John Siberry

Born Sligo and works in Dublin. Work in Stinging Fly, PIR, Force 10, Stand, etc







He lay on the field and waited for her to arrive on the sky.  Sheep pasture pickled by their droppings cushioned his spine.   Without any precise figures to guide him, he calculated that her flight would pass to his left around four thirty.  People told him to track the flight on his phone, but he had no inclination to use his phone.

He saw only two clumps of cumulus near the horizon; they sat close to  the low range of mountains that stumbled to the ocean.  Early April sun made him squint, so he lowered his eyes to peer over the fields of drumlins, and at the cattle and sheep who fed on the pasture burnt dry by the Artic winds.  Dry stone walls  divided the land.  

‘The planes’ contrails are always there, it’s just they’re usually obscured by cloud,’ people told him.  ‘Why do you ask?’  But he did not answer honestly.  Three contrails were scratched like skate marks on blue ice.  All  three were headed  westwards, and earlier as one  drilled its way to the southwest, and he felt the lush rancidity of jungles.

All morning he tried to suppress the tension in his stomach, and the floating charges of anxiety in his veins.  Her preparations for the departure went on for weeks, and parties, lunches and rendezvous for drinks built a cage of expectation around him.  Friends came and went to the house. Protracted farewells on this scale were not a thing he had experienced before and he recalled the brief, almost ephemeral goodbyes of his past; he realised how much had changed; her generation felt closer to each other, more conjoined in living.  He envied them.

Empty sky, empty desert: the same silence that refused to release a human voice.  Her voice is safe in your head, he thought.  Another incandescent trail of vapour moved far off to his left. Distance and curvature brought it closer to the ground and it slipped stealthily past him.  After the nickel bead of the plane was gone, the thread of vapour clung to the sky.  Like breath lingering on skin, he thought.  Then it vanished, no matter how much the eye tried to hold it.  These artificial clouds, created in the searing heat of a turbine, were trailed across the empyrean faster than any natural phenomenon he knew.  By day and night they marked the skies like tribal tattoos, always the same, unable to articulate any other sign or message from the complexity of their steel wombs.  He never liked flying.   Not an aero-phobiac – he was simply a nervous wreck.  Yet he understood compression, torque, thrust, the physics of raising three hundred thousand tons of metal into thin air, engines hot as crematorium furnaces.  Perhaps it was this knowledge that precipitated his fear?  He had the knowledge.  She did not have it.

Sunlight lay flat on the land, and the land’s colour seemed to infuse it.  Midges came to trouble him.  Molecules of their light swirled around his head.  For a while, he granted them his face, and bore their ticklish torture, their investigations of his nostril, his ears and even his mouth as he yawned.  But he grew irritated, as he knew he must, and  began to brush them away, but found their numbers impossible to overcome; soon he needed to stand, and move position.  Alone in the field, he felt the privilege of his freedom, and the invisible walls of its limits. He walked slowly to a thick stand of bramble, and the insects seemed to abandon their hunt.  Over the years, he had watched the imperturbable cyst of brambles grow, and despite his intentions he found he could not find the will to destroy them.  He saw the  mysteries in their dark labyrinth, but smiled at his own romanticism; they were a vicious, relentless tumour on good soil valuable to farmers.  You’re a spoiled brat, he thought.

Movement in the bush made him stoop, and peer into its dust laden bores and alleys, barbed beams and dark casbahs.  Whatever had alerted him, a bird or a rat, now stayed  motionless, as though aware of the danger poised on the blue above its lair.  He did not move, until another dry rustle, this time closer to the bush’s core, made him push his face into the barbs.  So close to the house, built on land cleared by human labour, this community showed him no deference.  The thought that a rat may have caused the disturbance unsettled him, though he knew how rats were endemic on farms, and left undisturbed, rarely caused problems.  So why now, he asked?  The answer was eerily simple – it was his tension, and the slow streams of his melancholy bursting their banks. He stood up and almost trotted back to the place where he lay before.  He raised his gaze to the sky.  White chalk marks of three more contrails lay on the  thinning blue.  One pointed south west and he knew this meant it was not hers; but the other two bisected each other and were headed north west.  There was no way for him to tell which had come first; altitude and parallax outwitted him.  There was no sign of the planes.  The midges came back.  Sky clear again, he recalled the intersecting contrails’ perfect X on the sky: a goodbye kiss.

Voices in the field to his left caught his attention and he saw two figures approach the wall.  Three greyhounds loped alongside the men.  He walked dawn to the wall, taking several glances at he sky as he did so.  He faced the two hunters.

‘Hello, me son,’ the familiar accent of the town.

Clusters of dead rabbits swung from their waists; they were too closely bunched for him to guess how many animals.  The dogs watched with ancient sadness.

They talked about the need to cull the rabbits, who undermined the land with borrows; he nodded, recognising the exculpatory tactic: the fields were private;  the hunters knew the penalties for trespass.

‘Rabbits would eat you out of fucking house and home, me son.’

He agreed, sceptically.

‘Do you want one?’ the shorter man asked and proffered a bloodied corpse. He never liked rabbits, he lied.  One of the dogs peed.

They said goodbye and moved back down the field.  Another ghostly contrail appeared but not on her flight-path.  He sat on the same spot of grass.  The sky’s emptiness, far from serene, now threatened him in a way he could not fathom; he had seen how the sudden absence of traffic in pedestrianised streets left the citizens bereft instead of consoled by the calm, as though they had become addicted the machines’ purring, malodorous presence over the years.  He spotted a plane and looked at his watch. This could be hers.  He decided it was hers.  Moving steady and straight as a curse, it was gone behind the horizon before he formed any image in his mind, any image of her seated in the warmth of the plane’s belly, or the expression on her face, which he felt must be one of contentment. He laughed to himself because as far as he knew, no sheep grazed in  airliners, no midges or rodents bred there, no bramble, elder bushes or trees grew there. But melancholy, melancholy could flourish there.  Waves of the plane’s thunder would now strike the ocean. She was not afraid to commit herself to others.  He was afraid.  He began to fight the midges.


© 2018 John Siberry