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Three Poems

“I have had live crows, hawks, and owls—opossums, squirrels, snakes, lizards, &c., so that my room has sometimes reminded me of Noah’s ark; but Noah had a wife in one corner of it, and in this particular our parallel does not altogether tally.”
—Alexander Wilson

I had an idea of this, is stacked with song
& cool blood, bruised with salad herbs & oil 
Of petrae, callt oil of peter, salts, flats, larks. 
Wet feathers continue to rise in my breast
Whereas your darker plumes operate a weak tacet
broken in twain, se muer, to moult & speak for a hope
For a moment or two for the pile of the land rocks back 
in a dubitable movement shiny as a climate sere
As desert, it is all flush. Through a miracle of hatred
an expansion of range will serve, as light in itself; 
Light and even as absolutely nothing else is. 

But not wanting to wander across interior spelts
Inclined to bruise it as the pelf of good fortune, love. 
To rack the head with love. A removeable locus of bloody
and clouded leaves is politic & linear upon that phrase
Weighing classically so that the thought forgets itself
with difficulty. At once removes a tiny sphinx of tin
a shy and discreet creation, doubtless fussed by thin shadows 
of bent sinew & pneumatised bone, my heart wilted in them

Home. Some miracle of hatred brought forth an expansion of range. 
Nothing as durable as something which otherwise might take leave
soar up into a sky trailing wax and bells and subsist on its own. 
It broke into something resembling a plan of submission; 
grackles redrawn in the margin, and the whole arched
in pilasters of massy cloud. Doubt not but that the dead
were torn by the vision, where no place lies, there is none
to be had. In truth none at all, not even the aspiration to, 
believing it spring and the heart it had sprung from dead.



So. A spire pulled forward by gravity of anger into limes
brief ripple of disc-shaped serrated leaves & lineage

dropped into a ladle at dusk as swifts spit softly
overhead in lines from physics and buttons

slate, where it falls and falls. Battalions of heroes eh. 
That is what we schemed to hear. Walls of them, with bad

luck on their side. What a curious pose you are holding
spare hopes for certainty she does, the heroes touch leaves

to their foreheads as they walk it is May, May damp May
on gravel. 


letter to america

amid the rain of ether from the noisy sky
& the mild diffidence of dials, the drench of laws
and scripts greeting the storm, its policy of tempered
the exasperation of metals & drift as if its bloom were simple

to the corpus from below in panels, with outliers brushed into ice
the fruiting instability of air, beneath which a ribbon struggles
I am a conversation articulated quietly across oceans
regarded as a measure of uncertainty or surprise

surviving precisely as a desire for redundancy
& this morning the first the guides that lead you in
their capture/the displayed tautology the tunnels of air
preferments of fall lines, new climates tightening on the earth

waypoints for the astronaut & the arctic tern
fat crickets & car-wrecks in fine evening rain
in spilt declivities of bright symbology
tacticians drive their windward aires along

demonstrating the facilitation of flight: 
the slew at sea, the captured wires & the unequal catapult
definitions too lazied to mark the precision of the first breath on deck
stepping into a rose

but you were walking towards me, after all, as if
it weren’t in fact anything other than the imaginary
front sight of one index pressed to your brow
which held you to a name and its willing execution

the pure distinctions you pull upon
your eyes the specific lightness of material perfection
a static click breaking into small worlds
where death has music in a vicelike

I think not. A cloud of polarized light
the specific charade I cleave to “miracles of” falling to machinery
one black dot spilling forwards into the brim of a pupil more distant
his schematics of rash energy, clean daguerreotypes of humidity

& humour beats down in planes and sepals from the island trees
and you say I’ve dreamt this & your voice is exceeding level
as your eyes with their perpetual ironies inquired
practically as the parable of the aviator’s eye

of a shelf of clines and deteriorating greys
frayed with the packed flocks of boreal falls
nighthawks & assemblages of frosted passerines with foil legs
described as angels as the waves reflect

at ten centimeters from their mute bodies and return. 
and, in the perfect meteorology of the brittle desert, 
at the limit of breathable air where it thins into darkness, 
these are the scripts of fallen planes, broken by fog. 

& you were scraping the ice from the leading edge a.m. 
printing an image of the mansions of the dead a.m. 
looking for a small world in the uninhabitable air
trying to extinguish some deeper desire for fire

with something as cold and as hard and as temporary as flight
& what you were hoping is that the air would recolonise you
recognise you and welcome you into the sunlight
and all would be forgiven. ink in the thick air would curl

into glyphs of desire & the lightly starred heel
would dip into the sea at dawn as it spills
into a blaze of mute objects
in the pure suburban heavens 

From Shaler’s Fish by Helen Macdonald. Copyright © 1997 by Helen Macdonald. Originally published in the United Kingdom by Etruscan Books. Used with the permission of the publisher, Atlantic Monthly Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

Helen Macdonald is the author of the award-winning New York Times bestselling book H Is for Hawk, and a collection of poems, Shaler’s Fish. She is also an illustrator, historian, and naturalist who lives in Cambridge, England.