The dead one lies sprawled at the edge of the road by the ragged green verge of grass and buttercups and weeds in an attitude of sleep, its head tucked under forepaws as if to block out this sudden bad that has happened, wringing all the good light out of everything: the day itself, the two gleaming onyx eyes, the brain that was never still till it was done, then nothing to be done about it. Earlier this morning I’d seen the live one, a young one, pause outside our bedroom window and nibble, with infinite delicat-esse, the fresh parsley sprouts sprung from a patch of brown earth, then turn its attention to some nodding anonymous green weed-stalks and blades of grass and—when it stopped to look about—I could see the chalk-white triangular blaze blazoning its bulging fore-head, and how all the rinsed light of the rain-swept day this creature seemed so at home in was shining out of its two onyx-bright, live, ready-for-anything eyes.
Jet-winged, swallow-tailed, their tufted heads ending in beaks pointed as arrow-tips, these young terns (white foreheads bright as meer-schaum) are learning their life while a black-crowned parent hovers, swoops, and makes a sound half-way between a rusty gate and the clear call of any anxious parent urging the child on, so the young birds themselves cry out—high-pitched, shrill, excited, their flap-wings blurring over the slightly tide-ruffled cobalt water—and stay aloft like that, reading the deep, until one spots an underwater glitter and banks and pauses and then (wings folded fast as any falcon’s) drops projectile-like and clips into the wave, disappears for an instant, then zips back out to light, light that glitters on the little wriggling silver life that’s instantly swallowed while the killer shakes from off its wings a spray-cascade and all begins again: the parent rising satisfied into its own gyre and hovering there, then curving away to wherever the sea-breeze takes it.
That gannet patrolling the tempest-tossed whirlblasted air off the foreshore beats southeast against the southeast gale to achieve elevation then banks, swoops low on slim stiff wings, to rise once more and scan open water: the snow-white whiter than sea-foam widespan of its two wings downgliding to shave dark water and rise again again on upbeating wings in the aerodynamic beauty of flesh feather flight to be a single thing of wonder when it stops a second still aloft then stoops and plunges: a thick white missile with black wingtips pointed head and yellow beak all miraculously assembled into one single sharp light-snagging killing machine clean-cleaving the surface and vanishing with hardly a splash—just a small white curdling of water so I can see nothing but dark flat water far out and (in closer) the sea’s undulant pale green over sandy shallows . . . till the bird breaks back to this storm-beaten day in which I walk the empty shoreline to watch it begin again patrolling, waiting, holding fast: an assemblage of yellow-eyed patience and oaring wing: keen, eager-eyed and intent for its next entrance.
Entering Omey with Rachel and Kira
So we’re on to the great wide wet sand-expanse of low-tide Omey Island. First we cross the pools and ridges left by the vanished tide, then on to the Island itself, a haven in this sunny late-September quiet, the light itself grown sandy where we advance between hedges and low stone walls bird-voice-sweetened by blackbirds and the frantic gabble-tongues of young starlings ganging together then curling over our heads in their mottled widespread glimmernet of wings where fuchsia, ferns, gorse, briars and bracken blazon their sober greens and spiky extensions, and where a host of wild-flowers and weeds are elbowed every which way by a sweet south-easter cooling our hot faces, then it’s the sight of a white flotilla of swans sailing wide-winged and stately on the nameless lake of painted blue on which their whiteness glows heraldic, and on we go so, past a clean pasture of self-enraptured heifers who move in slow motion and—unlike the rest of us doubt-troubled souls—seem sure of their own certainties (the ground they stand on, the fact of grass), though they too will be fooled in the end by what’s ahead of them . . . then we’re crossing seawards again and there’s the ease of going into a great silence broken only by the soft aura-slap of the light breeze against our ears and by the high-pitched whine of flies, gold-flecked, cruising the ruins of St Feichín’s church, as their fly ancestors haunted its stony nooks and singing aisles when brown-cowled and tonsured monks (wrapped against the cold of a wintry blast or the salt-burn of a good summer) circled chanting . . . and it’s here we snap photos of the three of us together, before entering again into the good air-engrossing silence, each of us remembering our own dead . . . and on so, over the green strands of grass (sheep-cropped, breeze-shaken) till we stop to admire the single brilliance of the bright candle-heads of yellow asters, and to force a foot-crushed clump of chamomile to release its scent like a blessing of incense to us where we stand in the ordinary daily-changing everlasting island air. . . .
Panta rhei . . .
These fieldstones and big rocks fallen from the rough garden wall before our cottage must have come down in last night’s heavy rain and lie there like stilled bodies this morning. Trying without much hope to set all back in place, I was thinking as I picked and placed large stones and small—all crooked angles and solid mass—of the man who, with his neighbours, built it first, and I was marveling at how it has stood for a hundred years or so and only now, while I slept, has it fallen—to say in its own stony way how everything flows, nothing stays solid forever. The biggest rock, a huge head-shaped mass of granite, resembles a man-creature turned to stone (petrified brow, nose, mustache, cheek and mouth) and squats there staring in at us through one window with a grim half-smile that says there’s no putting this Humpty Dumpty together again, and I can think only of the hands that dug in under it and released it from boggy black earth and manhandled it, hoisting it into place, an anchor-stone, and saying (in Irish or in English) as they did: That’s it so and no budge at all out of it now is there? Like any stone idol, the head says nothing, only stares in the window I’m staring out of at it and at that makeshift mend I’ve made in hope, while the fuchsia flowers, like supplicants offering obeisance at one god’s altar or another, go on gleaming over it.