Whisperer

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Whisperer

The bird whisperer, bag of bread crusts in his hand, walks towards that lake I knew so well in my childhood. His friends, the ducks and geese, wait for him to arrive so they can have their breakfast. The whisperer is late today and emerges slowly from the early morning damp and mist.

The whisperer’s friends are hungry and impatient. They leave the lakeside to waddle across the road in a lengthening gaggle, fastest at the front, laggards strung out, straggling behind. When they reach him, the whisperer stops for a moment to greet them. Ducks and geese and traffic stand still as the whisperer pulls the whole world to a halt. Watching him, I remember how, when I was a child, those same sharp bills nibbled at the crusts I held in my fingers as my father rowed our hired boat over the lake’s smooth waters.

The whisperer crosses the road with his flock strung out behind him. Drivers and passengers take photos and videos on their cell phones as the battalion marches on, down the slight slope, back to the waterside where the whisperer scatters crusts and breadcrumbs and throws corn as if it were a shower of stars from the firmament.

Greying skies threaten above dark waters. At lake’s end, above the waterfall, the monument to Scott of the Antarctic pierces the gloom with its fine, white tower. Scott sailed from this city in search of new lands and adventures at the South Pole. Like me and many others he left, never to return.

I look at the bruises that decorate my wrinkled hands. Neither spots nor wrinkles were there when I left that lake behind me, was it really fifty years ago? I view the video on YouTube, shot from an I-phone in a parked car, and my eyes mist over. This was my home, this was the land of my fathers, this was the land of choirs that would always welcome me back with song … yet I no longer go back.

The video is grainy and bears grey threads that mimic the passing clouds. I gaze on that well-remembered lake: there, so many years ago, I swam in its waters, ran and biked along its winding paths, rowed around its edges in and out of the reeds, and fed the lake birds as I floated beside them. I remember all too well the warmth of spring and the joy of the returning sun that strew gold daffodils beneath budding trees.

I see myself reflected in the computer’s screen: my wrinkled skin wraps my shriveled flesh in the same way crinkly paper winds itself round an Easter egg. There is so much inside that binding, so many memories and secrets that dream their lives away inside me. I close my eyes and for a moment I am once more that youthful body flashing its jack-knife blade into those rippling waters …

Evening comes and I stand in a shimmer of moonlight at the garden’s edge, my hands held out to catch a falling star. Alas, I seize only the mutterings of snowflakes strung between the constellations. My scarecrow dream stretches out a long, thin hand and clasps bright treasures in its tight-clenched fist. Inverted, the Big Dipper hangs its question mark from the sky’s dark eyelid. A honking of geese haunts the highway high above me. I swivel from north to south to catch an impression of darkness swift and sudden that blots out the scattered grains of stars.

A finger-nail of rising moon emerges from the trees and hoists itself skywards. The moon hones its cutting edge into an ice-thin blade and the lone dove of my heart flaps in its trap of barren bone. Moonlight and starlight run twin liquors, raw, within me. Stars nearby fade in its brightness. I have built a fire inside the house. When I go back in, my goose quill pen scratches black lines in my journal as I weave words by firelight across a flickering page. Ghosts of departed constellations drown in the nearby river. Pale planets scythed by moonlight bob phosphorescent on a rising flood of memories.

Comment: This would be a “raw poem” were it not a piece of “raw prose”! I found it among my notes late last night and revised it and put it up this morning. It was based on a YouTube video of a man, the bird whisperer, feeding geese at Roath Park Lake in Cardiff, South Wales. When I was a teenager, my family moved from Swansea to Cardiff and Roath Park was a short bike ride from our new home. The Scott Memorial stands at the lower end of Roath Lake, just by the waterfall. Apparently Robert Scott sailed from Cardiff on 15 June 1910 in a converted whaler in an effort to walk to the South Pole. Like me, when I left Cardiff, he didn’t return.

Here’s a link to Robert Scott: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Falcon_Scott

This is the video on which the piece is based: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clbbMt2sl0k

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