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A Humber Mouth Special Commission 2010. First published in 2010 by Humber Mouth Hull City Arts, Central Library, Albion Street, Hull. This edition copyright Š Humber Mouth 2010. Copyright of individual poems, stories and images resides with the photographers and artists. Humber Mouth 2010 acknowledges the financial assistance of Hull City Council, Arts Council England, Yorkshire, and the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written consent from the publisher or contributors who hold the copyright. Requests to publish work from this book must be sent to the copyright holders.

ISBN: 978-0-9545686-9-6

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Contents David Wheatley ........................ A Lapwing’s Nest ................................... 4 Curlew by the Humber ........................ 5 Bittern Étude .......................................... 6 The Yellow Bittern ................................ 9 St Brenhilda on Sula Sgeir ................... 11 from Zero at the Bone .......................... 13 Sam Gardiner ............................ Game Bird ............................................... 15 Malcolm Watson ...................... Cormorants ............................................ 17 Plume ....................................................... 18 Sighting Report ..................................... 20 The Humming Tree ...............................21 Flock .........................................................23 Aingeal Clare ............................. Curlews at Sunk Island ......................... 24 John Wedgwood Clarke ......... Song Central ...........................................32 Cliff Forshaw ............................. Little Bird Told Me Poems and Paintings ............................. 36 Kath McKay ............................... In Other News April 21st 2010 ......... 46 Ray French ................................. Migration ................................................ 48 Carol Rumens ........................... Rainbow .................................................. 57 Resort........................................................ 59 Bubblings ................................................ 60 Among Flies ............................................ 61 David Kennedy ......................... Poem ending with a line from Robert Duncan ............................ 62 Graham Mort ............................ Black Crow ............................................. 63 Italian Hawks ......................................... 66 Mary Aherne ............................. Spring at Far Ings ................................... 68 3


David Wheatley A Lapwing’s Nest Is fada ó bhaile a labhraíonn an pilibín It is far from its nest the lapwing sings. Wherever it leads you you are misled and where you look look elsewhere instead, past the power lines’ fiddle strings fretted by thrush or dawdling chough but not the lapwing, who keeps guard far beyond the fingerboard where the score, the notes and tune take off. Never was absence of song more blessed than in the ear of one who waits seeking then finding that not just its but all silence here is a lapwing’s nest.

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Curlew by the Humber Hooped over turned earth they stalk between tides, unlooked for but found, approaching, too close almost! The stubble of worms they take shaved clean at the root, loose grass on the breeze and shifting temporary islands somewhere behind the high ditch world enough for them – held in a gaze they do not return tracking their looped cries upwards and peeling away as one at last that I might know what I have seen.

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Bittern Étude Listen I know you are there the eyes of the hide unclip open you are walking out of sight in microtones and diminished octaves the wind is singing and the tune is beyond me the path from your nest to the water forms a twelve-tone sequence only you follow the splayed feet going chromatically there there and there your splash untuning the far thud of rush hour to natural static this is not music this is what will have been music after wait and it does not come one call away

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you

who do not call not yet

subtlest most hidden long neck scything what escapes you by reedbed isthmus or lake stationed over

the Brigid’s cross of your nest of reeds showing concealing a clutch of deep olive eggs where have I not looked for you for the moment your camouflaged eye breaks cover listened for you spirit of the haunted milk bottle sunk in the centre of your slowexpanding rippling if only but unheard booms! and I clip shut the eyes of the hide

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stand in the dark and is this not blindness? this is not blindness I am the last image on the retina of a closed eye in darkness there is nothing to hear and this is music

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The Yellow Bittern

after Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna My yellow bittern, a blow to me the sight of all your bones on show, after your sport. It wasn’t the hunger did this but the drought upending you made sure you were not spared. Sadder to me than ever the fall of Troy the spectacle of you laid on a bare stone, who never harmed a soul and would not stray from supping bog water for any wine. Lovely bittern, heartbreak strikes me dumb to find you on my rambles belly up, you that I heard so many mornings boom among the mudflats as you took a sup. Cathal’s always hearing the bitter word from those who say he’s finished, and the sauce will kill him off, but I say, Look at this bird, died for want of a drink, and give me peace. Young bittern, great is my distress at finding you among the rushes cold and rats coming to devour all trace of you, and the awful wake for you they’ll hold. If only you got word to me in time about your spot of bother on the dry, I’d have smashed the ice for the wee dram would have brought a gleam to your dead eye. You won’t see me get carried away by baser birds, by your blackbird, thrush or crane, but with your hearty frolics I was sure, bittern, that you and I were close as kin. David Wheatley 9


You never missed a chance to wet your beak and the word round here is, I’m the same. Any drop that’s going I knock back for fear the thirst got you might prove my doom. My true love says if I don’t ditch the booze it’s a paltry span I’ve left to linger, but my answer is she’s telling lies and thanks to the booze I’ll live all the longer. Haven’t you seen this thirsty bird laid low, and it only in search of a drop of water? Friends, the time to raise a glass is now, for nary a sup you’ll get in the hereafter.

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St Brenhilda on Sula Sgeir My brother St Ronan gave me the first fulmar of Spring, but when he praised my legs as I prayed something screamed louder than a storm beach of seals, touched closer than the snugness of a bed among rocks. I would not have it: set sail, becoming the flat earth’s edge, living on guga and cress, telling my prayers by the light of a cormorant lamp, its pentecostal tongue its own wick. In its oily glare nothing is illuminated. Shall I preach to the birds? I have seen the fork-tailed petrels walk on water. It is no wonder the miracle would be to see them walk on land: a dozen yards from shore they are wrecks, lost for want of the ground giving way. What, if I preach to the birds, should I promise them more than they have? The petrels

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nest on the waves, an egg under each wing. Fall and ascend. I go down easy into the earth, rise again to the wispy tuft of a shag’s nest under my picked-clean ribs.

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from Zero At The Bone [Two students are living in the disused lighthouse on Spurn Point, one researching local birdlife, the other writing a thesis on the poetry of Philip Larkin.] MCDONALD Hour after hour finds lined up, stern to prow, boats from Monrovia, Gdansk or Nassau, fabulous holds containing Lord knows what, a UN of unknowns sailing past each night. Try out my binoculars on the view and someone’s training his right back on you. [Pause.] I see things that are there and things that aren’t. At me too they are looking. [Pause.] What do you want? [Pause.] To think I stand here gazing at the south bank and ask why life clings on somewhere so blank, human life that is, life other than mine, as if a total blank wouldn’t suit me fine. A low tide’s worth of curlews now, or ruff, or godwits, that’s what I call world enough, here where earth and sea and sky collide and the only place a man might hide’s a hide. I never saw a bird I would not follow if only mine were, like birds’ bones are, hollow. But look at my Irishman and his ‘fool research’. Art should soar, not wallow in the ditch of postcolonial this and gender that. Philip Larkin then, still guilty or what? Racist, woman-hating empire thug? Forgive me if I fail to give a fuck. The wind among the reeds and a lapwing’s cry:

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that’s research, or a thought that might yet fly. And what if no one, nor God nor I, is there when it cries, is there still a noise to hear? [Pause.] Last night I could have sworn I saw the splash of a man gone overboard and into the wash.

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Sam Gardiner Game Bird Why did he lead her so far from the trees, so fearlessly, so cocksure and at ease in his handsome uniform, and then stop? Handsome but dead he lies, given the chop by a passing car. His mate, the plainer pheasant, shocked, unable to explain her intuition that things are not quite right, stands by his corpse instead of taking flight. Roads lead nowhere birds want to go, are for crossing. Featherless pedestrians also see the A16 as the precursor of contingencies they haven’t words for. Desolate, and no one stands lonelier than on a long roadside in Lincolnshire, she nervously stands guard, starts, hesitates, pecks at the verge. His feathers stir. She waits. This sudden death, life’s ultimate surprise, is an event she doesn’t recognise. Might he have as good as, or as bad as, left her? Long-necked she speculates. Skodas and Volvos avoid the ill-fated pair and accelerate away to other tragedies, to griefs for which they have words with consolations not available to birds. Incommunicative maybe, but she is conspicuously aghast to see a family saloon drive past, brake, reverse,

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and, body in the boot, become a hearse for her beloved. Should she continue or turn back? In the way decisions do, this one takes itself. But to her the praise – valiant at the roadside she looks both ways and completely misjudging, for instance, speed, road conditions and stopping distance sprints into the small silence which contrives to keep one car from the next. She survives. and more undaunted than undignified dives into the hedge on the other side, and into a new life, new habitat, a greener field. He would have wanted that.

