All the years I lived by the sea
I’d not seen this.
Gulls of course,
sometimes by the hundreds,
drawn by a crust flung from our gate.
Today a different sea, a different bay,
and you and I having a slow lunch,
not by trendy intent
but at the behest of frail attention,
drifting from plate and table
to jubilant day,
gazing beyond the glass
to the blue, by the green,
with the Norfolk pines watching over.
Children and lovers, dogs and bikes,
svelte joggers and seniors out for an ice cream,
share the radiance.
What do I do next, you say,
you need to tell me what to do next.
I muster calm orders, one by one:
drink, eat, use the knife,
spread some butter.
All of my life,
my mind has been able
to grasp things with ease,
and now they slip
from me like strangers.
Helpless, I am with you,
for whom now
nothing seems what it is,
face value a currency devalued.
We sit in what
is today’s easeful
Tomorrow your brain
could hijack you elsewhere.
A little boy cavorts with the elusive ubiquity of gulls,
chasing and enticing, clapping them to flight.
Suddenly a shift to incredulity,
as he lifts a gull
from her slow-footed progress
and places his hands around her warmth.
I fear a roughness,
I see a rush in him of forensic curiosity,
but the boy is tender,
as creature to creature,
and the bird tame in her dying.
The child holds her a while,
then, sensing she has lost her capacity for air,
he places her softly on the solid green,
she who might once have thought to die
with the familiar swell beneath her.
You and I watch the bird amidst the still jubilant day
as she performs her death dance,
the movement of her wings a last slow longing.
High above, the flock farewells her
in reverent and deliberate circling,
the midday sun casting flying shadows
onto the grass around her.
We walk out to her
and wait the while until she becomes
on the green, by the blue,
subject now to neither harm nor help.
Auden after Bruegel was half right:
sometimes someone does not turn away.
Yeats was half wrong:
hope does sometimes attend, hovering.
You slip your ninety year old hand into mine
and I shelter the bones.
As we shuffle back behind the glass
I wonder who will circle your farewell.
Will the sky cast comforting reminders of flight?
Will a kindness quietly cup your ebbing heart?
*This poem was short listed for the Australian Catholic University Poetry Prize 2016.