‘Into my heart an air that kills’ (Carsethorn, 11/04/21)

I took it as evidence of a peregrine’s presence. Fresh evidence. The redshank’s head resting in the strandline, nestled between seaweed and sea-washed grasses and shingle. Its body was nowhere to be found below the delicate pink of its viscera, spilling out just below the line between the throat and the nape. Its slight, half-orange, half-black beak still open, as if stopped mid-sentence.

Like that line of Housman’s that has been orbiting my brain in these early spring days, after March’s burst of summer, and April’s reversion to frost. We had drifted east along the coast, our first destination hailed off in a storm of pea-sized chunks of ice, the temperature plummeting, the sand martins circling ever-lower over the water in search of the insects, everything stunned into dormancy, silence or shelter.

After the hail, thick white flakes of snow were slowly falling from a flat grey sky that hung low, stifling the light. We drove out of it, to the other side of the headland, to a deep blue break in the weather, surrounded east and west by thick clouds, simultaneously fluffy and monolithic. The firth had just peaked at high tide, the time when the water appears to have paused, its energy spent, the waves now mere ripples lapping at the shingle. The Solway seems to shine at times like this: a mix of green and blue and grey, with a string of shelducks in the bay, and four red-breasted mergansers, smaller, not quite as white in the sun, patterned with the same rippling lines as the water.

The air is cold, growing colder here too. Along the shoreline, redshanks walk between the rocks and the water, jerky-limbed, calling as if nervous, as if in reassurance to each other, that what has happened has happened, is past not present. And at my feet the severed redshank head says: that springs can be long and slow and cold, but that new life inevitably takes over from old.

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