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Malcolm Watson Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo The satisfying creak of wooden structures and the soothing scent of pine before the hatch is opened and the sun posts in its dazzling light. It’s like a turret on the Wall, a frontier fort, a bunker with a field of fire across the beach waiting for landing craft to come in sight. Instead, lazing upon a floating raft beyond the reeds, a pair of bulky sunbathers, wings outstretched, black feathers glossed with blue, a patch of white beneath their throats. Idle as the day is long and silent, they turn their slothful heads towards each other now and then, look each other up and down with bright suspicious eyes, as if to say, ‘Don’t make a splash. Don’t fuss. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t overreach and make me come and get you.’ They stand upright and flap and settle back to catch the rays. Maybe I’ll stay till dusk and wait to see a bamboo raft approach, a man with his long pole and shirt the colour of twilight and his straw hat, lasso and metal ring and fishing basket. His lantern will attract the fish the birds will catch and drop onto the raft. The Ings will turn tonight into the Lijiang river in Yangshou, Yunnan, Jingshan, Beijing, the Suzhou lakes... The birds from fairytales will turn into their proper selves beneath the pale moonlight. Malcolm Watson 17


Plume In the Visitor Centre, a man is painting the doors Lincoln green. Only a crotchety crow in the car park, pecking at its pinions, feathers dark exclamation marks on the ground. Only a Canada Goose at the edge of the lake. The cloudless sky, sky blue. The day so warm, we have to doff our coats. No bittern booming in the reeds. No warblers in the sedge. No sound at all, except the scuffling of our boots between marsh marigolds and asphodel. Except the softest whisper of the breeze between the trees. No terns or turnstones, dotterel, tufted ducks or greylag geese. No crested grebes no avocets, no kingfishers, no coots, no phalaropes. No aeroplanes chalking the empyrean blue. A fat man on the dappled path says ‘What about this ash, then? Gave up smoking months ago, and coughing worse than ever.’ It hadn’t crossed my mind. A glacier melting over molten rock. A roiling mushroom cloud and lightning. Tons of tephra, lithics, silicates, miles up into the sky. Eyjafjallajokull.* Across the globe, hundreds of thousands look up at flightboards hiccupping Cancelled, Cancelled, Cancelled... Travellers stranded from Reykjavik to Rome, Tromsø to Timbuktu. A Plinian eruption, so they say, after the elder Pliny, he of the immortal Historia Naturalis, encyclopaedist, he of the fatal curiosity, who last investigation ended in the SO2 and CO2 and pyroclastic flow down Mount Vesuvius. But not before he’d listed all the birds which visit us, those which remain, those which fly to Africa; birds ‘that lose their feathers during their retirement’; 18 Malcolm Watson


birds which ‘bode ill by their note’; why crows are ever birds of ill omen, the halcyon kingfisher and ‘those halcyon days that will be favourable to travel and to navigation.’ The secrets of the hirundines. And why no birds will fly or sing until volcanoes sleep. The painter has put down his brush. He has his nose inside a book from the second-hand box near the till. Robert Harris, I see. Pompeii. * Pronounced, according to the BBC, AY-uh-fyat-luh-YOE-kuutl (-uh).

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Sighting Report Nothing happens here by chance. You might be listening for the ghosts of men and horses, carters, diggers, quarrymen, kiln burners, furnacemen. But they’re not here, nor in the various Brickmakers’ Arms... Although the works are home to scrub and thorn and Silvery Moths and Noctule Bats and bramble, it’s men who made this land. They drained the marshes, built the banks and farmed the fields and dug the clay. And now it seems abandoned. But it lies. The pits are cleaned, the reeds are cut, the paths are laid, the sheep keep grass and willow cropped. Old banks are moved and walls are breached for flood relief, to make saltmarsh. New pits are fed from aquifers so lakes won’t freeze in winter. Sluices lower levels, let in eels. Fences appear. Fresh paint. Guideposts. A new hotel for twitchers. A double-decker hide. Names chalked on the board at the Visitor Centre tell me folk have spotted crested grebe and bearded tits, green-winged teal, greylag geese, Cetti’s Warbler, black-winged stilt, Whooper swans... Statistics of wonder. I pull out a form to drop in the box. And I write PHOENIX.

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The Humming Tree Pass through the gate below the bank, the scent of blossom in the still air, into the electric hum. A pole from a pylon far away is anchored with a V of hawsers, cables rooted between the springtime thickening roots of the cherry tree. Do the shining insulators, ceramic, glass, belong to the pole or the tree? Look up. The blossom and the leaves are thick with a thousand bees, humming, humming.

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And butterflies, and a fat bullfinch that’s full of bees and blossom buds And don’t forget to mention to the bees, God’s servants, humming their hymn of praise, everything you know about the weddings and the funerals. They know. They are the hum, the harmony, the prayer, the future that’s unknowable, inevitable.

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Flock We thought the hide was empty. We were wrong. There must be ten, a dozen, maybe, old and young. All silent in their observation, turning round to tell us ‘Shhh...’ Every one but us with telescopes, field-glasses, camcorders with their 60x optical zoom and wind noise cancellation, Celestron PowerSeekers, tripods, Exacta spotting scopes, Prakticas with their leather cases, coated lenses, straps and fold-down rubber eyepieces. They whisper to each other, nodding, paying their devotions to the fowl with righteous courtesy and awe and admiration. Spellbound, they marvel as they breathe into the collars of their gilets with a dozen pockets for the rolls of film and memory cards and lens-caps. One, a Frenchman, murmurs to his son, his mini-moi, in mini-hat and mini-vest and indicates une foulque (a coot, I look up later). They watch a flock splash down and plough the lake. Qui se ressemble, s’assemble, as they say. Birds of a feather...

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Aingeal Clare Curlews at Sunk Island He thought of them as his birds. Like him they were square of body, slight of leg, huge and jutting of beak. Like his their diets were spare and predictable: ham sandwiches and honeyed oats for him, grubs and summer berries for them. Brown and freckled, they were hard to spot against the dull crop-shorn February fields. He too was hard to spot when he stood at his dirty window watching them, looking hard at their noses through the reflection of his own. Theirs were like the tapering trunks of pangolins, fit for tugging up bugs from the earth. His was a flesh gnomon and he told the time by it. He liked to watch them. Relentlessly they grubbed, picking at things he couldn't see as if ploughing the soil with pins. They stopped only when a tractor coughed past, and then those nearest the road would heave up, beat away, and flop down a hundred yards off. That was when you really saw them – the flash of white under their wings. They flew like heavy things. A pulsing sensation in the sinus told him it was getting worse. He felt it with his fingers and began to scratch it as much as he could stand, trying to weigh up his odds. It would bleed, naturally. It would shine red and spurt, and Alice would treat it, but rather than draw back it would flair up all the brighter and all the redder in the morning. It would all be too much for him, the mess. A bit about the farm. The farm was at one time annexed to the house and was called some old unlikely name like Browncockgate or Oddballsditch. In 1979, in a burst of unprecedented personal resolve, he had taken the farm and flung it as far as he could away from him. New buildings were erected on the far side of the furthest field. A manager, Yerk, and three workhands were hired, and a woman to do his shopping and cook him his meals etc. His chief requirement when he had advertised for a woman was that she be handy with a featherduster, for dust above all else he could not brook. It gave him the

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horrors: drifting in the atmosphere unseen, attacking and leaving him coiled in fits of sneezing. It put the dread on him. He surveyed the room and decided he would call Alice. ‘Alice!’ he called. He waited for the familiar creak from the hall of her slipper on the first stair. ‘Alice!’ ‘Sir?’ ‘Here.’ He listened, wearily, to her weary four-beat ascent. Right hand, left foot, left hand, right foot; right hand, left foot, left hand, right foot. ‘Sir?’ ‘I want this room swept. I see specks of something,’ he said, pointing at the floor, ‘and I feel a tickle in my –’. ‘Sir,’ she said. ‘Dust,’ he continued. ‘And the window wants a wash, I can hardly see the birds.’ ‘I'll do the window first, Sir,’ said Alice. ‘Then if I drip I can use it to wash the floor.’ He lowered. ‘I do not wish,’ he said, under great strain, ‘to hear about it. Just get to. I am going to the garden.’ And he went to the garden. Alice was a fat, shabby woman of about seventy. Her legs were so varicose they looked like a pair of tights filled up with stones. Her window cleaning, though, was surprisingly daring and athletic. Mop in hand and with a bucket of suds at her feet, she hitched herself backwards onto the window ledge. If I fell, she wondered, would the curlews start to eat me, or would they wait until the flies came, and eat the flies? Chewing over this puzzler, she wrapped her skirts around a nail on the ledge, in the belief that should she indeed fall, the nail would save her. She nursed a great many peasant superstitions of that kind. Leaning, then, perilously out of the open window, with her left hand gripping the upper frame and her skirts hooked about the nail, she dipped the mop in the suds, drew it out, and set to stroking the far panes with it till they shone as new. It was a ritual of thirty years’

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fame. He refused to employ itinerant window cleaners lest through a crack in the curtain they should spy him and laugh or fall off their ladders. ‘On account of my large –’, he had told her at the interview. The interview had taken place at suppertime in November 1979, so the darkness was thick around them and she hadn't noticed a large – of any kind. Nevertheless, his words had put her on guard. She would delay the signing of any agreement until the opportunity to assess the large – presented itself. Until then, she would put it out of her mind and hope it wasn't what she thought it was. (It would be six years till she saw it through a crack in the curtain as she stood on a ladder painting the window-frame. Alice was not a silly, gawping person; her cousin had been born with a syndrome, and once she had worked with a many-shouldered, crooked, scaly man of four foot nothing, so she knew a thing or two about anomaly. The large – was, she felt, trivial by comparison. She merely tapped on the window, waved warmly to him, and continued with her work. He had never forgiven her.) He was creeping around the garden now. His cap was badly torn at the earflap, its sheepskin underside tawny from hair-grease and scalp-sweat. The vein in his temple was pushing against the tight seam as, peering round the corner of his house, he watched the plump bottom of Alice adroop over the windowledge above him. It rocked steadily back and forth with her mopstrokes. He clutched at the ivy for support as he looked, and pressed his cheek against the red brickwork. She was singing when I’m cleaning winders. He felt his breath catch and his blood rise, until inevitably his nose began to throb which blocked every other sensation. He lifted his fingers to it, but it was agony to touch. Sinking low, he crawled a few yards away from the house and tucked himself under the garden hedge, where he lay miserably for about forty minutes listening to the worms in the soil. His nose was pulsing, it seemed to beat like a diseased heart. He closed his eyes. When the worst of it had passed, he poked his head out from under the hedge to check on the status of Alice. She was gone and the

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window shut. He rolled onto his side and peered through the hedge into the curlew field. A bird was stalking not a foot away from his nose, stabbing at the ground mechanically. He wished it would stab at him and rip the sarcoma clean off his snout. It must have heard something because the bird took off then, flapping clunkily away to join its mates. He became aware of Alice tugging at his cardigan and saying, ‘What’s happened?’ ‘It’s only what you know it is,’ he said, accepting her hand and hauling up. He thought of the worms under his feet. ‘You want to get that seen to Sir,’ she said. ‘It’s getting worse and it looks a right spectacle.’ ‘Don’t badger me.’ Their coil and crunch through the hard earth. ‘The letter said –’ ‘Did you hear me?’ ‘It said you missed a hostiple appointment on the eighth. And it said but not to worry, they’ve put you down for one on the Tuesday at three.’ ‘Stop,’ he begged, ‘your damned incessant nagging noises, Alice. It is enough to kill me.’ His body stood totally straight, except his head was bowed grassward and he gripped it tightly in his hands. When you dig the garden, he remembered, your shovel cuts in half the worms. But that makes two worms, the old one and a new one. Which is the new one, and which the old? The arse end must be the new, because that’s the one must grow a new head. ‘Take me inside,’ he said meekly then. ‘It’s cold in the garden.’ He would leave the worms to the curlews, until Yerk passed in a tractor and they heaved off. A month or so later, Alice was again at the window, her mop squeaking against the glass, her tough green flowery skirts knotted fast to the nail. Downstairs he was boiling a kettle, daring himself to scald off the thing on his nose whose throbbing was by now almost constant. He poured the hot water into a cup and stood over the sink, his face turned upwards and the cup in his hand tilted above his head. He couldn’t bring himself to do it. Over the last few weeks he had tried to slice it, tweeze it, torch it, but nothing had worked and if

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those methods didn’t, with all their violence, then water wouldn't either, this he knew. It would just hurt worse than usual for about three days and be too much for him, the mess. He lowered the cup and took it with him to the garden. Perhaps the breeze would be cool and give him courage. Alice was singing the national anthem, but it was fairly hopeless since she didn’t know all the words. God save our something queen, da da our something queen, I love the queen. Slowly he lay on his side in the grass and aimed the lip of the cup at his thing. Rend her laborious, something inglorious, da da her ovaries, God save the queen. He looked through the hedge at the curlews, who were placidly picking away at the ground. Apart from Alice’s singing, all was strangely still and soundless, and he was aware of a slow sort of hush rising up from the ground, and he could hear no worms. He tipped the cup a little further towards his face. Any minute now. From his tractor, Yerk could plainly see the house behind the hedgerow, and even a crow on the chimney, at least it looked like a crow. The nearer he got the more he could see. He thought himself lucky on the days he drove past and saw Alice leaning out the top window with her mop, for it made him smile, and in his tractor he could smile all he wanted because there was no one around to look at his black jagged teeth. From here he could see her back, broad and square and lodged in the window frame. Funny old dear, he thought. The curlews hadn’t heard the tractor yet, so they continued their hungry tilling. They were unharrassed by the loud scream that rasped suddenly from the garden. Alice, though, was taken by surprise, and quite forgetting where she was she leaned back in an instinctive panic, trying to see where his scream had come from and what had caused it. That was the moment she fell. Her feet tipped up and over with a springy, automatic release. She let go her mop, which stuck like a spear in the flowerbed. She performed a slick pike somersault which saw her skirts raised and hooked over her head, and she prayed for a painless death. He was bending over the birdbath in some considerable pain,

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pressing his nose into the inch of feathered water and grinding his teeth. He held this attitude for five full minutes until, hearing an approaching tractor, he ducked under the hedge to hide. The curlews heard the tractor, but they did not see it and they did not heave off, for they were all heads raised and looking at the house. Some of them slurped and some of them dropped their worms and spiders. They were cautious, naturally, but stuck somehow, and they would not move however close the tractor was. How stony they looked as they stood there, their attention fixed on Alice who was hanging out the window swinging cowily from her skirts. It fell to Yerk to act. He hurried his roaring tractor towards the garden’s wooden gate, smashing through it like a hero of the big screen. He steered it manfully through the flowerbeds, toppling a birdbath and a wheelbarrow and a doleful-looking Grecian statuette. Parking the tractor beneath the window, he climbed out and onto its roof, from where he grabbed at Alice’s thick, varicose ankles and encouraged her to angle for his shoulders. She couldn't do it; her skirts were hooked tight over her head and thrice around the nail. ‘I can’t do it,’ she shouted through her skirts. Thinking what to do, Yerk dodged the orbits of her kicking feet. ‘Leave her be,’ came a voice from above. Yerk strained to see its owner, but saw nothing beyond the expanse of Alice’s billowing knickers. ‘Who’s that?’ he called. ‘Leave her be,’ came the voice. ‘Don’t, don’t leave me be!’ cried Alice from within her skirts. And Yerk did not leave be, but felt her being hauled out of his hands anyway, found himself in a tug of war with the upward force, which was saying with growing sternness ‘Leave her be, I have her, leave her be.’ And the curlews were all as stone in their gazing. They were demure, static, unirked by the brazen horn of the cargo ship lurching down the Humber and deaf to the far off crackle of hunters’ guns and a pheasant barking stupidly. They were still, and brave, locked deep

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inside their looking. The commotion was all Alice’s, as she was hoisted like a horse from the sea up into the bedroom’s shadows and respite. She was apologising for herself. ‘I am sorry,’ she was saying, ‘What a fool I am!’ She was trying to make light of her ordeal, but the wringing of her hands made heavy of it, made dark of it. A loaf of bread, a jar of coffee and a large tub of slug pellets were gathered into a tablecloth and lowered through the window to Yerk, along with seven pounds in loose change and a note saying ‘Back to work now eh.’ It was a fine reward, received with a full heart. Grinning his black teeth, Yerk reversed his tractor through the broken gate and started off across the flatlands of Sunk Island to be swallowed, ghostlike, by the rising mists. In the bedroom, Alice looked him in the face, her saviour. His face was covered in what looked like beetroot juice. ‘My, is that beetroot juice?’ she asked. ‘It is my skin,’ he said. ‘But I solved it. It will bother me no more.’ She looked doubtful, but her recent trauma still absorbed her. ‘If you will come with me to the garden,’ he continued, ‘perhaps we can tidy up there before tea.’ She would be grateful for the distraction. And so they went to the garden. There was not a curlew in sight, but softly the odd trill would be offered from the distant shoreline. It made him think of those moments when a memory playing secretly in his mind would come out of hiding by making him suddenly laugh while speaking to a stranger. He looked at Alice, who was doing what she could for the flowers. He stooped to lift the fallen statuette and set it facing the curlew field. When he was gone, it would continue his work with them. ‘Alice,’ he said. ‘You have been a helpful woman to me, and kind. When I am gone, you will remain here I hope. When you are gone, let no one else live here. I would rather tear the house down than have a squawking, fighting, floorboard-creaking family in it disturbing its peace. They will never understand what it was supposed to be like. They will rump and pump and –’ the words were wrong ‘– and never stop to look. They will vote in elections. They will send and get post.

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Dust will collect under the bed and they will do nothing about it. And never will they notice the birds, their sounds, and the sounds of the water and wind, and never will they feel the terror that is natural to me.’ He paused and looked towards the listless and advancing siltgrey water. ‘My birds, Alice, will always be my birds. In a hundred years the shoreline will be at my door and they will still be grazing in my fields.’ Alice thought she understood. She had always been a chatty, sociable creature, not at all like him with his moods, but she thought she knew what he meant about the birds, his house and its emptiness. She smiled kindly. ‘Nobody would ever want to buy this house anyway,’ she said. ‘The river is claiming it. No young people could live here.’ ‘Unless they were dying,’ he said. ‘Unless that.’ ‘And if they were, they would stop to look,’ he said, half to himself. ‘If they were dying they wouldn’t vote in elections, they would look at the birds in the field.’ ‘That they would.’ ‘I think it’s time to go in now, Alice,’ he said. Darkness was threading through the cool air. The curlews had started their night calls in earnest, and evening frost was creeping up to the house, and Alice took him shuffling to the kitchen for a pot of tea and some sandwiches, which they ate slowly in the usual silence.

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John Wedgwood Clarke Song Central 1. Hide There’s something shouting in here and it isn’t them. Get it out! There’s no room: stuff it through the letterbox loophole hatch and watch it flutter up, grip and dip, flit and lift into a thicket of twigs about to go up in blossom. I have arrived speaking bridge not bird, all tension and anchor, a foreigner in their shifting market place of song, their prisms of air, crying my desire from this dud sauna, a spider booth ragged with silk, legacies of ravenous escapees, and it’s all to myself. They squeak smut from a large hidden window in the reeds with spit and fingertip. There’s a croupy cough that needs no attention, a rubber-band and tin can guitar in the hands of a child infinitely satisfied with a single note– it’s all them! I’m in a cupboard again, listening so I might be everywhere I’m not. 2. Seek A slatted hush; soft wood and creosote; and just a simple swing-latched lid that lifts upwards like a rare document box

32 John Wedgwood Clarke


letting light muscle in and geese go off arguing from their shit-whitened island, too heavy to be aloft, so near and beyond the river of traffic noise. A leaf does a little crunchy dance in the corner while the lake migrates ever eastwards, smacking its lips over the nesting platform, flowing on under the flat-bottomed hull of the land. A moorhen sews through oncoming fabric, unrolls a ribbon of silt and light in the vast haberdashery of water. O to be smaller, a grey wooden post in the middle of a lake, worn thin where water’s knife has whittled. This is not so rare a thing, I, an image, eager to recover its object: a bird pierces the cover of a book in search of its name in the murky heart of a character and comes up shaking its head, wings weeping gorgeously; a bee fidgets in the dandelion’s archive, hunting an ancestor’s X, its body dusted with the pollen of unrecorded lives. I follow beaks across the wormy page, watch them dip beyond attention’s skin, all cryptic footnote, lift-off, out of here. 3. Air Space There are no planes today, no sign of them shooting in slow motion through the song of a harrier’s wing,

John Wedgwood Clarke 33


raking ashes out of a still blue sea, pummelling lines the sky has forgotten like the worry of pointless work. 4. No Binoculars Such tiny indecipherable script at the mucky edge of the Humber’s page! Above us, the lust hollows of summer flit over reed beds that fizz with shadow as the wind gets up. By the old cement-works a hush barrier flickers and swerves, settling itself on the pinpoint of its eye, wrapping the marsh round its wings as it falls to the scurry of things. A futurist, ‘that tiny restless gem,’ threads sweet needles of song through the hazy thicket, shatters of red flame jagging through the green. It’s hard to tell what’s going on out there! Smitten boom fluty balloons of longing struggling to tie the knot. And there, in the bright rubbing-out of the flooded clay pit, a great interest in creed dips below, hunting for sustenance, substances unknown, to come up who knows where, fulfilled, scenting each fluvial way in the light. 5. Scriptorium After an hour’s walk, the sun now strong at 5pm, I knock and enter the hide, its eyes closed, still dreaming its bestiary of song, 34 John Wedgwood Clarke


and know the daylight dark for what it is: precipitate of sky; shelter from a bright storm; a rock pool biding the time between tides. The day picks up a pen and in the corner where a rat flits out doodles the shadow-play of grass in a vellum of light.

John Wedgwood Clarke 35


Cliff Forshaw Little Bird Told Me

poems and paintings

Woke to squawks. Up here making coffee (Friday), looked down to see a carnival of parrots, parakeets? Birds of Paradise for all I know, screeching in our sickly municipally communal tree. Bags, wrappers, fast-food trays caught in branches. (Storms the other day.) Looking down from the walkway, saw the reds, blues, yellows, greens, of maybe a dozen different species calling the odds in that bird-quick tree. Three old dears with shopping wheelers stopped to chat with two old wheezing geezers. Echoes followed me down the reeking stairwell. Friday. FUCK. Shazza. BNP. No one in Planning believed my story of the gaudy, bird-mad tree. Later, Maria-Angeles – new temp from the Agency – slid me the freesheet, picked up at the Station;

36 Cliff Forshaw


circled, how that week’s storms had hit some Peak District stately pile, destroyed outbuildings. Highlighted, including an aviary. Not too late to hope, I hope, for some kind of augury (Keep. Ruled and ripped along the crease. Fold into inside pocket. Catch her big brown eyes.) in how those brightly awkward visitants had fled that Lord’s estate for mine. Friday.

Cliff Forshaw 37


Owl In a dark wood: toadstools, red amanitas; a mix of deciduous, pine – New Hampshire – what they call hemlock trees round here. Make out, big as a totem, top of a trunk, an owl: size of the space from ankle to my knee. Later, not google, but look him up in your big old mildewed leather-bound book. Strix nebulosa? Great Grey Owl: wing span, up to twenty-nine inches. Yellow eyes? And below his chin, two white marks like a dress bow tie? Ear tufts? Neither of us could definitively say. You email: keep going back, searching for him, pellets, just what it was we saw that day.

38 Cliff Forshaw


Remember walking through those woods somewhere along the Contoocook: you pointed out that thing that sat big as an upturned leg of lamb. Just hit me: the owl you had as a boy, tiny lives you tried to trap, the best laid plans caught mostly night, mice you then brought back from a dozen pet-shops across the OS map. Been thinking lately of that owl’s black pellets: at your feet, coughed-up, the furred and bony point to the exclamation mark of hot white shit shat – right down your Grateful Dead T-shirt.

Cliff Forshaw 39


Driving, had seen this other fly-guy: face goggled like a dusty Ace of Hearts, winging it low, twice across this same twist of nowhere into that flat field or something like – towards Withernsea in broad daylight. Then, walking, saw the white undercarriage metamorphose to gymnast’s legswing, lithe against the silent downbeat of wing to wing. Knew it before I knew it – eyes blunted by night. I stood still, feet heavy with Holderness clay, noticed a hornbeam had usurped the unsuitable beech. Somewhere an engine died. Heard hoarse calls across fields, looked to the hedge. Thought again of you, of voles, mice, against that distant screech.

40 Cliff Forshaw


Augury ‘agrere augurium, aves specit’ Varro [to make augurs, he observed the birds] On the pavement, crosslegged at the traffic’s edge, the old fortune-wallah takes rupees. You stoop while he shuffles what are now your cards, fans them down and out across the cloth to form all the well-thumbed futures your little western life has left. Meanwhile, he’s opened up that tiny cage. Watch now as out a green bird hops, pecks that particular card up and, as if disgusted by its choice, flings it from its beak, flees back to its dark wood fretted box. From the cornucopia that Fortune had arrayed (beady-eyed, can’t look you in the eye) it chose you this. Already, in your heart of hearts, you know: that canary has got you sussed. * Augurers once divided sky: left, right, before, behind. Their omen birds could be ravens, woodpeckers, eagles, owls. Some gave signs from flight, some from their cry. They all lied. And now observe these flocks. Decipher what they prophecy: confused by power, towers, the lit-up night, the grids that bully earth’s gravitational fields.

Cliff Forshaw 41


Swoop, flit, skitter, go this way, that, ride thermals, kill, get lucky, eat, get lost, die.

Stonechat The sky’s an itchy blue: gorse bebopped by whistles; music’s sampled, scratched, then something hoarse, a cough racking some tiny life. Tap, tap, somewhere, someone’s working stone, or is that harsh t’chack t’chack t’chack a warning? Watch now where heath meets dune catch something orangely warm. Stonechat. Stonechat. Stonechat. * Some fucker with a dog, jogging along the coastal path, sniff, shit, piss, scratch, dig. O he do like to be beside the sea. O he love to snark and snaffle, scare the nesting birds to feathered noise and busy sky.

42 Cliff Forshaw


Waxwing

Goldfinch

Weak wheeze and twitter thin shrill whistle: berrying winter visitor.

Flashed from wings, skied gold or the liquid ‘twitt-witt-witt’ broadcast from thicket.

*

*

Water Rail

Avocet

Pigs squealing in reeds: trotters sinking deep in marsh. Sounds of rails. ‘Sharming’.

Sweep-sweep, upturned beaks sieve thin mud along shallow salty pools: ‘pleet pleet’.

Cliff Forshaw 43


Passer Looked up to catch that startled bird winging it, from out of nowhere through the taverna’s din and smoky light, heading for the huge and sudden dark. Its heart the size of a ripened grape pumping a mouthful of blood (less than the amount those Anglo-Saxon drunks had spluttered to stain the table-cloth) to power that frantic unscheduled flight from out of one into another night. * They flee from me who sometime did me seek. Now in the tree only magpie thieves from me. Sitting on my fence only rook, worm, soon also to be mine, hanging from its beak. * Boxed up as Free Range; sussed by the way the mesh left its print on the shell. Piled high. They cluck, stink. cages of shit and feathers. Up close. Whose eyes blink? *

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Miss Emily sang that Hope was a feathered thing. Now, in each breast, the beat of darkness taking wing.

By the Book Leafing through the book, see peregrine’s steel-grey to blue; but did I hear that ‘shrill kek kek kek kek’? or the merlin’s ‘kek-kek-kek’? kestrel’s ‘kee-kee-kee’? Flick, flick, through the book, catch the flicker, hear the beat: metamorphic flocks. Find here, hollow bones, feathers fanned across the grass. In your cap, panache?

Cliff Forshaw 45


Kath McKay In Other News April 21st 2010 On the seventh day after the skies filled with ash, when we walked at Far Ings, a helicopter over the Humber Bridge brought the first workers back from North Sea oil rigs, and an Eastern Airways T3752 took off for Aberdeen. …redwings were still present:fourteen feeding on the southern roadside pastures. A late flock of fieldfare...regular appearance of kingfisher after the 16th ‘2 together on 20th’ Very encouraging A clear day: sun, cool wind, a woman in a red vest running along the shore, terrier yapping at her heels, a man surfacing from a hide in Gore-Tex and mountie hat, with a tri-pod and binoculars. ‘The bitterns are booming,’ shouts the Visitor Centre worker. The shush and shish of waves over brown silt and clay, the Hull to Leeds train on the opposite bank, a laden cargo boat heading for the estuary. The chirr-chirr trr of sedgewarblers, who never sing the same song twice, two mute swans at the outflow at Chowder Ness. Discarded cans of Fosters and Carlsberg Export in trodden down weeds, red pantiles transversely curved to ogee shapes, double continuous curves, never touching. First Chiff Chaff on the 21st ...within five days five birds singing... Sand Martin: Dusk watch on the 24th...gathering of seven escalate to a roosting flock of 50 within the last hour and a half of light Cirrus clouds, silver bullet trucks charging over the bridge, a lone cyclist pedalling against the wind. 11,000 tonnes of steel mesh

46 Kath McKay


bending and shifting. ‘Things they found when they excavated the bridge: Clews, flatties, layers of shells, a human skeleton.’ Swallow... first one of spring on the 24th. By 31st twelve over Ness Pitt. House Martin: single bird. ‘The planes are back,’ says a man with a stick. Far above a small aircraft leaves the first contrail for a week. I read that flocks of birds sometimes attempt the Humber Bridge several times, puzzled. Cetti’s warbler, Woodcock, Barnacle short-eared owl, Barn owl, Avocet, Peregrine, Little Egret,Grey Wagtail, Bearded Tit... intensifying relationship between a regular male and a female Marsh Harrier.

