In the latest issue:

Loathed by Huysmans

Julian Barnes

Too early or too late?

David Runciman

Short Cuts: Five Victorian Marriages

Tom Crewe

Society as a Broadband Network

William Davies

Indefinite Lent

Thomas Jones

In 1348

James Meek

The Yorkists

John Guy

At the Movies: Pasolini’s ‘Teorema’

Michael Wood

Whitehall Spookery

Neal Ascherson

Poem: ‘The Bannisters’

Paul Muldoon

Clarice Lispector

Rivka Galchen

Marius Petipa

Simon Morrison

At the Foundling Museum: ‘Portraying Pregnancy’

Joanne O’Leary

Gordon v. O’Connor

Rupert Thomson

Revism

Joe Dunthorne

Poem: ‘The Reach of the Sea’

Maureen N. McLane

Diary: Where water used to be

Rosa Lyster

VidelicetR.F. Langley
Close
Close

Over the reed bed the marsh harriers
cavort for spring but far up and cruising
above them, a different bird, a glist,
a chequin in the fiery manganese
air. Their male, in his resentment, pitches
to reach it where, whiter and bigger than
he is, it pikes on the wind, levels on
five-fingered wings, black tips, carpal-patches,
which it holds fathomed for a moment then
slews and slents away into the blue glare.
No part of the sky-dance, of talons and
tumbling. It caught the drift, accepted it
and lifted on it into clarity,
to be the final shining fix out there.

As well as the obvious celandine
open on the bank in Edward’s Lane, this
fribble of white flower is bittercress.
The single line of reflexed hairs along
the stem is typical for chickweed. I
meet my neighbour at the corner and we
speak about tomorrow’s storm. Kirsten hoves
over her hedge to make a point. Background
details treaty deep into agreement,
each proposing this good morning and some
sharper recognition for itself. More
scrutiny of the south-facing bank. And
sudden Kirsten. And red dead nettle hides
four teeth of orange pollen in its hood.

Looking for something. Finding something else.
Any scribble is too easily made
into a face. First there is flamboyant
use of space. Then the suspicion of an
awkwardness. I had thought there were two pairs
of harriers. One of the four is not.
The graphics roll into a scuffle, bind
a confusion, wrestle themselves for a
discovery. The sky is opening
to the touch of an anomaly: the
other bird, full splay, stamped with black on both
its wrists. No fadge. No easy face. Kirsten,
intense, the very likeness of herself
against the sky. Emerging from the hedge.

A tap on the hat-brim. Snow is melting
from the branches of the poplars and the
impact of a drop suggests that I should
trap it, crisp, and take it home to brood on.
Keep it fresh for reference. More than the
blether of the usual to and fro.
I remember the white raptor as one
snapshot in the Album of Departures.
The stamens slip their cape and step to the
open door to warm themselves. As folklore.
Adam and Eve. I stare at them. They stare
at me. Kirsten is staring over the
hedge, above the hedge, across the hedge, braced
on her mark and expecting to vanish.

Rain wets the line of hairs. They conduct it
to the lower leaf-stalks. At the axils
these are cups with lips which catch the moisture
to absorb it or to spill it over
so they pass it on. The explanation
is itself a pleasure. But the stuff of
the hairs has gone, until the verb ‘distil’
begins to prickle, liquid soaks back through
the letters, and again: that curious
strip of fur, the fourth bird sheering to the
north for the sub-arctic, the couple who
uncurl in the mouth of the flower, and
bittercress as bittercress while Kirsten
is sharing silence with the quickset twigs.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences