black oystercatcher

inhabitant of a foggy coast
of shifting tide beginnings and ends undefined –
were you here that day long-legged
red beaked on the beach –
were you here that day the boats came
floating upturned whales
riding the waves we came
were you here.
were you here that day the world changed
tree by tree the world fell and changed
and you ran with the tide
briefly airborne
while a wave crash flooded the oyster beds
and then landed living again
were you here.
were you here that day the forest people left
no trace of their living
but some shell memories in a cave
and a hole in a fast imploding world.
did you watch as the wind
stole their footprints – erased their path
were you here, wet gusts tugging
at black feathers
when they left.
were you here the day the elephants came
grey fogged skin wrinkling out
the forest with the tide
they paused a moment
breathed whale-song on the beach
and then sighed into sea – gone.
did you shrill call their names
cry windblown for their loss
do you fly the mist breakers
still searching for their return –
were you here.
were you here the day they were born –
turtle carried they came
wave lullabied and brought to this shore.
were you here the day they came,
do you share this beach that breathes
at the edge of tomorrow
will you be here the day
they dance this world’s beginning
dancing full bright
on this edge of unknown.
the time is close oystercatcher
will you be here still
running with the tide.


For Sherry at Earthweals weekly challenge: WILD SOULS.

Since writing this in 2013 I am pleased to read that the population of the African Oystercatcher has stabilised and it it is no longer on the threatened species list.


17 thoughts on “black oystercatcher

  1. Ah, this is so beautiful. We have oystercatchers here, too. So lovely. I love the repeated refrain “were you here?”…..The scene with the elephants breathing whalesong then gone is stunning. It hit my heart. The beach breathing at the edge of tomorrow is wonderful too – it gives me hope that some things will still continue, even if the worst happens.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So beautiful. It must be wonderful to see elephants in the wild. I never imagined they would go to the beach but then, why not? Kangaroos do here. The cry of the oyster catcher is so evocative, so lonesome yet such richly in tune with the sea


    1. Sadly we do not or very rarely see elephants in the wild here anymore. The closest I have come is finding fresh elephant dung on a hiking trail deep in the forest. There is some research though, that suggests that elephants used to come to the cliffs and beaches along the shore and could/would communicate with the whales.
      And yes – the call of the oystercatcher evokes the misty shore for me.


      1. I know very little about it. Read a book called Elephantom by Lyall Watson a few year ago that mentioned it – and then just snippets of papers around the subject online.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The idea has captured my imagination. I had a look online but couldn’t find much. Interesting to learn that whales and elephants use similar ways of communicating though. Some years ago, I used to drum on the beaches further to the south west where the southern right whales come to calve. There was a group of us. The whales definitely appeared to respond to our drumming. Since your comment I am imagining elephants trumpeting on the cliff tops and the whales breaching in the ocean nearby. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wild is this beach setting, first two lines hurl us into its eternal moment. Wilder still the witness of the oystercatcher at the edge of land and sea. This poem is vibrant and vital in so many ways I have to catch my breath to keep up with its exaltation. How strange the arrival of Homo sapiens into this ecosystem & how meltingly fast the damage our species accomplished. Yay for the oystercatcher’s return — there is a strong relief here that humans can be a part of the shore without destroying it (the poet’s witness counts here). You mention elephants trumpeting to whales in a comment: Whales are believed to be large mammals who returned to the sea 50 million years ago, joining other cetaceans like seals and walruses: Easy to see those elephants singing to their primordial ancient kin. Talk about the memory of pachyderms …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Brendan. I sometimes wonder at our own species obsession of wallowing in water – whether it is a where we came from comfort, or a flirting with where we might go. I think those whales made a pretty smart move.


  4. This was amazing. I love the use of repetition… ‘where you here’. You took us on an adventure into another time and place. The oystercatcher def has a wild soul with a song to sing.

    I read the comments about the whale and elephants and I thought how fascinating that they communicated. I recently read an article on how sound vibrations can be healing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. What I love about the thought of the infrasonic sounds of elephants and whales is the distance the sound can travel and though we cannot hear it – our bodies might be able to feel the presence of elephant in the forest or whale in the bay.


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