(Above, one hundred red kites;
They built my house.)
Some were tethered still, children pulled at them,
And wondered at their bobbing, their straining to be lost,
Even as they writhed ecstatic between euphoric freedom
And tugging memory, that very human cost.
Of course these were false kites, paper and twigs.
It is the real ones that made my home.
I was a big child, my parents joked,
So I would not be carried away.
(They are the ones I dream of joining, when my bones are lighter.)
I saw one close, when I too was a child,
And never thought of the cord it lacked.
Its feathers were dingy, mottled vermilion,
Far from the pure paper red of my toys;
Just a bundle of terracotta bones,
(Avian skeletons are hollow inside, an adaptation to lighten the skeletal system for flight.)
Ragged, dishevelled – its wing was broken.
(A side-effect of hollow bones is their frailty. I can hear the sea.)
I tried to pick it up, to take it safe;
Its beak lashed forward and took part of my hand,
Pinched out my flesh precisely,
Left a perfect diamond-hole of red and pain.
I could not move my fingers.
(Now, sitting on the ground, I look at my palm. The scar is still there, and a little indent in flesh where my hand had never recovered its flatness.)
But still I took it home,
Staining its feathers with rolling childish tears
And pouring human blood.
(Thinking back, I can see it still, in my hands. I held it with its strong wing pressed shut, my other hand about its gullet, so it could not peck me again. As I took it home through the lanes, its claws opened and closed madly, grasping at nothing, for me. I do not know how many years it has been, how the time has washed away.)
My parents fought because of the kite.
The kite watched them argue,
Its wing makeshift splinted.
I cried again, when it was taken,
My hand makeshift bandaged.
(The bark of the tree digs into my back, and I have sunk a little into the mossy ground. I find I cannot move. Two toes in my left foot tingle, in harmony with my scarred hand.)
I showed my twins the kites,
Showed them the palm of my hand,
Where that beak had slit a tendon,
And how my two longest fingers
Now could only point;
They both were young.
The wind was high that day, our coats’ buttons, too.
(I feel a breeze on my face; is it cool? Either way, I am perspiring, expiring.)
I say to them, the kites built our house.
“Why?” – a child’s question,
Asked over and over and over.
The answer, debt, has weighed on me,
Weighed in my bones, infused them to their marrows,
(Would I fly if I passed that on?)
And held me to the ground – it held all three of us.
I have one twin on each side,
Boy on left, girl on right.
Boy holds my useless fingers,
He tells me he loves their feathers,
Their dirty dry-blood coats,
That he dreams of wearing colours such as those,
Resplendent matted sailors’ robes,
To curl against the early frost,
To billow out in springtime breezes,
To perch upon a mountain-top,
And to look down over lakes and stones and paths,
And to revel in needing none of it.
(Even now, it is sweet for me to remember such a dream. Salt stings my eyes; it has found its way into my mouth, too. My bones ache, and there is a fractured throb on my left. Why can I not lift my arm?)
Girl stands on my dexterous side,
She tells me how she envies their wings,
She tells me how she feels that, here,
With the wind in her hair and her eyes and her bones,
She knows the feeling of soaring,
And she tells me what a wonder it is to soar,
To be among that flying legion,
To be their centurion, childish wings akimbo,
(Haphazard sprawl, yet soaring still,)
To fly and hunt among the birds,
To feel a mammal in one’s clutches,
To sense life’s ebb in the sinking wind,
To rise and fall.
(I remember her words, a propped-up starfish I, and how I came to know iotas of those feelings. Rise and fall, rise and fall – my ribs can hardly manage it.)
When I saw the kites again, my twins were gone.
(One hundred red kites; I see you, is my house waiting?)
My horse was heavy. (Was I too?)
I felt the bones that held us together.
The cry came, an avian shriek,
Above the mammalian murmurs,
(Those sounds, they are numbed now. Is it the wind I hear, is it the sea? I grasp at the moss, my useless fingers stay sprawled on its surface. It is damp – I know that, but I do not feel it; my seeing fingers fail me. Even the kites are fading, weightless sand-grains in the blue.)
No fear, no fear, what could I have feared?
Of course these were false foes, paper and twigs;
They would blow away in the wind.
The sword at my right was heavy.
Needs must to cut bone.
(It is still heavy, it rests across my leg. The blood cannot reach my foot. My foot cannot reach the ground. I cannot move the blade. Where else could the blood go, if not to ground, from the hollow in my left flank?)
I saw the kites above,
They were with me, for me,
Beaks snapping in breathy anticipation,
With me, for me.
They had built my house,
It was up there, with them,
I had only to wait.
(I am waiting now, but I am tired, how much longer can there be? Is it the sea I hear?)
The sea’s breath was at our backs.
The kites it lifted high,
It pressed us down.
“Break their bones” was the cry,
(I shiver a little; isn’t it summer?)
I shivered a little, but nerves were normal.
The fear was gone,
What could I have feared?
The wind was behind us,
My bones were light,
(My bones are heavy)
My house was waiting,
Built and readied
By one hundred red kites.
(My house is waiting,
Built and readied
By one hundred red kites,
Waiting for me, on me.
My bones are heavy, I have sunk in the moss.
The bark digs into my back.
Above, a swooping red kite.
Blood and bone, paper and twigs.)
The peck of a beak, on my left flank.
A human thought, a dream of flight.
Watching the skies, I saw their beauty.
I slept in the grass, a twin on each side.
My claw is on my right – I remember you, daughter.
I wear a wet-blood coat – I remember you, son.
The wind is in my down – I remember you, daughter.
The earth is green and red – I remember you, son.
I feel the tree.
I am paper and twigs.
The light is fading, my bones weigh me down.
The earth is soft, the sun is warm.
My body is cold, my bones are hard.
My thoughts are sun. My body is earth.
My house is waiting, my home in the sky.
Above, one hundred red kites;
They close the door.
It is made of paper and twigs.
I go to enter in.