Learning Irish

What creatures materialise out of the corner of your eye? And what wisdom springs there?

This morning in a breezy first light on the boreen, out of the churn of last leaves and their skinny branches, out of the wind-wallowing of the hedgerow came a signal. As clear as an aldis lamp, blinking once, twice and silent. Gone before I can turn my head and align the acquisitive, unwieldy machinery of foveal vision with the source. Leaving … a fragment. No, only a piece of a fragment of indeterminate grey, an approximate intimation of size and a single meme of movement. A single character representing a specific gesture in an unknown script. One wing-tip that moved in the undergrowth like a pen signing off with a flourish, near vertical, in flagrant contravention of the orders of wind and gravity both. An anomaly, crossing the streamlines of the world. With complete certainty a sparrowhawk.

Crow and sparrowhawk by 'Thermos', Wikimedia
Crow and sparrowhawk by ‘Thermos’, Wikimedia

Yesterday evening in a huffing-puffing crowd at last light on the village street, out of the churn of bargaining and news, out of the choppy sea of overlain conversations came a signal. As unambiguous as a small electric shock. It has passed from sound into meaning before I can listen to it. Leaving … a flavour. No, only a suspicion of a flavour. Slippery. Smooth. ‘I mbliana …’ Starting not with a vowel sound at all, but with a grace note of humming as if in satisfaction, far back in the nose, above the palate; ‘mmm,’ almost bumping into the great standing stone of a ‘b’ sound that is to be sure as much ‘p’ and already the tongue-snake forward, anticipating, striking with the faintest of ‘l’s, retreating back to the safety of the throat, the last syllable simply the long body curling back to its lair.

‘I mbliana …’ With complete certainty, ‘This year …’ The words have swallowed their own tail and disappeared before I can lay a hand on them. Then for a short interval which I cannot sustain I am hearing sparrows and kestrels, robins and rooks. These people are speaking whole flocks of birds.

6 comments on “Learning Irish

  1. Ah! I remember when I heard a greeting in Cornish for the first time … Feeling the vibration of it more than ” hearing” and with these words, a soft nudge of remembering.
    Beautiful words David, as ever.

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