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Kittiwake | by Giles Watson's poetry and prose
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Kittiwake

Kittiwake

(Words by Giles Watson. Music by Kathryn Wheeler.)

 

When the Tarrock takes to air

from his western cliff,

he’ll never look at land again –

his cloud-high soul adrift –

until he shrugs his shoulders clean

and shakes his heart awake:

the Tarrock dips his wings in ink,

becomes a Kittiwake,

 

and on the swell he finds a mate

to please his infant soul;

they scud beneath the firmament,

they fish above a shoal,

the sky itself their waking day,

the sea-swell is their rest,

until the blush of thrift on stone

calls them in to nest,

 

and by the samphire on a ledge,

the kelp-blotched eggs are laid.

Where there’s scarce a place to perch

the chicks hatch unafraid,

in briny air amid the gales

where seething waters break,

and little Keltie, who is dead,

becomes a Kittiwake.

 

Lyric by Giles Watson, 2013. Kittiwakes are among the least land-bound of gulls, and only ever nest on cliffs. The young Kittiwake is known as a Tarrock, and has a W-shaped black mark across its wings and shoulders until its first moult. Because of the Kittiwake’s comparatively gentle demeanour and innocent-sounding call, folk belief asserts that infant souls sometimes take residence in the birds. Keltie is a folk-name for the bird in Aberdeen. The picture is adapted from F.O. Morris's Book of British Birds.

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Taken on January 13, 2013