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.
|Publisher:||Carcanet Press, Limited|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.30(d)|
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By Helen Tookey
Carcanet Press LtdCopyright © 2014 Helen Tookey
All rights reserved.
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:
my place to
dream of you
with child, your
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.
But so soon, this first
drifting of bravura pink
back to the earth.
Leaves April still
so young. Still
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,
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.
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Table of Contents
Then is it true 11
At Burscough, Lancashire 12
Poem for Sabine 17
Among Alphabets 19
Autumn Child 21
Funeral and Fox 27
At the Castle 28
Water, its Voicings 29
In a Richer Mine 34
Shilling Visit 35
Among the Gods (Persephone) 37
Male Nude R.B. Kitaj 41
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
A long war, and now the returning 53
Fosse Way 57
Hollow Meadows 58
Persephone in Adiyaman 63
Rheidol Valley 65
In the dying days of the year we walked 68
Secret Name 69
Climbing the Hill at Sunset 70