The Gull with Only One Leg

The gull with only one leg is out on the back porch again. On the white-painted railing. Its head angled toward the sun.

It is the last hour of late November afternoon sunlight. The last hour of sunlight on this side of the house.

The gull makes its way to the northeastern corner of the porch. Out where some warmth still lingers and from where it can see in through the wide-mullioned windows that overlook the bay. It is waiting there for one of us get up and to step out into the cold with a handful of sliced dry bread and peanut butter we have prepared for it.

We have been told what the gull likes best. What it will rush to and stab at and swallow down with a single shake of its rain-gray head and its sharp hooked yellow beak with a red spot near the tip. How it will unfold and stretch out its white-tipped wings and then fold one over the other again, as a child might do with her arms until she finds the most comfortable way into sleep.

There are other gulls that hover like dancers in the air and some that settle on the railing, but none stay. They squawk, open-mouthed, and spread their DeLorean wings and lift into the air and in one or two quick beats pitch and yaw out over the scrub grass and thorn bushes and out over the blue-gray bay and the high granite headlands beyond.

The gull remains. The one with one leg. The one we feed.

The woman in the bed we have wheeled to rest over by the window is dying. Dying slowly. She has given herself over to it. To let it take her as it will.

Her breaths are shallow. Her cheeks are sunken. Her leg moves occasionally and her hand reaches out for something neither she nor we can see.

For her, dying is silent work that she bends to as she has done with all other things in her life: with singular faith and hopefulness, with equanimity and strength, to meet them as they are, and to abide with them.

The woman has loved the gull as she has loved all things. All of us.

We have come to sit with her. To be close by her in the last of her days. In her last hour.

The woman who, in her quiet thoughts, may be thinking of the gull. Perhaps wondering who of us will remain to feed it in the cold afternoons after she is gone.

Perhaps, too, she may wonder, for how many days after she is gone that the gull will continue come back and wait on the porch railing, in the fading afternoon light, for her to wake.

Who else, if not she, will care for the gull with one leg and small round spot of red on its beak, when she is gone?

Who might bend to all tasks as she has, and take them on as she has done?

 

 

13 thoughts on “The Gull with Only One Leg”

  1. There is a constant, loving tone to this piece which moves me. Just one mention of the woman’s leg, singular, to connect her to the bird. Minimalist like the sun in November’s Rockport.

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  2. Joe, such a beautiful tribute, and wonderfully moving. Thank you for sharing these last days – the gull bares witness like no other – give it a little extra peanut butter tomorrow !
    love to all,
    Jan

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  3. The gull moves toward the warmth of the day’s last sun as the woman moves toward the last hour of her life. Its rain-gray head is perhaps like hers; its reliance on her care like hers on her family’s. The organic poetry of this piece captures the ends–of the day, the season, and of a beloved woman. What a beautiful, moving tribute, Joe!

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  4. This piece moves me too. A loving tribute to Barbara, and to the gull, and also to the loving family and friends who, like the gull, kept watch and kept her company until the end.

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  5. Wonderful story, Joe.
    Reminds me of my Dad who passed(physically) residing in a nursing home, and his simple “not to bother anyone” requests he may have had. One being to set him in front of a window, so he to could “feed” the birds.
    Who shall feed the birds outside my kitchen window when I no longer am here? With faith it shall be done.
    Peace.
    Here, as well as “over there”.
    N –

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