Sue Vickerman

We said eleven at the estuary car-park,
out past that half-built estate,
past Mike and Helen's new flat
with the panoramas front and back.
We set off on Mike's walk, on dunes

staked out, he says, for the breeding season.
We all say it's freezing. Mike tells us
Helen's expecting. We mess up
the ski-slope of sand beside the roped-off
breeding ground, the hidden nests of terns.

Helen's striped jogging pants bat out
then furl. The stripes twist round and round
and round. Her lips are blue. Mike zips up
her front and pats it, and points out, up top,
the site of a church, the mound of its wall,

the swelling of a whole village buried
under the dune. But I wander over
to the rim of a cove where, on a slim peninsular,
the heavy female body of an eider
is nesting in a crevice, alone

and I can't help staring at the turn
of her fat neck, her brown plainness,
her drooping flat head, the girders
of her legs beneath the barrow of her;
the heaviness of that motherly belly

so unlike the conspicuous black and whiteness
of the diving duck, his proud maleness,
how he shimmies with the others
on the rocks; how their feathers
point down their bills like arrows.

On the beach we eat bagels brought by Mike,
watching the eiders; how they squat in groups
like picnickers; how whole families of eiders
paddle in rock-pools, shellfish-hunting,
or run over the mud, or fly in long, low lines

across the bay on this cool day in April.
Mike hands out apples. We head for the cliffs,
reminiscing about those fifteen-mile hikes.
The ascent is difficult. I glance at Helen
as Mike says, grinning, this is only the beginning.