived beside an ocean of grey brushstrokes?
All we could see was our reflection
in its dark bird eye.