Shaler’s Fish: Four Poems from Helen Macdonald
From the Award-Winning Author of H is for Hawk
Helen Macdonald received international acclaim for her award-winning memoir, H Is for Hawk. Prior to writing that book, she published a collection of poetry called Shaler’s Fish, which is now publishing in the US for the first time. Musical and syntactically daring, her poems probe what it means to be awake and watchful. In this brief selection, Macdonald focuses on images from a landscape—the ocean, a fox sparrow on blue stone, stars, roads “whose tunnels were hillsides,” a lot of light (“meticulous in its suffering” and “boring, beautiful light”)—and then turns inward to consider the human consciousness that witnesses, processes, and alters the landscape. Melodic, opulent, shrewd, incisive, these poems are a celebration of the natural world and a profound meditation on being alive in it.
East/Absence of heat
Wake, in a room where soft plaster has fallen
& coercion sets itself pastimes, very sure of itself
bringing a little light into our world and then some
sessile cast of light seems meticulous in its suffering
the very notions of welfare and well-being themselves
perfunctorily stropped as a beak or a blade
folding the light back to the chest where it frays
in soft genuflections of denomination and rescue.
One of the most beautiful, figuratively speaking propositions is tired of you
& all I can do is concur with a real figure of speech, you move, you die.
In doorways apostrophising is acceptable currency
It’s fine. We have time. There is a vault within safety
square as a bean’s stem & the ocean pushed both ways from it,
a parting of the waves which is musical and which sings to secure me,
& spare as the keel I would fly over it, if I could, being sport.
The days have lain to secure me. My hands follow. Those eyes
I draw on walls and squares of tape are plainly mine, whose
patterns divine themselves for securement. The day has lain
to secure me & drives itself blind towards night in its haste
for securement. I am but a latch with it, & its comfort lacked.
I fear the laying on—wait on—a little flush in my eyen hath bruised me.
No small collapse but aptitude, itself an interest
forc’d like flowers, and such is education.
Which is that line again.
Which seems incurable. Curare in the eye
And so the form cut out by means of sympathy.
One of you is counting for cover & recovery.
You are recovering, not doubting the necessity
for succinctness and/or an elusive personal worry.
But the crowds get so terribly near the sea, and clouds
of inky pyrethrum shearing petrel wings free of lice
petals gripping the teeth of both world wars as semblant,
a kind of gott natur on canvas. But your drift, chattering on
in this manner with a grout effigy of safety: whether showed
or shown or sewed into rage is strategy for starters.
You will never finish the half of it. And the question
for stars is a revered negative swept across the frontage
of the drowning cities, all safe now from care
now there was a historical synthesis that we had a hand in
floating ships across the tangentially heating blues; but these
were not seas, but successions of use and privation,
easing rain upon canopies, cracking gold into shale
in your delicate search, your halcyon dream
of void fortune
love seems to inform the truer statements as statuary
& here I am in rhapsody vis-a-vis that rara avis
of reasonable beauty. Shingle moves
the seasons presume a delicacy of touch
& the position is light: a casual vacancy
one moot point. clean. in a void of blocks and secrecy
Metal grows warmer against the skin
such implications of expediency call this realism
projected as an interior difficulty, of apprehension
blown past as a sere white line over the desert index
a forefinger held up to the sky could see it, but for lack
of noise unloaded at night since the presupposition of a target
costive pitch and yaw or roll corrected by wire like water
falling all around him with cosine squeals the line rolled up
and light also fell into it. Like wine dark. Sees elsewhere
in disks of water and a rapid participatory grace
elements of predation holding the eye & not without risk
this grace, a candour tipped to cede darkness with order
an aeolian matte stripped as soft as the image of breath
bronze against bronze where the cupped hand
plenty falls. A fox sparrow shadow on blue stone
broke diamond cut cuticle where rain pools schematics
of the calm scintillarions of a falling sky
and the porous wind of a little country
the steep inklings of the tongue’s tip
& the implications of a mountain buried in snow
these are lambent philosophies requiring water
new marks to which the mouth is an applied science
In this symbolic badinage
a lost cast of a single hour
waxes lyrical, like a bandage
around the head or a lyre
some anonymous foreign powers
planting a star where queues
form and recede for rejection.
Though a rout threatens to speak
the silks empty themselves only with love
& a black inch spreads feet-first from the thumb
on roads whose tonnes were hillsides
whose tunnels were hillsides
the heart is past it
its boring, beautiful light