Eileen O'Brien knew well the geography of the body. She understood especially
its bones, the monorail of the spine, the curve of the clavicle, the great dark bowl
of the skull. She knew the shaft of the femur too, and how its round top sat cosily
into the pelvic socket. Even the minutiae of fingers and toes were familiar to her,
those tiny pieces of magic which made music, art, homes, meals. She
understood how the knee bent gently to the rhythm of the body, that muscles
extended and flexed so that she would be carried safely forward. She was aware
of all this, how she walked, how she talked, how she breathed, how she ached,
but not how she might love.
They brought the cattle in from outlying areas, field by field, until they were all
penned. The old jeep moved slowly at first, pitching awkwardly through the mud,
but it shifted more easily in the first open field and there was a stampede as the
cattle moved from side to side and a way opened up before them. For one
glorious moment the man felt the exhilaration he had experienced when he
watched cowboy movies as a child. Big country. Big men, Big beasts. The
wide open skies. Nothing narrow or stifling in that celluloid world, like a Civil
Service career, a personal life that had become utterly confused or days that
carried the smell of burning flesh on every breeze. He jumped from the jeep
when it reached the top of the field, and began to drive the first cattle downward
towards the yard. It was four in the evening before they were all in, hooves
stamping on wet concrete, impatient, wary.
Twice. Not once but twice within an hour the phone rang and when I answered it
there was no one there. It rang again a third time and I ran down the stairs
immediately so that I could grab it and insist that it speak to me. But the ringing
stopped before I picked up the receiver. I'll sit beside it for a while, I thought.
He's probably finding it hard to get through. Eventually he'll succeed and I'll be
I keep having this dream. I'm in a foreign country. I enter buildings with other
tourists, but each time I come out and look back at the building I've just been in it
has changed into another. At that stage the pounding of my heart awakens me
and the images of unfamiliar buildings soon fade. I tried to tell my mother about
it but she said it wasn't important, that dreams don't count at all in the overall
scheme of things. Easy for her, though. She sleeps tight at night. For me sleep
is always hard to achieve, and often full of disturbance. Sometimes I give up on
sleep entirely, leave my bed, take a flashlight and walk along the river. Months
ago I saw an otter but no anglers. It moved along my path and just blended
into the river, like it had been made of water all along. I hoped it would leak back
out onto the bank later on, but that didn't happen. I waited until dawn crept in
over the eastern sky but I never saw it again.
They gathered in a ring around him. They began slowly, almost imperceptibly, to
move. They linked hands. Eight ugly pairs of hands entwined and they side-
stepped, in a singing dance, around Dick.
Sings to the stars.
Dances with the dead.
Got madness in his head.
Got a visitor from Mars.
He sings to the stars.
He dances with the dead,
with the dead,
with the de de de dead,
de de de dead,
de de de,
de de de dead.
They had matched their taunt to an abrasive air and they spun it slowly round
and round, down to the final drumbeat "de de de dead."
Home again, and I sit on my doorstep listening to the birds, regardless of whether the party will discover me or leave me be. What matters is not this morning, that shamelessly phoney funeral, that obsequious gathering in the hotel or Desmond's suspicions that I have defected. What matters is that the air here smells sweet, that swans that fly inland from the nearby lake pass close to my house, that they are both at home and away as they go to and from this place, that the sound of a deer calling out in the dusky twilight is as deep as the gong on my great grandfather's clock. What matters is that it is yet so still that I can hear the soft fur of a hare quiver. What matters is that I am among the laughing trees. It does not matter that I have a shotgun at the ready every day."
I sit in a cool kitchen in a country that is only marginally mine. Through the window I see wind fuss inside a belt of trees which marks off my land from the burial ground next to it. The trees lean to one side, and I spot a lone bird perch beside its shadow on a bare branch. In Canada I grew up knowing the whys and wherefores of this place, yet there is much I do not know. When Samuel Irvine died, aged eighty seven, it was nothing to me. I had no need to understand what happened to him. I was unable even to picture his face though at one time rage had made me carry it around like a glass brimful of poison.
"that they are out there/sweet sentient scraps in an ignorant universe/almost like ourselves but with the strut of magic to them/that we are not incurably alone in the crisp after-cold/a wayward excess of the first scorching wind"
"Day after day/the hours jostle us/dragging our bright energies/through mud/launching us on a journey/riddled with joy/and tears/as if we had the knack/of managing ache/and treachery/while imagining angels./Better let us bleed/hunt stars/skin space/or learn to sit softly/with ourselves."