BARBED-WIRE & BUTTERFLIES

by Jim Norton


 
Returning to the city after a spell in retreat, I received a call for help from an old friend. He was going away for five weeks and needed a dog-minder. My duties were to be light - feed and walk Ty in the morning, a longer walk when I returned from work. Some kind of scotch terrier, he rejoiced when I rattled the lead at dawn, spun with delight when I returned at dusk. Nose-feasting and marking at every corner and post, he dragged me on the outward leg, ambled on the return.

sweet the dust
just a few raindrops
and a thousand smells bloom

But he can’t hold his water indoors. Little yellow pools everywhere. Luckily the floors are tiled. We don’t fall out over it. Except once, when I catch him cocking a leg at the bedroom wardrobe!
 
For the longer evening walk, I take us both off the lead along the canal bank and note little things along the way, to give an account to my friend on his return:

on a slack leash
me to the butterfly bush
he busy below

Descending the steps to the canal, a man sits blocking the way. He’s drinking from a flagon. Gets unsteadily to his feet. “No hurry, take your time“. Is there just a hint of condescension in my voice? Stepping past him, he says ”Your fly is open”.
 
What better place for drinkers to congregate? Along the water-margins, a thousand empty cans and bottles bob in the wake of moor-hen and coot. Their fluffy chicks zip this way and that along the surface, until recalled by an urgent cheep-cheep. So tiny!
 
A sleeping form on the grassy bank stirs as we approach. Ty sniffs around him. My gaze innocently takes in the large hole in the seat of his pants, the scratching hand and fleshy buttocks. He’s not an old man, ginger-haired, sun-reddened.
 
On the far bank, a golden-stemmed Salix overhanging the water brings to mind a poem:

bring to the willow
all the weeping of your heart
motherless chicks

The lead on again, we cross the bridge. By Lullymore Terrace is a patch of highly sniffable grass, which gives me time to read the nearby lamppost. On it is a list of names written in the one distinctive hand. I try to memorize them but by the time we get home I’ve forgotten. Next time. One by one.
 
Buddleia arches through the coiled barbed-wire which guards the gable-end houses. Butterfly bush - it grows everywhere, little shoots in every crack and crevice, exuberantly out of chimneys, at the feet of drainpipes, under the gutters. Stop and sniff the air - its mild scent is all-pervasive.

so few butterflies
suddenly there’s one
I hardly notice

Though it will rain today, it’s warm enough at 6 a.m. to walk outside in shirt-sleeves. Flocks of pigeons own the side-streets. Amorous cocks with fanned tails and puffed throats coo around indifferent hens. Poplar and willow in the grounds of the maternity hospital whisper in the dawn breeze. In the delivery-rooms at this very moment, lungs filled with fluid are sucking-in their first breath. A ginger cat walks along the ridge-tiles of number 5, stares at us and disappears. Hurrying along in his nose-world, Ty ignores them all.
 
Abruptly he changes direction, tries to make a beeline across the main road. I drag him back. Such a hangdog look! This must have been one of his ways, a songline from his dreamtime. Over we go.
 
High railings bar us from a vacant lot. It’s a grove of buddleia, self-seeded in the heaps of broken brick, long arching stems of pale purple flower-heads, a dot of orange at the centre of each tiny floret. Then I remember - this used to be a pub. His previous keeper’s watering-hole maybe. I was here once, though not for pleasure:

so many souls
the length and breadth of the land
combed and counted

The publican had kindly invited me upstairs where his agéd mother lived. “Leave me out of it, I’m gone already”, she cackled. He completed the census-forms in impeccable copper-plate. We chatted briefly. He didn’t envy me my task - the warren of bedsits, corridors and landings of suspicious flat-dwellers. He bemoaned the blight caused by the long-delayed road plans, and as we stand in the doorway, imparts a secret - one of the Liffey’s daughter-streams flows under his cellars. No place on the census form for her:

tributary
into the vacant lot
a wishing coin

The riverbank is dense with alder and sloe, but then comes a break, and there she is -

a mountain trickle
now she carries all before her
anna plurabelle

The path is permanently muddied by the clear drip-drip of a tiny spring oozing from the upper bank to join her.
 
Here on these broad stretches, her circuitous journey almost complete, she gathers herself and pauses before plunging over the weir, into the confines of the city quays and the vast sweep of the Bay, her banks bedecked with wildflowers…rosebay willowherb…balsam with its orchid-like pink flower and scarlet stem, tall, maidenly…
 
and at the next great bend, the steeples of Chapelizod come into view. What a sight for pilgrim or plundering warrior! Seipeal Isult - the chapel of Isolda. As we approach, the angelus bell rings out for 6 o’clock, a mechanical device but sweet-toned:

that rushing sound
high up in the poplars
shaking silver

Alas, the path is blocked. To reach the village we must take to the busy road. We turn back.

thistle-down
with each teasing breeze
in twos and threes
drifting upriver

The anglers are out. These solitary watchers of slack lines, do they ever carry home a trout for supper, a salmon to feast upon? Yet still they sit, and still the waters of the mirror-world drift by them. The heron watches with them from a withered limb, but no kingfisher to be seen, that rare thrill.
 
Plaintively a boy asks if I know of a good place. If I knew, would I tell him?
 
I sit with Ty beside the great-branched poplar. Out of sight something big and fat splashes. For long moments mesmeric ripples radiate, each one a leaf-world. In the shade of a willow, a dash of silver smoothes to glassy green
 
We walk on. A knot of teenage girls sits on the bank, cat-calling to a youngster fishing on the opposite side. He gives as good as he gets. In the middle of this fussilade of sexual challenge and insult

back arching
out of the mirror
a fisher’s dream

Time to pack. My friend returns this evening. Hoover up the dog-hair, mop the little pools of pee.

heady scent
through the leaky skylight
butterfly bush

The back door is open, its peeling varnish and worn handle, each nail-mark, illuminated by the slanting sun. Ty lies in the doorway at full stretch, cooling on the tiles. He lifts his head, turns it from side to side, pausing a moment in each degree of inclination, the better to listen. A faint breeze makes a barely perceptible rustling in the tiny garden. In the middle range, a child’s voice is just audible. Fainter still, the chiming of cathedral bells. With great attentiveness he listens, then, stretching his head on the tiles, emits a sigh. Not a word, eloquently spoken.

a buddha in the garden
puts out its horns to explore
the garden Buddha

A last walk. We head for the canal. He needs no urging, foraging ahead.
 
At the lamp-post I note the last name:
 
Louise
Sheila
Emer
Sam
Jade
Tina
Tasha
 
Butterflies of Lullymore.
 
................................................................................
 
Awarded 4th place in the Nobuyuki Yuasa International Haibun Competition 2004.

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