A poem by Helen Macdonald


Between her wings the novitiate
conjures blocks from the palms of her hands.
Some fall, some rise to create their own mistakes
blossoming in little liege-struck parentheses of air
and cement, blood and spittle. They survive like
opened chitin, small frequencies, with pearls and tines
in circuits, dust to small versions of nothing
ventured, nothing gained, and that sets a smile
to prey upon her face, where the dirt is.
The wings are black, of course: she'd assumed
they'd be off-white, a kind of shabby perfection,
but the thumbs and the long, emarginated curves,
the complex slings of cord and muscle that flare
at her shoulders are not. They're black. Not
that this is a bad thing, she decides, at once. It means
I can't be seen at night. And during the day, I'll hide.
I'm good at that. There are parts of the air so thin
you can slip inside them, and then, with the wings
hitched and the coverts raised, each little feather
with its four tiny muscles erect and the air between
burred with the warmth from her back, she'd sleep.
Never wanted to be nocturnal. But dusk
and dawn are enough: larks sing in the dark, and
I know the blackbirds do, too. I shan't see reptiles
she thought, with sadness, but then if I lived in Ireland,
Nor would I then. St Francis kicked them out. Or at least
St Francis in the form of an icesheet. She shivers. How
various are those theories of the world. Paper
at her feet, wet cobbles, white fletchings & vowels
swans, verbs, the headlines all the swans' invention,
showers of thrips and crowds, the last
in their progress less certain of meeting
each other than of the water running under
their feet. Concerned, she drops a block; it breaks
to fifteen dice, one watchface, a cabbage white, two
Yale keys & a small vial of perfume. Tester. Unlabelled
of course, she sniffs. And cabbage whites? As if.
Dropped blocks for disorder, for curt treatment
the demiurge despoiled. Across the water, Debussy,
high definition porn & the diplomat's own smooth language
stroking all matters of pasture and selvage up to his own
sweet ends, no matter what the ends themselves
Delft animals, styles, fat corn to be pushed to the heel.
He might turn for the time to respect what is gathered: prime
miracles just numbers to be signed. Wrapped in gauze. Sealed
with a print. Stored for faith. Those tiny blue hooves
and tiny flowers. A prospect, a roof, and above, in clouds,
a miniature graze of indigo, ghost against the craze. Some
human error, some mimic tacked the receded features.
And polity, and the white parsimony it calls to mind. Later,
in clocks and patches, with roundels glued to the eye,
her blocks are minded to sing. Blisters. Forks. The corkscrew
faltering fall of pipits through air. And seeds are never
never, and the lures all remain: tiny, panicky gods,
covering their eyes while the fire escape burns.
I love you, parsimony, he cries,
throwing his arms wide


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