The cumulonimbus cloud spills his blue black ink across the blotting paper sky of evening. Swifts write invisible hieroglyphics on the spaces in between.
The enemy of summer is moored on the horizon.
Tar black hulls strain at their moorings on a sea of ripening corn. Above the farmland deck, sailcloth billows skywards: hauled up invisible masts by sheets of simmering heat.
A flash of gunpowder. The crump of canon. For an instant the canvas turns negative and for an instant longer the silver iodide image remains on the retina before being wiped clean by the blink of a rheumy eye. “One thousand, two thousand, three thousand…” the old man counts out loud the gap between the sight and sound of the advancing artillery. As a child any number less than ten would have him scampering for the security of the cupboard under the stairs. But now he wants a front seat for the battle of which the still distant rumbles are merely the opening shots.
Do swifts compute the relative speeds of light and sound, he wonders. They must because when the first fat musket balls of rain begin to fall the birds continue to strafe the hedge line. But when volley becomes fusillade the sickle wings are folded in mud brick hangers.
For now though the fighter pilots continue to perform their drop-dodging aerobatics. They can’t waste a moment. Each fly shot down fuel for their southward flight to a place beyond the line of gathering galleons where summer is just beginning.