he called me darling
after the earth stopped spinning, so did the birds and the sky and the sea. the seasons stayed in place, stuck in time, and the birds stopped following their patterns of flight. instead, they started to settle in entire trees at a time, watching everyone who walked past. each bird wore a plume of white on their chest and they sang songs every morning. and i would let them land on my bare arms when i passed, their claws pressing against my own beating veins.
it was summer forever. i spent every day outside, sending kisses to the birds and you. each morning, the sun hung the clouds up onto the sky and made sure that each cloud was perfectly still. they stayed the same puffy white, never to be grey again. and the stars spilled paint around them so that the sky was the same endless shade of blue. it was a blue that spoke of infinity even if we weren’t a part of it. and you would drive me to all the beaches we could find, threading our lives around the shoreline.
in this new summer, it was impossible to drown. the ocean was just as still as the clouds. we swam through seas that felt no waves, that seemed to have never experienced the feeling of rip tides. every time i felt like i was being pulled underwater, the ocean would lift me back up. we could have stayed there forever, floating safely in expanses that i used to be afraid of, kissing and tasting saltwater.
late one night, you were driving me home. the blue of day had already phased back into a dark navy hours ago, but i didn’t want to leave yet. so you decided to take us back to one of our beaches. it was the middle of the night and we were the only source of movement. the headlights of your car revealed the edges of the beach, but the light wasn’t enough to show the true colours of the sand. because of that, everything looked grey. i didn’t know if i could have found the sea if i had stepped out and onto that new earth. in the distance, the moonlight reflected off the ocean when it hushed. and all at once, it reminded me of a different time, another summer. you called me darling and i swear if those birds were there with me on that night, they would have sung with joy. still, when time had passed and you started to drive us away from the sea, i felt a lump in my throat. i paused for a moment, then swallowed it down. i knew it wasn’t the real goodbye yet. but it lingered.
it had been summer for months when the birds started whispering things in my ear. and i whispered back to them, what are you trying to say? their eyes flickered from me to you and back again. you were looking out at the ocean, almost as still as the frozen waves. but when you noticed me staring, you turned and smiled. there was a little patch of red on the side of your neck from one time when we stayed at the beach for too long, and we fell asleep under your favourite star. i smiled within that blurry space, that incoherent moment where we had been together for millennia. then i turned my head to the sky. and i knew that i was lucky.
when all the flowers that spring gave us finally fell, the wind whirled them into vortexes and rushed them together so that it all looked like snow. white petals landed in my hair and the bees mistook me for flowers, rubbing against my skin only to feel the rough edges of human touch. i would have to get used to the empty spaces, our detached strings. and until those delicate petals stopped reminding me of the sunshine, i would have to avert my eyes from the birds and the songs that they sang like honeyed grace, whispering distant memories of summer.
Emma Shi was the winner of the National Schools Poetry Award 2013 and the Poetry NZ Prize 2017. She has also been published in literary journals such as Landfall and Starling. Emma writes here.