by Helen Tookey


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The lady of the moon is in travail, her white face waxen as the missel-fruit. The gravelled path gives way to broken angles, burials of water. Follow it. Creep into the hospice of the yew, its pale lying-place. Curl up there. Wait. According to the seventeenth-century herbarium The Garden of Eden, a 'missel-child' is a mysterious being found beneath a mistletoe-covered tree - a changeling, perhaps, 'whereof many strange things are conceived'. Helen Tookey's first full collection of poems starts from the missel-child to explore archaeologies of identity, place and language. She is a formally inventive writer, using collage and syllables, exploring elegy and myth. The poems in this book create a space in which language enables something to be said and also to be shown.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847772183
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 02/01/2014
Pages: 71
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.30(d)

Read an Excerpt


By Helen Tookey

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2014 Helen Tookey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-515-3


    Then is it true

    Aber weil Hiersein viel ist, und weil uns scheinbar
    alles das Hiesige braucht, dieses Schwindende, das
    seltsam uns angeht ...

       Rilke, Ninth Elegy

    Then is it true, that you also need us?

    Look: here, at this angle of land, where riverbank
    becomes coast, here is salt ice lying

    in the furrows, and there, where water
    exchanges with water a mode

    of being, river/ocean/river, there
    again is ice, thin-skinned and scarcely

    bearing, puzzling rocks; and the cold,
    to us, is like a new live thing, that stalks

    the hollows of our bones. – Look: I am
    giving it to you, this fragment; but how,

    in your completeness, could you need it?

    At Burscough, Lancashire

    Out on the ghost lake, what's lost
    is everywhere: murmuring in names
    on the map, tasted in salt winds
    that scour the topsoil, westerlies
    that wrenched out oaks and pines, buried now
    in choked black ranks, heads towards the east.
    Cloudshadows ripple the grasses as the seines
    rippled over the mere by night, fishervoices calling
    across dark water. Underfoot, the flatlands'
    black coffers lie rich with the drowned.


... within some strata the footprints of the animals, birds and humans frequenting the coast at that time have been preserved ... The females, often accompanied by children, would appear to have been mainly occupied with gathering food, e.g. shrimps, razor shells and other seafood. At one site there was a wild confusion of children's footprints as though they had been mudlarking ...
       Gordon Roberts, 'The Lost World of Formby Point'

    Patience you need and a strong back for digging
    razor-clams, wheedling them up with salt and
    tugging them out, blind snouts curling. Bored, the
    children play catch-me-if-you-can, eeling
    from each other's muddy hands, filthy and
    shrieking with laughter. Minding the tide and
    uncertain sky, sifting for shrimp, you try
    to keep count: no little ones lost in the
    creek or sneaking away to the hunting.
    What you need's eyes in the back of your head.


    Like two voices shifting into pitch, our
    coastline after four thousand years maps yours.
    Your fen and creek are gone, you wouldn't know
    this fine sand drifted with pines; but here are
    your mud-flats, become lithographic, and
    here your people: four-toes, twisted, no use
    at the hunt; this girl, months-heavy, inching
    her way, clawed feet curled hard into the mud;
    and the children, quick, unhurried, knowing
    themselves alone possessed of the future.


    In the clear grace of dream I stood
    high on the Edge, the wind tugging, the world
    tumbling far below. Tiny lights signed
    across the valleys and I knew,
    if I dived, the icy sky would bear me

    but I awoke at sea level, estuarine
    and silted, caught seven years
    at slack water, waiting
    a turn of the tide.


    Under the cherry-
    trees you sit,
    drifted in white:

    daughter. Not
    my place to

    dream of you
    with child, your

    bones singing
    like ice on ice.
    Waiting a touch

    upon the wrist
    you sit, drifted
    in white: a promise

    made between the
    flowering cherry and
    the Feast of Weeks.


    We are walking the littoral
    of October, watching the tide

    reach its decision. I carry
    merely yesterday's meanings but

    you are already translated, turning
    towards the bright months while I

    collect October's cockleshells,
    curetted cleanly by the sea.

    Poem for Sabine

    It must have been Hamburg: the dream didn't say.
    Dark shapes shadowed the water:
    we were run aground, out in the roads.
    On the quay you waited with the unsaid word,
    Krebs, the crab, the unforgiving.

    I woke to the rain-sound, stranded in August,
    remembering the valley's steeps, your long
    and lovely hair. Schreib mir! –
    this sheaved air hints at winterings,
    the sea's way wide between us.


    for Linda

    But so soon, this first
    drifting of bravura pink
    back to the earth.
    Leaves April still
    so young. Still
    so green.

