We were the Famous Four, explored and named
rocks and coves and the routes we climbed
to make the fantasy conform to what we knew –
Liz and Tim, the littler ones, and me and you.
In seaweed and lichen – once an oyster-catcher’s nest –
we confronted, and subdued our childhood’s coast.
This wasn’t playing as it’s usually understood,
too serious for that, but in all our heads
a version of what all this just might have been
if we were orphans camping here alone,
or catching criminals for Uncle Jack,
or fathoming the mystery of Dead Man’s Creek,
played on a silver screen behind our eyes –
though now I’m not sure about Tim, whose days
were made of puzzled prose rather than hot verse,
and struggled to turn his spirit into voice.
That day, we’d gone too far, passed some kind of limit,
our sense of time at best only approximate,
pretending to know what the sun’s position meant,
and, as though a switch clicked, knew that we were late.
“Let’s climb the cliff.” (Which of us was it that said this?)
“It’ll be quicker. Look. Here’s an easy place.”
And it did look easy. Nothing like real cliff,
no solid rock, but earth and grass – almost a path.
And of course, it was the daring, dashing thing to do –
snow falling, plane smashed, provisions running low.
Under the ceiling
of the clouds your plane is dwarfed
by northern landscapes.
to the invisible edge
of this unknown world.
Carpeted with trees,
black, we venture here only
Somewhere a river,
as unresponsive as the
sky that grips your flight.
Under your wings, ice
forms, seeds, grows, sighs, starts to grip.
I hear your engine
stop. The world is locked
away down there. There’s nothing
here for anyone.
Even the rushing wind
is like silence here. Look. Look.
The last place on earth.
No panic of course.
Trees sigh softly under snow.
Height mimics stillness.
River runs on, dark,
minding its own ice business.
Hills too far to help.
marks your silent drift to earth.
Air’s hands let you go.
There comes a point when
movement becomes apparent,
trees swing by beneath you.
fills the accelerating
silence. Earth greets you
with tree peaks waving.
Apprehension conceives this.
Then I heard you cry.
A small high cry like somebody surprised
as metal meets wood,
trees, invaded, take the strain,
snap, tear, fail to hold.
You rolled, tumbled past me, not yet dazed
by this event so disproportionate, so huge.
Inside gets confused
with what’s out there, suddenly
cold and upside-down.
Suddenly cold, I saw you strike a ledge
of rock, and in slow motion, bounce and fly.
Seconds pass. Plane sounds
die and forest noise resumes.
From you there’s nothing.
You banged down on the scree that’s waited there all day.
Lay still. The only sounds were in our heads.
Already the wait for
resolution has begun.
Knowledge beyond us.
Act. Do. Calm the little ones. Get first aid.
And even as I ran and fetched – explained
there’s only silence.
Something that can’t be under-
stood. You’ve taken flight
into the space we’d filled with tales and yarns.
Something was over. I felt it wrench away.
Long weeks of seeing
you, sometimes dead, sometimes quick,
but knowing really
that you, like love, like childhood, had to go.
I sat in the bath, hands squeezed between my thighs,
look without seeing
through a window, and my class
works on behind me.
I knew it wouldn’t come back. And cried. And cried.