Kath McKay 47


Ray French Migration We’re standing on the banks of the Humber, my father and I, the two of us enjoying the sun, the pleasant breeze. This is a rare outing for him. His loss of memory, a gradual loosening of his grip on the world, making him increasingly reluctant to leave home, where he’s surrounded by things that are familiar, that can be named. But, today, he is coping well with the unkown, remarkably well in fact. Who knows when there’ll be another day like this – I’m determined we make the most of it. To our right is the Humber Bridge. He gazes at it admiringly and says, ‘That must have taken some work, boy.’ The cue to take my notebook from my pocket, flip to the page where I’d scrawled some notes while reading the display about the bridge at the Information Centre. He likes facts, cherishing their lack of ambiguity – clear and solid signposts in a shape-shifting world. ‘It took 480,000 tonnes of concrete and 11,000 tonnes of steel wire to build it,’ I tell him. When I glance up at him he’s alert, focused; nothing grabs his attention like detailed information about construction. He worked as a labourer all his life, this is his currency, these are things that still bring him satisfaction. ‘That’s enough wire,’ I continue, ‘to stretch one and a half times across the world.’ ‘Fecking hell!’ I knew he’d love that one. He shakes his head and looks back at the bridge. ‘That took some work alright.’ Its good to see him re-engage with the world. There should be more days like this. ‘When the winds reach eighty miles an hour,’ I say, encouraged by his reaction, ‘the bridge bends by up to three meters in the middle. That’s close to ten feet – amazing, isn’t it?’

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Bad idea. His face grows taut, worried, a nerve begins to jump under his eye. This drags him back to some dark and threatening place. ‘Nature is fierce, boy. It doesn’t matter how hard he tries, man will never beat it.’ He shakes his head emphatically, ‘Never.’ I wonder if he’s remembering the pitch and roll of the British navy destroyer on which he served in the Second World War. It must have been a terrifying experience, toiling away as a stoker in the bowels of the ship, knowing that if it went down, he would go down with it. He looks at the bridge again and says, ‘I wouldn’t want to be on that on a windy day.’ ‘You’d be safe,’ I say gently, ‘you wouldn’t actually feel the bridge moving.’ He looks doubtful. When I was young he was brave to the point of recklessness, burning with manic energy, refusing to ever compromise. I’ll fecking show the lot of ’em. In fact, while we’re on the subject of bridges, he once got into a scuffle with a Military Policeman while crossing one in Berlin shortly after the war - it ended when my father threw him into the Spree. Oh yes, he was a tough character back then, well able to stand up for himself. But, as he grew older, something lurking inside that he’d kept at bay for so long by sheer willpower, some dark and twisted thing, grew stronger, began to corrode his spirit. No more talk about bridges bending in high winds, I change the subject. ‘Did you know there used to be brickyards all along here?’ There’s little evidence of that now, instead a thick band of reeds, standing pale gold in the sun, then mud, beyond that the brown, churning Humber. I make a sweeping gesture with my arm, encompassing the bank from the bridge right up to where we’re standing. ‘At one time there were thirteen firms along here making bricks and tiles. In the mid 1930s they were making over a million bricks a

Ray French 49


year.’ ‘Is that so? Hard work too, I’ll bet.’ Dad’s expression lightens; he liked hard work, knows what it means. He looks around, picturing this as a place bustling with activity – people digging clay, shaping it into bricks in wooden moulds and stacking them to dry, others firing the kilns. I tell him about Blythe’s Tile Yard, nearer the bridge, about ten minutes walk from where we’re standing, which has been re-opened and makes bricks and tiles using the old methods, without using toxic chemicals. From there you can, if you look hard enough, make out the marks where the train lines once ran just below the Humber bank. Further along are the remains of the posts which held up the jetties once dotted along this stretch of the Humber, the river filled with sloops and keels collecting cargoes of bricks, tiles and rope. It must have been a stirring sight – the Humber was one of the last places in the country you could see working boats under sail. ‘Shall we walk down that way a bit?’ I ask him. ‘Aye, we will – come on.’ Though slow, he’s steady on his feet today. So different to how he is at home, a pale, bent, shuffling figure, head down, arms wavering, as he makes his way painstakingly across the room. Here he’s alert to his surroundings, looking around, noticing things. ‘What are those yokes?’ I explain that the broken chunks of bricks and tiles lying in the grass and reeds are the remains of the long gone industry. I pick up a jagged half-brick and hand it to him, watch him turn and examine it, run his thumb along the edge. ‘You could build yourself a house out of all the bricks lying around here.’ ‘You could.’ He weighs it in his hand, enjoying the solidity, the connection with his working life, back when he was young and strong, before so many things frightened him. He nods approvingly, ‘They knew what they were doing in those

50 Ray French


days. They built things to last.’ ‘They did.’ We walk on another few hundred yards, but I can see he’s beginning to tire a little now. This has been a long day for a man who rarely ventures beyond the circuit of bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchen. ‘Shall we go back?’ ‘Aye, I think we will.’ At that moment the sun, obscured by clouds for the last few minutes, emerges again, and he stays where he is and he lifts his head to the sky and closes his eyes. He always loved the sun. When I was a boy he would be brown as a berry all summer from working outdoors, never burning like so many other Irish people. I follow his example and close my eyes too. There’s no sound except the water lapping, the stiff breeze, the occasional cry of a bird. You could be back in Ireland, in Cullenstown, County Wexford, right back there on the strand, on a fine Spring day. I wonder if that’s where dad is thinking of now, back at the beginning of his journey, his life before him, knowing nothing of this country, of what it is to be a husband, or a father, what it feels like to grow old and frail. As we’re walking back to the Information Centre, I tell him that I’ll show him where I work afterwards, then we’ll get something to eat before driving back home. ‘Where is it you work?’ he asked sharply, as if I’ve been hiding it from him. ‘The University.’ ‘A University?’ ‘Yes, dad.’ ‘Which one?’ ‘Hull.’ He stops to stare at me, wide-eyed. ‘Jayzus, doesn’t that beat all. A University? You’ve done well for yourself, boy.’

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I can’t help smiling. If he had any idea of the enormous expectations, the hopes he’d carried on those narrow shoulders. That he still carries, despite everything. ‘What do you do there?’ ‘I teach.’ ‘A teacher. That’s grand. What is it you teach?’ ‘Creative Writing.’ I watch him mulling this over, but growing a little impatient now. I get fed up of repeating myself, wanting him to retain some information about my life, for it to have some meaning for him. A smile begins to form on his lips. ‘Writing?’ I nod and he laughs scornfully, ‘You’d think they’d be able to write properly by the time they got to University. Christ, what’s the world coming to?’ I agree that it’s gone to hell in a handcart. When we start walking again, he’s still chuckling to himself, convinced I’ve pulled a fast one – what a way to make a living. I must try to get him out more often. At home, the house is always overheated, the television on, way too loud, all day long. Sometimes, as he looks around him, I’m sure he’s wondering how he got here, sitting next to this middle aged man he believes is probably his son, he certainly looks familiar, struggling to make conversation with him. I am careful to call him dad often, frequently mentioning my mother, reminding him that this woman, this child that I have brought with me are my own family. What I’m trying to do, what I want, so much, is to place him in a familiar network of associations and meanings. Native Americans speak of having a map in the head, a way of knowing where one is in relationship to the land, its history, society and all living beings. Most days now, my father has no map, all meaning draining away from his surroundings. Yes, I really must try to get him out more often. Back at the Information Centre I get two teas from the machine,

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bring them across to one of the tables. We sip our drinks looking out at a couple of swans gliding across one of the flooded clay pits. Here at Far Ings, they have created a nature reserve reclaimed from an industry based on digging up the land. Unlike the quarries that I visited recently, where you could feel the poignant absence of what is no longer there, here a kind of balance has been restored. When I explain how this place came about my father is delighted. It’s a process that chimes with his belief that the land was here before us, and would survive our tenancy, still be here long after we have gone. ‘If I had my way,’ he says, ‘I'd turn every factory and every site that I'd ever worked on into a place like this. They’ve done a good job here, a damned good job.’ We sit for quite some time without the need for conversation, at ease in each other’s company. Before we head off, we look at the display about the various birds its possible to see at Far Ings, and the incredible journeys that they make to reach here. The pink-footed goose coming from Arctic Russia, the swallows and sedges from South Africa, the Sand Martin from Chad. ‘Isn’t it amazing?’ says dad, ‘the journeys these birds make.’ We read the panel informing us that scientists still don’t fully understand why birds migrate. ‘What about you, dad? Why did you migrate?’ I watch him thinking about this for a while, then he says, ‘Half the people I went to school with left too, sure there was nothing for us at home.’ He starts to laugh, ‘A great flock of Paddies migrating, that’s what we were – thousands of the buggers descending on Britain.’ This a glimpse of his old self re-emerging – irreverent, scornful. It used to get him into trouble sometimes, when people tried to have a serious discussion about the burning issues of the day. We look through the window, see a man below with a pair of binoculars and a camera strung around his neck. ‘Bird watching, aye, there’s plenty of fellas who love it. I never did it meself. It looks a grand hobby, though, very relaxing.’

