An Elegy for the Corncrake
(On September 26 2020 local bird watcher Jared Clarke saw a corncrake on the South- east coast of Newfoundland.)
Crek craik, crek craik crek craik
Near noon on that Saturday morn
on the boggy bake apple barrens
flushed out by the spotters
at a droke close Cape Race.
You were only just a couple hours from
Titanic’s watery grave.
Rake rake rake rake rake rake
A century ago in County Derry
my father thought yous
were as plentiful as sparrows. Like poet
John Clare said, ‘And yet tis heard in every vale.’
As a callow youth I often had to listen
all night to dawn your continuous raspy calls
Wake wake wake wake wake wake
One misty night coming home
from a dance in the Castle in Dungiven
I tried to sleep but your haunting
and aggravating cries never stopped
until an hour before sunset.
Your toneless and monotonous song singing
shouting out summer is’ a coming.’
You stand on guard.
Arp arp arp arp arp arp
In a still night your spiky consonants echo
as if you were miles away or a stone’s throw
away in the long nettles by the front garden.
Countless years you hatched two clutches
on the long grassy meadows of Drummuck.
Clark’s meadow at Gulladuff and in Ballymacpeake
children sick at home could not sleep at night
When the scythe men came in early August
your young brood were flying on their own.
With first silage cut in early June Bamford
reapers and combines leveled your nesting places.
My brother Brian often saved your chicks
when he mowed from the center of the field
giving you time to scurry into the rushes
by the lint dams and then to the moss.
As a bird ventriloquist par excellence
you had no competition from
the cuckoo’s solitary call or
snipe drumming in the distance.
Crek craik crek craik crek craik
Am I of the last generation to have
been woken in the night with your harsh harmonies?
Musicologists say you had a 5/4 times signature
two then three beats including the small gap
between the two calls. I am glad
you called out to me thousands of times.
I wondered one early morning of crawling
with a torch on the front moss field to see you.
I do remember the last time you called
out from the Scrog meadow field close
to Drummuck moss. Bloomsday 1966.
Entranced by Bob Lind’s new recording
of ‘The Elusive Butterfly of Love’
interrupted by your balling and shouting.
And if you are quick enough to rise.
You’ll catch a fleeting glimpse
of someone’s fading shadow.’
Alas I fear I never will see your likes again.
This fall I will go to Cape Race.
Not to hear or see you but to hope and pray.
You are clear of the Azores on your way home
Creak Craik. Crex Crex. Kerra Kerra. Wake Wake.
Michael grew up on the border between Antrim and Derry and is now based in Newfoundland