Thursday, August 2, 2018


By Andrew Darlington

The gulls are falling from an empty sky.

Slanting out around the neon amusement arcade into the chill wind, stepping huddled towards Bridlington harbour, there’s a smashed gull in the gutter. White plumes in spikes like ruptured cloud. Glancing furtively this way and that, I stoop, to pluck a bunch of tail-feathers.

Wings make screaming crosses overhead. When not sky-dancing the surviving gulls strut and prowl the sea-wall, downturned beaks that could slash a face apart. Expressions like grumpy old men. Around the protective arm of ancient stone where the fishing boats dock, a gust of white feathers storms around stacked lobster pots like a swirl of snow. And below, on the trapped harbour swell, the blurred form of swollen gull-corpses eddy in the chill brown water, wounds cleansed by the slow current.

Old paint is peeling. There are empty stores along the promenade. Others have become charity shops. A grey population of oldsters shuffle and navigate mobility scooters past the tawdry gift emporiums hunting out a steamy café for tea and scones. A dead gull smeared on the pavement. A spray of bedraggled feathers, plundered plumage like a wet quilt. I stoop, and pluck.

It’s due to radioactivity in the wind. Hushed-up reactor leaks. Everybody knows that, but no-one dare say so. In the ‘Harbour Tavern’ a small ferret-faced man with a beaked nose is singing ‘Ev’ry time is rains, it rains strontium ninety’. Then he sniggers, his hands – bitten nail-stub fingers, dancing along the bar-rail. No, it’s the chemical pesticides the farmers use, soaking into the topsoil, draining into ditches, sluicing down into the sea, poisoning the fish they eat. He snorts derisively. ‘Them gulls ain’t never eaten no fish, not unless it’s fried and beer-battered. They live on pizza, chips, waffles, kebabs, burgers, anything folks drop they can get their beaks around. Why do you think they’s growing so aggressive huge?’ ‘Radioactivity. You can smell it in the air. You inhale it. It’s gnawing in your bones. See the gulls glow against the sky at night like eerie ghosts.’

The van door is rusted. It grates as I wrench it open. Adding the new bouquet to the garlands of feathers mounded in laundry baskets in the rear. The exhaust is shot. It rattles and blows as I drive to the retail park where the big DIY stores are circled by neatly-marked parking bays. People push trolleys full of cans of creosote, ceiling tiles and shelving. I select a staple gun from the display, balance it for weight. Pay at the check-out with my credit card. She smiles attractively and hopes that I’ll enjoy the rest of my day. I assure her that I will, and wish her the same.

Crushing the skull of a wounded bird underfoot, its fragile hollow egg-shell bones crackling, a mercy killing, finishing it off as it lies, before the rats can get it. One outstretched wing flaps mournfully. Is it a mutant bacillus jumping species, or a parasitic worm, responsible for the sores and wounds on the falling bodies? Experts came from wherever it is experts come from, and they took samples and bird-corpses and measurements and statistics and then they went away without ever publishing their findings. Meanwhile the avian extinction-event continues. Birds fall from increasingly empty skies, like vanquished angels crashing to Earth from some heavenly conflict. More feathers for me. Ripping wing-feathers free with my hands.

Flamborough Head is a long thin finger extending out into the north sea, an eight-mile promontory of chalk headland. The Vikings were here a thousand years ago, drawing their dragon-prowed longships across the shingle. As now, the silver tongues of waves race up the beach far below. There are lonely caravans clustered together at the end of meandering lanes. The night mists rise from the sea and close in over these fields, sealing them off from the world. A place for isolation. There are gull eyries high in the white chalk cliff nesting grounds. Black-headed gulls, cormorants, gannets, fulmars, petrels, peregrines, frigate birds.

Draw up as close to the sheer cliffs as I can get. Undress. Leave my clothes in a neatly-folded pile on the passenger seat. Pace naked around to the rear of the van and grate the doors wide. The air is chilly with salt brine. The empty sky streaked with sunset cloud.

The staple-gun makes the sound of a sharp retort. The pain is so excruciating it shocks tears to my eyes, my legs shot through with sudden weakness so I grip the creaky van door for momentary support. The next shock is less severe, and the third, until my arm is numb and there’s no more sensation. Now the other arm. My fingers smeared with feathers and blood, and bloody feathers. My arms have become wings.

I become Icarus… or maybe Wiley E Coyote adorned by the latest package from Acme Wings Co. Every movement a graceful agony. The cliffs are sheer. The tide breaking on the rocks far below. For a moment I hesitate, my resolve wavering. My toes teeter over the brink. Not diving, but leaning forwards into the buoyancy of the air. Drawn by gravity. A deep breath, exhaling slowly. Over the cliff-edge. Plummeting down. Arms extending into lavish wings. A human hang-glider. For a moment there’s terror that my wings are insufficient. My eyes clam shut…

Then a gust of breeze catches me, a sudden up-draft. My feathers rustle and dance in ripples, and my descent is arrested. I level away over the heaving darkness of tide, circling in a dance of spray over wave-tops, and with slight guiding movements of my arms I glide higher into the empty sky…

Far beneath me, smashed on the wave-lapped rocks at the foot of the white cliffs, there’s a human smear of blood and feathers.

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My current weird-poetry collection is 'Tweak Vision: The Word-Ply Solution To Modern-Angst Confusion' (from 'Alien Buddha Press')
What is Tweak Vision?
Snatch visions from the starry dynamo of the cosmos. Words are supernatural. In times of gathering modern-angst confusion, words defy temporal gravity, rearrange space-time, choreograph new constellations. Word-play is all I have to take your heart away. Now tweak them this way and that, shake them out into new configurations to your device of choice.
This is Tweak Vision!

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