Thoughts While Sitting on Top of a Cliff in Ireland

Thoughts While Sitting on Top of a Cliff in Ireland
by Theodora Goss

The sea below me
is furling and unfurling
like a banner. I wonder
whose banner it is, whose standard
is so blue.

There is a yellow flower
growing on the rock, with its roots
in the rock itself. Why, I wonder, has it chosen
to grow there, instead of in the soft, crumbling soil?
Does it like the challenge?

The seagulls are mewing. They are the cats
of the sky: insistent, irascible.

Above me, the clouds
are arranged in furrows. I wonder
who ploughs them.

The wind is blowing the grasses
as it blows my hair. I am both tangled
and confused. Where am I going
when I leave this island? Sometimes I wish
that like the grass, I could remain rooted.

Far below me, on the sand,
the gray seals are lying
still in the sunlight. Every once in a while,
one of them raises its head
and barks. I too sometimes feel
the need to exclaim
at the magnificence of this world.

The small stone cottages,
with their whitewash long ago washed off
by rain, their tarred felt roofs long ago
torn off by wind, huddle
into the hillside the way a leveret curls
into its mother’s belly, for warmth
and nourishment.

When this island was inhabited,
it had no church, no hospital, no shops,
no post office. Only two schools,
Catholic and Protestant. Only one of those,
supported by English coffers,
distributed free soup.

Of the people who once lived here, all that is left
are their photographs on the walls of the visitors’ center
and a video in which you can hear them speaking
through letters and diaries read
in the original Irish
with subtitles.

Soon, I will need to catch
the boat back to the mainland
and figure out my life.
Until then, all that matters
is the sunlight on my arms, and this butterfly
with its orange and brown wings
fluttering suspended,
endlessly restless in an eternal present.

It has been almost a hundred years
since anyone lived here.
I wonder if the rocks, the grasses,
the waves below, the seals, the seagulls,
miss them. I’m quite sure
the flowers, which have such short memories,
do not.

Neither will they miss me
after the air has flowed over and filled in
my absence.

(The image is Landscape in Northern Ireland by Fred Balshaw.)

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