Let me tell you about Kevin. He’s my meteor shower and my Northern Lights – one of those phenomenon you glimpse once in a lifetime – more if you’re lucky. He’s my nephew – Kevin Walke – and a quicksilver mate. I’ve explained where the name for this blog came from, but Kev is the one who put it into place, secured it and gave me the marvellous journey.
I worried about Kev for years. For some time he chose a quiet life for reasons of his own. Then, in November 2011, as we arrived at our son Dom’s funeral, there it was! – Kevin’s face gazing at me from the crowd of people on the left hand side of the porch to the church. It was just so right.
He’s tall, with the darkest hair you can imagine and with smiling eyes. We met again in 2013 at the Walkefest family gathering in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park when he came to get to know people in his family. Today is his Mum’s birthday and a good time for me to say that her heart was full that day in the park.
I learned that Kev’s heart was waiting to be fixed with what looked like a gas mantle. (Our front room was lit with these when I was knee high to a caterpillar as a War Child). I’ve always noticed their combined fragility and strength – like the wings of a moth near a candle. Anyway, two annual family gatherings and several jolly Italian meals and drinks later, Kev is fixed. Now the long process of healing is holding him in its hand.
Through Kev I’ve got to see what a beautiful city Sheffield is, with its trees and hills, with its history and its presence. Kev makes me laugh. I have to be careful not to laugh at inappropriate moments with him. He’s a keen observer and would make a good birdwatcher.
It’s a few years since I first visited Glendalough and left my heart there. When I’m returned to ashes, I’d like some of them to go into the river there and Ria says she’ll do that for me. More about Ria later… Kev is the namesake of St. Kevin, whose feast day is June 3rd, known as Pattern Day in Ireland – a day for a feast of merrymaking, dancing and riotousness. That pretty much matches what my Kev would want from a feast day. He’s playful, anxious and loves people.
St. Kevin lived to 120 – from 498 to 618 would you believe that now! Kev likes figures too. From the age of 7 to 12, St. Kevin was taught by St. Petroc, the patron saint of Cornwall, who lived in Leinster at that time. I like that. Men of quiet wild places like Kev. he likes to get away from the city into the green when he can.
I’ve mentioned to Kev that he might like to visit Glendalough to feel its sacred stillness (even amidst crowds) and see where the saint lived as a hermit for seven years. His narrow cave above the upper lake was his bed. Later, in 1539, the monastery he founded and nurtured was destroyed by Henry VIII and the English.
You can take the mortar out of the monastery but you can’t take the blackbirds out of Glendalough.
St. Kevin and the Blackbird
And then there was St. Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so
One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
and Lays in it and settles down to nest.
Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,
Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.
And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time
From the neck on out down through his hurting forearm?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth
Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in Love’s deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward’ he prays,
A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.