It’s as though the Continental Shelf
with its east-facing rifts and cliffs were visible;
as though the full-bodied waves that blow over it,
freighted with kelp, tidewood ar and the bloated bodies of dead seals
were thermals, sideways tracking
and printed with spirals
that mark a slow convergence
of warm and nutrient-rich, cold water.
What rides this marriage of elements
does so with a wingspan
hammered from great distances,
its feathers containing worn emblems
and fading lines, such as might be found
within the pages of a passport
from a time when travel was slow,
when destinations involved a leaving
of smoke and waterlines
while crossing the world’s oceans.
Breeding and exhaustion
are this wanderer’s only reasons,
in all weathers and seasons, for flight.
Coming in from the South, it angles away
and down, almost wetting the tip of its leeward wing
before raking a dimpled currentline
for upwellings of cuttlefish, chrome-
plated splinters of schooling sauri,
or a sampling from its own reflection,
which it swallows, saltwater being
an elixir for this long-range survivor.
And when, after days of gliding,
its hollow bones take on the ache
of being all at sea, it will follow a ship,
inspecting it for mast wires,
an unpeopled railing, for anything
upon which to perch.
To find a mate, the females gather
on barren outcrops
surrounded by suitors, each one
expectant and competitive
in the sleek, wind-tailored plumage of their kind.
Having found each other, they remain
at the centre of the cycles
of company and separation
for up to eighty years,
despite long absences, despite their differences.
See them coming in –
white gliders with landing gear
that paddles for purchase
on the stones of sub-antarctic islands
where their mates are waiting, alike
and yet unique, their singular scents and calls
dividing a raucous field with welcome.
One partner. One life, together.
And for every egg that grows
and breaks under terrible weather,
a fledgling will emerge
to test its wings and stand its ground
for nine months, and then leave
to circle the globe, solitary
in its preparations for love,
the sensory avatars of sea and air
made manifest in the compass glass of its eyes.