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But he did do it. Sometimes I’d catch him standing utterly still and silent, riveted by the flocks of swallows gathering on telegraph poles in September, before wheeling away in formation and heading back to Africa. Hard not to think he was envying them their return to their homeland, while he was stuck here for another year. Unlike the swallows and sedges, the sand martins and pink-footed geese, he never made it back to where he came from. Then he asks, ‘What is it you do again?’ I explain about teaching at Hull University once more. ‘Where’s that?’ ‘Just there, across the river.’ He looks to his right, over the murky water into Yorkshire. ‘Does your mother know? I tell him she does. ‘Has she told them in Ireland?’ ‘She has. I’ll take you there later, to the University. I’ll show you my office.’ ‘You have an office?’ The wonder in his voice reminds me how when I got my degree, many years ago now, he said, ‘Christ, you’re made, boy, bleddy well made. You’ll never have to work outside in the rain and the cold again.’ When we’re back outside and heading for the car I realise that I’ve left my notebook on one of the tables. I suggest that he waits in the car while I run back and get it. ‘Ah no,’ he says, ‘I think I’ll go and sit on that bench over there next to the water.’ For a moment I’m worried about leaving him outside on his own like that. But he looks so happy at the prospect that I dismiss my fears. ‘Okay, dad, alright. If that’s what you want.’ ‘I think I’ll do a bit of bird watching while I’m here.’ I’m not sure if this is a joke or not. ‘Are you going to take it up as a hobby?’

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He hesitates, looking across the water into the reeds. ‘I think I will.’ He seems serious. ‘I’ll get you a pair of binoculars for your birthday then, shall I?’ ‘Aye, just the job.’ I’ll get us both a pair, and we’ll come back and look for bitterns and marsh harriers. We’ll stand side by side in one of the hides, I’ll bring a flask of tea, a pack of sandwiches. We’ll make a day of it. I walk over to the bench with him, watch him settle down, stretch out his legs and turn up his face to the late afternoon sun. ‘You sure you’re alright?’ ‘I’m grand,’ he replies, ‘go on, take as long as you want, I’m in no hurry, sure.’ As I walk back up the stairs to the Information Centre I’m humming. If he’s feeling this good then maybe we can go for a drink. Suddenly I have this desire to see him supping a pint of Guinness, a thread of the creamy head coating his lips, him gripping the glass and savouring the aftertaste. ‘That’s a grand pint.’ Yes, that’s what we’ll do. We passed a pub on the way, The Sloop Inn, that looked old-fashioned, friendly, unthreatening – we’ll go there, have an early drink and get something to eat while we’re at it. The notebook is where I left it, lying on the table, I pick it up, pop it in my bag and amble back downstairs and into the car park. The bench is empty. Of course it is. I look around, just to be sure, but he’s nowhere to be seen. When its clear that he’s gone, that our brief time together is over, it feels like a hole has opened up inside me. For a long time I just stand there in the middle of the car park, slowly getting used to the world without him all over again. It felt so very good to have him back, even for such a short time. We get on much better now he’s dead. Its impossible to predict when he’ll return again. The one thing I can be sure of, it won’t be when I expect him to, its not something that can be planned. The last time I went to Ireland I walked along the strand at Cullenstown, stood in front of the old

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house on the cliff where he was born, dropped into The Atlantic Bar, but there was no hint of his presence anywhere. No, his appearances are just as impossible to predict as that sudden, urgent desire to ring home, before I remember there’s no one there now, both of them gone, the house sold. But, whenever I think of him, the memories still so alive, his presence still so powerful, it’s impossible to believe that he’s no longer in this world. And I think of him often. I know that I’ll think of him the next time I’m sitting in my office at the University, the rain beating against the window.

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Carol Rumens Rainbow you were the glowing inks a punch-drunk God smeared for his pledge, the bow he slung away, laughing. Gold-medal sprinter, you gave the slip to earth-sky frontiers: gently, you widened Dido’s wound, knowing the skills of the hospice as a sideline, and lowered yourself to rumour - grubby gold: we still forgave your teasing until

our deeper looking fatally

your see-through silk

scar of (slow!)

teased you back and tore

light’s

we traced your

slow travel

through thickset air on a rain-drop’s shell, you turned in a moment’s fading, faded

we handled you somewhereover

phenomenon never-land

knifed you open we dropped you

un-done your eight-fold

Carol Rumens 57


cloth

all

holed

your ribboned skin all the more wonderful, we said. And seemingly you magnify us still: you stretch the water in our eyes; glance over our domes and spires, un-mocking. You could still lean down, Iris, and have mercy on the world.

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Resort Mouse-wheat, beetle-barley, When shall we harvest you? In your child’s time, sighs the grass. Pixie-beards, moon-grain, How shall we grind you? Bones and icebergs, sighs the grass. Plumes, florets, never still Will your flour amount to bread? Famine-bread, sighs the grass.

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Bubblings They’re talking happy talk, the spring-time birds. She’s talking happy talk, the spring-time wren. The spring-time diver-duck is talking happy talk, And the green things are busting up, and spring-time roots are strong. Lady-wren’s got twice the voice, the young tide travels far, As far as Hemlock Sluice where he leaves a trace of salt, A tear from the clay-pits, too, is seeping through my song.

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Among Flies If I peer down into a hole in a wall of grasses, will I enter the universe of neutrinos? Yes, but only after passing through the universe of insects. It was not a windhover, not a dove, not even a kingfisher that dropped onto my book and looked at me from its round little otterish head. It was a newly-illuminated word, dragon-fly, and it deigned to show me a long tail and 2 pairs of wings - which I was about to describe inaccurately as completely transparent. I discovered just in time that there was a tiny spot at the top of each, a miniature tax-disc. It disappeared, perhaps to hover high over the magenta spires to reach the blackly gleaming ditch-water on the far western edge of the field, perhaps to weave from stalk to stalk, undercover, stemnipping, sap-sucking. I have no name for the emerald fly on my wrist. It washes its front legs, lazily. Its plated coat is greener than the grass: it is the green ink of all the grass and all the leaves in the field, reduced and lit from beneath. If I couldn’t see, I wouldn’t know this miniature knight had pinned himself onto me. My ankles are trying to learn the difference between the tickle of a grass-blade and the tickle of a spider or some other many-legged, antennae-waving particle. I am not entirely sure if I like these visitors. The very smallest, the ones I can’t see, my own skin-villagers, I’m cool with. Of course, there has to be a speck of fly in my full glass of cherryade. I tip it all into the grass. Drink, grass. Fly away home, fly. L’chaim!

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David Kennedy Poem ending with a line from Robert Duncan blinking dawn chamber filling with what I am twisting maze in a shiny brass lamp birds’ familiar ‘can I kick it?’ ‘well can I kick it?’ and now a curlew’s cry losing the world’s immeasurable body body rolling away and I must trust the figures as they emerge

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Graham Mort Black Crow Black Crow you’re door-nailed now a stiff kaput rogered dead to rights and how! Arse-to-tit on the black stuff A truck or SUV did for you laid you low engineered your fall though not stiff enough to stop your mates’ croaking call Come and play They seem to say it as if you could Black Crow but you’re all spattered shite and blood got stuffed in half a mo Come and pay is what they mean They’re dining out on you even though you’re too obscene to soar or preen prefer playing dead incognito doggo schtum Black Crow enough! You’re just another bum The show has stopped cancelled aborted like your plumage-sheen in speeding doors sexy selfadmiring gleam the macho stance you blagged the carrion you snorted took you under numb black rubber Nicely shagged Bon chance! Black Crow don’t blubber you’re a goner you’re lunch your life is lopped off root and branch and dick without prelude without pain so quick you couldn’t muster flight or fight Too little brain perhaps that’s understandable an easy lapse Your breath wouldn’t mist a looking glass for all your hard-arse hard-on attitude Black Crow you overtook us all and it’s death it’s death that won your heart that knocked you flat that snatched away all kerbside latitude that made you look so utterly deflated super-annuated a loser a gormless

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twat Life’s like that Black Crow You know it’s hard to tell one chancer from the next What made you such a class act King of the Undertow? More balls? Less nowse? No tact? Tugging at hedgehog guts until a passing shadow pulled you in fast and slick stacked into nil’s eternal deficit where all shadows roost and flit Black Crow it’s murder on the hard shoulder and you’ve been here days exairborne litter sad bum highway trash I guess the nights are slow lonely and long without traffic duty or birdsong to attract/distract you to get you through But we get along don’t we? We get along very well Every time I cycle past lashed in sweat I greet you with irony remorse regret Hail Black Crow! You beauty! You swell! You’re an institution a dark splash a lark a legend a landmark it’s a privilege to know No privilege can last Black Crow You’re sadly tattered prone in the snow-white glitter of a smashed screen battered in spilt oil fagends hard porn hard-core tar one feather still frantic in the traffic stream Black Crow I know you the way I knew a friend who used to be a scream and then became a drag instead of gay and then was merely in my way Black Crow this is the end of the beginning of the road for you What lies beyond this boundary is tough to guess or even think or say Be brave Adventure on alone Don’t take it hard Black Crow it’s rough luck a mantra set in stone and dropped into the Stygian brook Black Crow this much is true Carpe diem Que sera sera I’ll forget you I’ll seize the day alright and seize the

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night the new I’ll thumb the future’s bright lit passing car or magic bus and hitch right out of here Black Crow this is your pitch your requiem quietus release your own deep shit Death’s a bitch so just decease Black Crow don’t look at me that way Don’t look at me ok? Black Crow? Black Crow? Touché Touché

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Italian Hawks They’re lodged deep in the cool of the church steeple, nested behind an iron staple that binds the wall into a kind of faith with gravity. Too fast to recognise at first – wings and tails splayed for landing – these kestrels are cinnamon and grey, barred with black and bold to feed. Heat sends up its prayer; falcon and tercel own the valley, following the river’s ribbon of sky where olive trees run wild from parched terraces. The young wait, huge-eyed hook-beaked, all hunger and glistening baby-down, crowding the ledge to snap at flies, astonished at their own reflex. The tercel’s plumed dart slips into sight and their high keening starts – Me! Me! Me! – they pogo at the brink in tremulous selfishness and fear.

