At Swim, Two Pair by Oisín Breen (Lucent Dreaming Issue 11)

In two directions then, they swim, mother, sister, and kin,
Their bodies half submerged in the gloaming, vespers sung,
And the water around them weaves eddies: a nest of spent influences
And serried trails, shivering outwards in concentric circles,
A plush map of hydrogen and oxygen blended, and a platform
For ambitions that span millennia, and for designs we also dearly hold,
As passing seconds, marked by respiration, are measured in calls,
Calls that begin near the heart, as syrinxes swell.

Those calls are an act of flutistry, too, before the breaking branch
Of breath, as folds of flesh vibrate, and waves of sound overlap –
Parallel to the current shift – through a tiny box of cartilage, scaled
In millimetres: a bone memory, and a fuselage formed of librettos shared,
With each an issuance of courting, rolled out in sets of two and ten,
Each pair softer than the last, and met equally by a distribution of rasping
Two note calls and shrill whistles, which warn, and shepherd, too.
Yet, unfashioned for song, these calls, instead, prove spirit shaping sounds,
The known quantity of convocated speech: the quale of river birds.

And they swim together, mother, sister, and kin, four abreast, for weeks
Longer than they ought, two generations keening in motion,
Two pair, where once moved a score and six.
Yet for twenty days, the youngest two dozen of the brood, it larger then,
Sheltered their water-wet crowns under a pair of common roofs, hewed
Out of protein and hollowed bone. They sheltered under outstretched fibres
Of pleated skin, megaannum old, and, in form, a living shadow guise: an echo
Of frilled throats slung back to scream a lustrous piercing note: a step function
For the beating heart, and a last reminder of how silence shares the significance
Of loss, even with the glutted flesh-fat bellies of always death-near hunting birds,
And the long wearing down of polyphyodont teeth.

Yet for twenty days, the collected works of time became a meshwork of rest,
Of webbing spread, and hind legs, in haste, pushed back and down, steadily
Pressing against the water in a silent rapture of movement, as two broods,
Grouped, lingered along Lough Foyle. And, when the first day was done,
It became, too, a tableau of soft sound, as the youngest swiftly learned
To forage, run, and swim, a lesson, long a prelude for the water thirst, of 24,
As each saw, in the charring charcoal blemishes five years had left – time’s trace –
On their mother’s face, a compulsion, likely a decade long, to push bodies below
The water line, to meet an ocean deep need to drink gallons, each alone, by the day.

They swim together now, mother, sister, and kin, four abreast, for weeks
Longer than they ought, two pair, keening in motion, yet their damp rustling
Is now but a bleary epilogue of talons hooking flesh, of hawk, owl, and gull,
Of otter, mink, and stoat, each eager to strike and to sate a hunger known, even below
By the dappled pike, that burrowed maw of water song, and its whirlpool gulps
Were the last brood blow, survived only by the four-strong testament it left behind:

Two pair in motion, where once moved a score and six.


Oisín Breen
A poet, part-time academic in narratological complexity, and financial journalist, Dublin born Oisín Breen’s widely reviewed debut collection, Flowers, all sorts in blossom, figs, berries, and fruits, forgotten was released Mar. 2020.
@Breen

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