"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Saturday, September 2, 2023

“Out of the Ninth-Month Midnight” 

In memoriam, Flight 111 (2 September 1998)


Late afternoon, wind off the land.

Mountainous clouds backlit by sun.

The water is quicksilver.

Systaltic ─ now and then, now and then.

The harbour is a heart, whole

and shattered, held together,

torn apart by its own pulse ─

the circle of sun, the season,

the millennium.

Suddenly, two quivers of light

as though far away has epitomized.

Plovers, a pair, semipalmated,

winter-ready, rare

on this bit of beach at the Point.

My gaze caught on their bright white

airborne bellies;

I follow them to the shoreline.

They become stones.

Have they come to answer the question

I ask of the Atlantic?

They have come to rest in the midst

of their imperative ─

the space between them

is the moment between contractions

when eternity relaxes

and the chambers of the world

fill with silence.


With my binoculars I see their dark

brown eyes keeping watch,

the single dark breast bands,

the nearly all dark beaks.

So still, so alert

they are perfectly aware of survival’s

fragility. They simply know

the temperature of tomorrow.

It is me who holds us

inside a compass,

a dial; but there is no circumference

except what I need to cradle

my desperate longing.

Time is broken and mended

in every breath, and the ocean

ticks strangely in the blood...

Here, on a September littoral,

where late afternoon sun slants seaward,

with a warm wind blowing off the land,

on a long journey between now and then,

these two together pause

because life and death will not.

(I wrote this poem years ago and had forgotten it until I was reminded that today is the 25th anniversary of the crash of Swiss Air 111 off the south coast of Nova Scotia. Much has happened in the world since that terrible night and its aftermath, but it behooves us to remember. The photo was taken by Brenda Barry in late August in Great Village, the waxing moon, several days before it became the Blue Super Full Moon on 31 August.)

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