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Something dead is tossed to their clamour of kindling sibling hate; they crowd the nest-hole under the bell’s cracked angelus of jade. Below, the organ swells with funeral chords, the priest intoning, his lips tarnished with death, the faithful down on their ruined knees. A squadron of swifts chitters past the hawks’ eyes, broadsiding insect thermals, then lost into a grey-green haze, pure afterthought. We watch the hawks feed then leave, each chick boldening, stretching a wing, their claws gripping an edge, then flesh, then sky, then bone. They rend life and sense from air; their breed is burgeoning, erasing history from stone, flying their ensign of the present tense.

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Mary Aherne Spring at Far Ings Dan, her husband, was twitching with excitement. Far Ings was renowned for its rare birds and he’d been promised marsh harriers, bearded tits and, possibly, bitterns. They trudged along a mucky track that ran between the flooded pits and reedbeds on one side, and the river on the other. Dan had been looking forward to the Visitor Centre with its panoramic views, interpretive displays, and birders’ commentaries, but, to his disappointment, it was closed on a Thursday. They struggled against the wind on the Chowder Ness Round Path. To their right the murky waters of the Humber swirled along the estuary then rushed on into the open sea. There was little sign of spring and just as well. Those first glossy spikes of daffodil, like sharp green fingers reaching from the soil, too often filled her head with thoughts of burial and suffocation, and then with a deep discontent, the urge to flee and start again. ‘In the old days they made tiles and bricks here,’ Dan said. ‘Dug the clay from pits.’ ‘Really?’ Ruby staggered as her heels sank into the mud. ‘Strange to think of that other world lost beneath the reeds and water,’ he said, ‘but good to see nature reasserting itself, eh, Ruby?’ ‘Like something from a fairy tale,’ she murmured. Dan stopped to look out towards the river. The mudflats glistened in the pearly March light. He muttered something about reed bed management and the Wild Life Trust but Ruby was distracted by a pair of birds, absorbed in their courtship flight, swooping and diving overhead. They rose, fell, rolled and tumbled into each other. ‘Look, Dan. What are they?’ but her question was left hanging on the wind. Dan set his sights firmly on the mud flats, his Leica binoculars nestling in the curve of his hands. ‘It’s so wild here,’ she says. ‘So flat and open. I feel like I could fall

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off the edge. Or lift off and float away.’ ‘Godwits.’ ‘I’m sorry?’ ‘Black-tailed godwits.’ ‘Oh. Good, eh?’ ‘Good? Bloody amazing.’ He pulled a battered notebook from his pocket and scribbled something with a half-chewed pencil. She’d bought him a computer program last Christmas to help him compile his lists but it sat in its box on a shelf gathering dust. His notebooks and journals were treasure houses for his many precious lists: house lists, yearly lists, area lists, trip lists and of course his own wish list, more burden than blessing perhaps, drawn up in strict alphabetical order from albatross to zhar-ptitsa. So strange to her that he was drawn to birds and flight. In his stout walking boots, dull brown corduroy trousers and bottle green anorak, Dan seemed as rooted to the ground as an ancient oak. ‘Cold, isn’t it?’ said Ruby. She shivered and pulled up the collar of her cerise cashmere coat. Already she regretted her decision not to wear the wellington boots offered by the receptionist at the hotel but was not prepared to admit as much to Dan. In the distance she could see a scattering of birds or birdwatchers, frail as jottings on the skyline, and a jogger struggled past them against the wind, with his companion, a red setter loping by his side. Dan took a sudden turn left off the path and disappeared down a narrow track. The wind made the map in his hand flap like a trapped bird. The hedgerow on either side was a tangle of black bones. ‘Ness Farm Track,’ he pronounced, ‘Busy spot in the old days. They carted barrow-loads of clay along this track to the cement works on the shore.’ Ruby followed with a sigh, picking her way over the uneven surface, avoiding puddles and muddy patches. When they’d first met she found his birdwatching hobby rather charming, was quietly proud of the fact that he could name birds on sight. And not just robbins or sparrows like most people. But it had changed from a harmless

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pastime to a morbid obsession that threatened to overpower her. A noise, like two stones tapping loudly together, hammered in her ear. Chak, chak. Chak, chak. Sharp, insistent, frantic, like the pulse that beat inside her. ‘Ah,’ said Dan. ‘Stonechats.’ She peered through the gaps in the thorn bush to where the grey water shimmered like scraps of shot silk. ‘Look, Dan. Ducks.’ ‘Mmm. Shoveler. And, eh... wigeon,’ he said with a satisfied smile. He passed the binoculars to her awkwardly, without removing the strap from around his neck, guarding his great treasure, reluctant to relinquish possession. Their heads touched as she leaned in to take the binoculars and his hand brushed her cheek. Shovelers, indeed. Why couldn’t he just call a duck, a duck? Ruby handed the binoculars back with a tense smile and wondered if she’d be able to stay here for three more days. She felt exhausted. It was so difficult to have a normal conversation with him. Little wonder she’d looked for comfort elsewhere. A veil of cloud moved in from the coast and rain spangled the air. ‘We can shelter in the hide for a while if you like,’ he said. ‘That sounds like a barrel of laughs.’ ‘Maybe you’d rather go back to the hotel.’ ‘And sit around in that dingy room on my own all day?’ ‘Hey, that’s the Swan Lake Suite I’ll have you know. Spectacular views of the lake. And it’s not cheap either. Only the best for you, my love.’ ‘Look, if you’d rather I left you with your birding chums just say so.’ ‘You know I didn’t mean that. Of course I want you with me. Let’s go and find the others now.’ ‘Oh, leave it. I’ll go back and read my book.’ She didn’t feel like spending the whole afternoon staring through a letterbox flap with Dan, Bernard, Vernon and all the other birders, fidgeting with lenses, sucking on Murray mints and breathing heavily. That night Ruby woke to the sound of distant cries. At first she

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thought it might be those pink-footed geese winging their way home to the icy wastes but on waking she realised it was the couple in the next room, Scott and Fiona. Ruby had struck up a conversation with them after dinner and they’d stayed drinking in the residents’ lounge long after midnight. ‘Filthy beggars,’ Dan said hoisting his pyjama bottoms up higher around his waist. ‘And I have to be up at five for that walk along the river.’ ‘At least somebody’s having fun,’ Ruby said. Dan rapped a couple of times on the wall above the pink satin headboard but the love birds carried on, oblivious. Ruby and Dan slept fitfully between crescendos until, at dawn, Dan rose to join the bird-watching party. Ruby pretended to be asleep, yet watched him dress through half-open eyes. Hovering by the door and pulling on his black mac with a crackle, he looked, gaunt and sinister, like one of those dark birds they’d seen on a raft, shaking out its wings to dry. ‘Come on love,’ he whispered, ‘d’ye fancy it?’ ‘Fancy what?’ ‘The walk. There’ll be warblers. Chiffchaffs and Cetti’s.’ He uttered the words with a kind of reverence, like a priest chanting the Offertory. ‘Oh for god’s sake, Dan,’ Ruby snuffled a little under the scratchy duvet and turned away from him. He hovered by the door as if he might say something to make her feel better or perhaps hoping she might find the right words to reach out to him. She sensed his disappointment and enjoyed it. What did he care really? She’d tried time and again to get close to him but he always pushed her away. Even on those increasingly rare occasions when he turned to her in bed, he wasn’t really trying to please her. He worked on her body as though performing a duty but all the time his thoughts were elsewhere. His career or his tax return. And now those wretched birds. She stayed in bed until the chambermaid’s hoover in the corridor outside nudged her from her sleep. When she opened the curtains

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sunlight shimmered on the hem of shore, transforming the Humber into a silver, rippling ribbon. Waders scoured the mud flats, piercing the gleaming skin with ravenous beaks. A blur of black and white wings flustered overhead, rolling, tumbling and calling. What were they saying? Pee-wit, wit, wit-eeze, wit. She wondered what they were. Dan of course would know. Dan was able to name every bloody one of them. It hadn’t been so bad when birdwatching was just a hobby but after he found out about her affair it became a complete obsession. He spent his evenings pouring over migration charts and birdwatching books. Hardly noticed when she stayed out late and never commented on her frequent weekends away. His suggestion that they go away took her by surprise. They did so little together these days but maybe a holiday in the sun was what they needed. It might just bring them closer. France would be nice, or Morocco even. Or perhaps a city break with trips to the theatre and art galleries. He’d handed her the leaflet, and she stood, turning it over and over in her hands ‘Far Ings?’ she said. ‘Birdwatching?’ ‘Why not? Fresh air will do us both a world of good.’ Even Dan’s unshakeable optimism had failed him as they pulled up in front of Reeds Hotel. In the harsh March light it looked lonely, abandoned, hunched like a sullen teenager with its back to the river. Not really the sort of place you take your wife if you want to patch things up. Ducks huddled in corners of the wet car park. A flock of pink-footed geese honked overhead, mocking them, heading back to Iceland. Even the geese didn’t feel it was worth the trip. Inside the hotel lobby a loud whistle and screech startled them. The noise came from a bird cage by the door. Inside the cage was a parrot, an African grey, with a fierce black beak, grey velvety feathers, its tail flashing scarlet. It cocked its head to one side and fixed Ruby with a cold, furious eye, as if to admonish her, then erupted coughing and spitting with a malevolent rage. ‘Odd thing to have at a nature reserve,’ Ruby muttered to the empty lobby. At the reception desk a board announced Stanley Pugh’s 80th birthday party, a business

