fulmars

By Sheila Black


I must have seen them along my childhood
beaches, scattered along the rocks, in the
coves of blood-colored stone and moss. My mother in a Shetland sweater, walking
ahead, distant-eyed,after my brothers, as though I
disappointed her, which I did.  She read me
the bird book. Gull-like but with a smoky gray plumage,
a tendency to hover midflight for extended
periods. Highly pelagic outside the breeding season,
feeding on fish or offal.  “Pelagic” meaning of the
open waters. There must be a reason I confuse
them with tornadoes or dust storms, imagine,
despite consulting the dictionary, their name means
wind.  Once on the beach my mother took me
by the hand, and we walked to the fringe
of the water as though to the edge of something.
She often said as if it were life or death as if
these were only words, but in the spectroscope of
memory I grasp as if for the first time
what she might have meant.  That day, she said if
we kept going we would reach America.  God knows
why they call it the new world. The sweaters she favored were mossy with bits of
blood thread mingled in. As to the fulmars, my
smoky sisters, like other petrals their walking
ability is limited but they are strong fliers,
with a stiff wing action quite unlike that of gulls,
long-lived and long of memory if migration
patterns are to be trusted. Once I twisted
my ankle and she carried me back to the car.  Uncharacteristically pleased when I liked
the water, swam like the fish I was. I would always
be a strong swimmer, she told me, a creature
of air, but also of water 
 

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