    Among Alphabets

    We met among alphabets. I saw myself
    Greek: walking the walls,
    inviolate as logic, mistress
    of philosophy's glassy tongue.
    Translation came slow. I learned to trust
    Hebrew's rich misreadings, risk breeding
    between the lines: language of faith,
    our leap in the dark.


    Your body the decision
    of an instant and a

    sine-wave's flow from
    hedge to hedge, your

    moment's stare uncoloured by
    our headlights' white and we

    are become merely (kuck mal,
) fox-seers.

    Autumn Child

    for Patrick

    Autumn child
    you would be born with the leaf-fall
    the catch in the air
    that tells the year's turn

    tonight, a rag of cloud
    blindfolding the face of the moon

    am I leaving you
    or moving to greet you?



    The lady of the moon is in travail,
    her white face waxen as the missel-fruit.

    The gravelled path gives way to broken angles,
    burials of water. Follow it.

    Creep into the hospice of the yew,
    its pale lying-place. Curl up there. Wait.


    When you lift the receiver the story
    is already unfolding: quiet
    insistent cross-talk of

    a party line. Behind the lock-ups
    June hangs heavy,
    deep sea-green and sour

    on the tongue. Wires hum
    along the cutting. At the edge
    of the permissible you fingers-

    spell the word: unadopted. Radios
    talk of Rhodesia, and at night
    the fitful banging of the trap.

    Funeral and Fox


    Good Friday began in New York, watching
    the parade from tall windows: stiltwalkers,
    a school of small witches. I had to kill
    the badman to get the girl, went out to
    the forest cabin to see the hoods and
    hire a gun. No way, they said, you'll never
    take him. Back with the witches, I told the
    children: See, if you die famous, this is
    the send-off you'll get.


    Later, in the village house, I met him
    in the airing cupboard, his burnt umber
    face trained on me from his foxhole among
    the bedsheets. There was shit on the patterned
    green lino, the towels in disarray. O
    I know you, I said, you're the word this house
    will never hear. He fired past me, watched as
    I fumbled the key; lit out to the woods
    beyond the garden.

    At the Castle

    A four-square block of wood tapering from 5 in. to 3 in.
    A grate of oak stanchions set diagonally
    A portcullis, the chase of which may still be seen

    All angles are of brick

    And carved ornament in head and jambs
    And only the excellence of the mortar
    And the soile betwene the waulles grue ful of elders

    But little of them exists beyond the broken wall-ends
    But the patterns in black brick are simpler
    But this is only conjecture

    By what must have been a miscalculation of levels
    Circa factorum le murther holles de novo
    Much of the brickwork having fallen away

    Of fireplaces, and the toothings on the west tower
    Of payments to men watching in the moat at night
    Of the machicolations, and probably the slabs

    On the right-hand turret the maunch or sleeve
    Pro levelyng le erthe intra muros
    The burning of the bricks

    Then felle alle the castelle to ruine

    Water, its Voicings

    Night excavates, reopens
    old coursings. In the mouth of

    the culvert language grew, green
    and forbidden, fingering

    the edges of thought (we have
    a little sister, she has

    no breasts
), knuckling deep into
    brickwork, the secret places

    of walls. Persuasive, night pries
    through shut springs, sealed fountains:

    complicit, you open your
    throat to water, its voicings.


Excerpted from Missel-Child by Helen Tookey. Copyright © 2014 Helen Tookey. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Then is it true 11

At Burscough, Lancashire 12

Prints 13

Estuarine 14

Shavuot 15

Cockleshells 16

Poem for Sabine 17

Magnolia 18

Among Alphabets 19

Fox-Seers 20

Autumn Child 21


Missel-Child 25

Unadopted 26

Funeral and Fox 27

At the Castle 28

Water, its Voicings 29

Katherine 30

In a Richer Mine 34

Shilling Visit 35

Cedar 36

Among the Gods (Persephone) 37


Male Nude R.B. Kitaj 41

Mono 42

Portrait of a Young Woman 44

With Joe on Silver Street 45

Der Tod in Venedig 46

The Hardened Criminals of Tomorrow 47

When I was quite small I would sometimes dream 48

Miss Yamada Has Gotten Married 49

America 52

A long war, and now the returning 53


Fosse Way 57

Hollow Meadows 58

Persephone in Adiyaman 63

Philadelphus 64

Rheidol Valley 65

Priest 66

Heron 67

In the dying days of the year we walked 68

Secret Name 69

Climbing the Hill at Sunset 70

Notes 71

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