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A Boat-Shape of Birds.

a sequence.

.

By DARAGH BREEN.

“an Augur and his boy stand in the growing dark”

as he tries to teach him
how to read
the hands of the gods
prospecting
among the bird movements
sieving for nuggets

Every evening the pigeon man
at the top of the Southern Road
releases his birds to flock
in ever-increasing concentric haloes
above the crossroads, the bridge
and the South Link Road.

They expand
ever slowly
for a half-hour or so,
before beginning to contract again,
as if around the plughole
of their ramshackle shedding.

“a deer’s cry”

Did you hear it? —— The echo
from when Armstrong pierced the moon
with his harpoon, it finally having fallen
to earth as slow as millennia-dead starlight,
and you and the new others decided to don
deerskins as you slipped into the fog’s song
your pelts turning moist, a procession of
heavy antlers among the already dead trees
wary of Death and its whistling steel

that Thursday lunchtime that I collected you
and dropped you at the hospice,
you proudly shuffling to the reception desk
to check-in in your tracksuit,
my mother staying with you,
and as I headed back to work
there was nothing significant to see
nothing metaphorical in the sky,
where were all my birds, I thought

but four days later
when your body finally
gave up its death-gasp,
you went under
and so deep within
that you could see all the whales
carrying those old rusting harpoons
around the ocean centuries after those
that had impaled them had died.

Winter wears its caul,
from a moving train
a tree standing alone in snow
as if the world has been burnt away
around it,
the train moving backwards
through Time
bearing the bodies of the thieves,
dressed only in falconry hoods,
their twinned Crosses strapped tightly
among the bicycles,
when above a darkening field
a crow hovering on stalled wind
slid forward
———— and dropped
down
——- from its shelf
into an utterly different world.

 

“Death enters through the West-Gate”

As the seagulls reign over the city
in a rotating crown of noise,
and the crows, at a lower realm,
unfurl the banners of
their raucousness from the tops
of bins and traffic lights,
protective of their domains through
which the pigeons constantly migrate,
none of them seem to be aware
of this morning’s heron, outside the
English Market, having entered the city
along one arm of the river from the west,
hunched down into its own befuddlement,
haunted by whatever had possessed it
to witch it here, on a busy street, stock-still
and revealed by late September’s light
in its nicotine bedragglement, like
smoke-stained wax
torn from the lumpy rim of a wine bottle
with two thin rills that had run loose
holding it incomprehensibly upright,
someone’s Death caught bewildered
and unawares, having momentarily
forgotten who it has come for.

“leaving Island Crematorium, ringed with birds”

And the mind like the frantic
thrashing tussle of a horse
swimming in water, as seen
from beneath, its legs like
molten oars in the bubbled
wax of the river, and in reach-
ing upwards for its buoyancy,
my arms become cast in tallow,
slowly stiffening ghostly arms
inching up into ghosted realms

and then coming ashore with
your story from when you
were five years old, the night
your neighbour three fields
over died, and you went to
ask your mother why he was
knocking on your upstairs
bedroom window, and your
mother, who had grown-up
in a pre-electricity countryside,
gathered you and your brother
into her bed until your father
came home from the wake.

They came to embalm
the dead tree,
caulking it with Natron
and then waiting 40 days
for the trunk to dehydrate.
Once the chalked armour was broken off
it was wrapped tightly in linen
and placed length-ways across
two carpenter’s trestles,
uncarved and unadorned,
no-longer able to seep or weep.
As they mourned this white column
a crow hovering on stalled wind
slid forward
———— and dropped
down
——- from its shelf
into an utterly different world.

“a sudden movement of crows over a distance of only about 20 yards”

In the next field
about a hundred of them
lifted off the ground and began
to swirl
like the twisted hem
of a skirt

the air full of the anxious sounds
of gulls above a hull of mackerel

then they passed in a low cortège
over our bungalow
and steadied as if one
to dock against the giant dark wall
of the Leylandii

and then just as suddenly
fell silent
once more
as if returning to mourn for existence.

“what words sparked the crows from the silence of the ground?”

As their myriad black forms
rose from late September’s field
and stalled there briefly,
just hanging,
pinned to autumn’s light

and the realisation
that we were left bearing
a carcass of words without meaning

as when the God-lie was detected
on observing a parasitic wasp,
meticulously crafted and designed,
inject her eggs
deep within a caterpillar
giving her off-spring an instant
feast of beast
from which to emerge
with fulsome
fluttering translucent wings.

One Easter,
having been haunted by days
of constant scratching,
we removed the steel plate
from the ash-box of our stove
and one still-living crow dragged
itself out into the light, crashing again and
again against glass until finding the door.
We removed another two,
dead and embedded in a huge crown
of twigs and branches, and
as we buried them, above us,
a crow hovering on stalled wind
slid forward
———— and dropped
down
——- from its shelf
into an utterly different world.

“a boat-shape of birds rows itself across the sky”

For months after you died
I tried to describe the birds
above the city as I stared out
from within a sheep’s skull,
knowing that the light had gone
to weed and would soon ivy
with night. But all that I saw
was dust, kicked-up by the
ghosts of white dancing Spanish
horses,
——- and as it fell, it was
briefly paused, as the world
itself was briefly stalled in its
fall from orbit,
————– and in the
void I could hear the sound of
emptiness as melancholic as
whale-song, its vast distances
suddenly recognisable as the
dust of stars became visible
on the manes of these Celestial
horses, paused for our lifetime
in their own brief moments,
as their spirits switched direction.

“Piper’s Funfair winter grounds, Douglas, an echo”

Something unseen
sparks a slump of seagulls
to spin-up off the river
with chair-O-plane screams
and rotate as if confined
within a Wall of Death

as beyond the light
a silt of stars
gets pushed-out
just that little bit further,
like a Coin Pusher Machine
in an Arcade

and then just as abruptly,
like the jellyfish-collapse
of a Big Top tent,
the seagulls flop and
drop to echo
out across the river’s surface,

and the stars remain silted
at the edge of the universe
as dark’s tide is brought
to a hushed silence,
and it has grown so quiet that
you could hear a planet drop.


Daragh Breen’s most recent collection is What the Wolf Heard (Shearsman Books, 2016). His poetry has appeared extensively in Irish literary journals, and more recently in Blackbox Manifold, Tears in the Fence, and Shearsman magazine.

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