72 Mary Aherne


conference in the Humber Suite and an early morning birding walk. The dining room, tense with starched linen, cutlery and glass stared out onto endless views of sky and lake. The second day, to please her, he drove them to the pub at South Ferriby. In silence, they ate their battered cod and chips, washed down with small glasses of luke-warm pinot grigio. The whole time Dan gazed out of the window, ever alert to the possibility of greenshank en route back from Africa, the blue flash of a kingfisher, the curlew’s wistful cour-lee! cour-lee! He tapped his feet, flicked through his notebook, whistled as tunelessly as a magpie. Keen to be off. To get back to the nature reserve so he could cocoon himself in the damp, fusty, reassuring mugginess of the hide. Far away from her moods and her demands. ‘Five hundred quid,’ he said. ‘Sorry?’ ‘Five hundred quid I paid for this trip. And still no bitterns.’ ‘Maybe it’s not the right time of year,’ Ruby said, draining her third glass of wine. ‘Scott said he saw some the last time he came.’ ‘So. Maybe he’s winding you up.’ That evening they sat by the window in the dining room looking out onto the still waters of the lake. Ruby felt Dan’s disapproving gaze fall on her bare shoulders, her arms, the swell of her breasts above the scalloped neckline of her dress. There hadn’t really been much point in dressing up for dinner. Most people here slouched about in shirts and jeans but he hadn’t said anything. The look was enough. Ruby pecked at her food, helped herself to another glass of wine. ‘Might try a different hide tomorrow,’ said Dan. ‘This fish is very salty. And there’s far too much garlic in the sauce.’ A torrent of dark wings disturbed the air over the lake. ‘Did you see that?’ he said, scribbling in his notebook. At the next table, a group of nature lovers chattered excitedly about the day’s discoveries: sea aster, scurvy grass, sea plantain. At another table, a conspiracy of business men in serious suits squabbled

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over steaks and stock quotes. ‘Do you know, love,’ he said in an effort to entertain her, ‘there are eels in the lakes.’ Ruby shuddered. ‘The young eels,’ he continued, ‘swim all the way here from the Sargasso Sea.’ ‘What would they do that for?’ ‘They get into the pits through a sluice from the estuary and then as adults they swim all the way back to the Sargasso Sea.’ ‘No way.’ ‘It’s bloody true. They follow the currents in the Atlantic and end up back in the Sargasso Sea.’ ‘Whatever for?’ ‘Well, to breed, of course.’ ‘You have to admire them, I suppose.’ ‘And after mating they die.’ ‘Oh, how tragic.’ Ruby took another sip of wine. ‘You know, I read at the Visitor Centre that bitterns adore eels.’ Dan’s face lit up momentarily and then took on a wistful air. Ah, bitterns. Ruby left the table and tottered outside to get some fresh air. She ignored the looks she got from the businessmen, the wine waiter’s appreciative wink, and the raucous whistle from Casper, the African grey, gazing at his world through the bars of his cage. When she got back she found that Scott and Fiona had joined them at their table. Scott had ordered another bottle of wine and was filling everyone’s glass. ‘So, are you into this birdwatching thing?’ Ruby said to Fiona while the men talked great tits and whimbrels. ‘Not madly,’ Fiona twittered into her wine. ‘For me it’s an escape from the house and the kids. A chance for me and Scott to spend some time together.’ ‘How romantic,’ said Ruby, looking across the table at Scott. He returned her gaze and more than once that evening made a point of touching her hand when he spoke. He complimented her on her dress,

74 Mary Aherne


asked about her work, told jokes about birdwatchers that even made Dan smile. On their last day Dan joined a guided tour of the reserve. ‘Don’t you want to come?’ he said as they finished breakfast. ‘No. You’re all right. I’ll read my book then go for a walk later.’ It was almost dusk when Ruby set off from the hotel for a walk around the reserve. She dawdled along the narrow track, watching ragged clouds chase each other across a livid sky. Tomorrow they could escape back to the city. ‘Oi,’ a voice behind her called. ‘You could sprain your ankle in those things.’ It was Scott laughing and pointing at her mud-spattered patent ankle boots. ‘Thought you’d be with the group,’ she said ‘Naw. Fancied a bit of bird spotting on my own today,’ he grinned. ‘You look cold,’ said Ruby. We could go into that hide to warm up.’ Inside it was dark and damp, like walking into a church. Disorientated, she stumbled and reached for Scott’s arm to steady herself, then bolted the door behind them. Scott opened the latch and the soft evening light filtered through the open slit. They sat side by side on the bench looking out onto the still lake. ‘Where’s Fiona?’ she said. ‘She drove down to Grimsby to visit an old friend.’ ‘Sensible girl.’ ‘I take it birdwatching’s not really your bag,’ he said turning to her with a smile. ‘Not exactly. And yet there’s something really beautiful about this place. Especially in the evening,’ she said, reaching into her pocket. ‘Here. Try some of this.’ ‘Mmm. Sloe gin. Make it yourself ?’ The light began to fade and the flask passed back and forth between them. Ruby felt light-headed and laughed softly. ‘What’s so funny?’ he said. ‘Nothing, really. But if I don’t laugh I might just cry.’ She reached out and touched his cheek then, leaning closer,

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allowed her lips to brush his mouth. She could smell the sloe gin on his breath. The she pressed her lips to his and kissed him hungrily. He seemed surprised when her hands moved to his belt and she pulled him to her. He undid the buttons of her coat, fondled her breasts, squeezed her nipples till it hurt. She took him, her back pressed against the damp wooden slats and his hot breath sharp in her ear. The hide echoed with the urgency of their love until a different music filled the evening air. At first she thought it was inside her head, the throb of another migraine. It was a low-pitched booming, like a foghorn far away at sea. On and on like a child blowing over the top of a bottle. Low-pitched, resonant, thrilling. ‘Hey. Hear that?’ said Scott lifting his head from her neck. ‘That’s a bittern, that is. The boom of the bittern.’ ‘A bittern? No way. You serious?’ ‘Absolutely.’ She fumbled in her pocket and pulled out her mobile. ‘What you doing?’ he said, pulling away from her. ‘Dan. I’m going to have to call him. To tell him. About the bittern.’ ‘What? Your husband? Now?’ ‘It’s really important to him. Dan? Yes, Dan? Can you hear me? You’ll have to come quick. There’s a bittern. I can hear it. I’m in the – um - ’ ‘Ness Hide,’ Scott mouthed. ‘Ness Hide, love. Hurry. Before it disappears.’ Scott zipped himself up, shook his head, took another swig from the flask, and unbolted the door. ‘Sorry Scott. I – I mean, well…’ she said with a crooked smile, straightening her clothes, running her hands through her hair. ‘No problem,’ he said slipping the lacy web of her knickers into her pocket as Dan arrived panting and swearing at the door of the hide. ‘I can hear it,’ Dan whispered. ‘It must be out there on the lake.’ Dan pressed his binoculars to his eyes and scanned the reedbeds through the open hatch. ‘Yes. Oh, Ruby. Oh. Yes.’

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Biographies Mary Aherne is a PhD student in the English Department at the University of Hull. Aingeal Clare has written for The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement, London Review of Books and other journals. She is currently completing a PhD at the University of York. John Wedgwood Clarke is UK and Ireland poetry editor for Arc Publications. He is also director of the Beverley Literature Festival and Bridlington Poetry Festival and teaches poetry on the part-time creative writing degree course at the University of Hull. Cliff Forshaw’s collections include Trans and a recent chapbook Wake which won the Flarestack Pamphlet Poetry Prize 2009. He has been International Writer-inResidence at Hobart, Tasmania, winner of the Welsh Academi John Tripp Award and twice a Hawthornden Writing Fellow. Cliff teaches at the University of Hull. Ray French is the author of The Red Jag and other stories, and a co-author of Four Fathers. His two novels, All This Is Mine and Going Under, have been translated into four European languages. He teaches at the University of Hull. Sam Gardiner was born in Ireland but has been a Humbersider for the past 30 years. His collections Protestant Windows (2000) and The Night Ships (2007) are published by Lagan Press. David Kennedy has published three collections of poetry with Salt. His most recent poetry publications are MY Atrocity (Oystercatcher) and Mistral (Rack). Kath McKay has recent poetry in Smiths Knoll magazine, and short fiction in Migration Stories, Crocus Books, Manchester. She has published one poetry collection and one novel. She has also published short stories and poetry in magazines and anthologies. She teaches creative writing at the University of Hull. Graham Mort’s latest poetry book is Visibility: New and Selected Poems (Seren, 2007). Graham lectures in Creative Writing at Lancaster University where he also directs the Centre for Transcultural Writing and Research. He has worked extensively in Africa designing and developing writing projects for the British Council

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Carol Rumens has published fifteen full-length collections of poetry, the most recent of which is De Chirico’s Threads (Seren, 2010). Her awards include the Alice Hunt Bartlett Prize (with Thomas McCarthy), a Cholmondeley Award and the Prudence Farmer Prize. She has published short stories, a novel, Plato Park (Chatto, 1988) and a collection of poetry lectures, Self into Song (Bloodaxe Books/Newcastle University, 2007). Malcolm Watson is an artist living in Hull. He was encouraged to continue writing poetry by Philip Larkin while reading for his first degree in English at the University of Hull. In recent years, he has won prizes in many competitions, including commendations in the National Poetry Competition in 2006 and 2008. David Wheatley is the author of four collections of poetry with Gallery Press, Thirst (1997), Misery Hill (2000), Mocker (2006), and A Nest on the Waves (2010). He recently edited Samuel Beckett’s Selected Poems 1930-1989 for Faber and Faber. He teaches at the University of Hull.

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Acknowledgements All photographs are by Geoff Trinder, except those on pages 14,16, 58 and 65 which are by David Wheatley. The paintings, all acrylic on canvas, on pages 37, 38, 39, 40 and 43 are by Cliff Forshaw. Designed by Graham Scott at Human Design, Hull. Printed by Wyke Printers, Hull

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A Humber Mouth Special Commission 2010. First published in 2010 by Humber Mouth Hull City Arts, Central Library, Albion Street, Hull. This e...

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