A flight of beauty: review of The Crow Gods

A flight of beauty

I read Crow Gods in one, breathless sitting. Rather than a collection of poems, it reads like a single, sustained exploration of the emotions that link us to one another and the world we live in. There’s a tenderness to all these poems, those dedicated to family, children, memories naturally enough, but even in the humorous evocation of the drunk outside the pub in Obby Oss (and I didn’t need a translator’s note), in the frankly touching portrait of the farmer in Spirit, and in the quiet nobility of standing upright, keeping moving against the tide of illness, as in The crow gods and Fear and Courage.
The bird theme ties this collection together. From delicate goldfinches stitching us to the sky to the almost human rooks, with their black-clad elegance that is never entirely serious, their eavesdropping and mocking, gossipy laughter. Children are birds too, build their own nests, learn to fly but flock with family, never breaking away completely.
It is the tenderness that remains with me after reading and rereading these poems, the ease with which Sarah Connor, in a handful of simple, perfect words, gets so deep beneath the superficial, that she finds that elusive place of common human understanding. Sail is perhaps my favourite of all. The honesty of it makes me want to weep.


Making wild plans

She imagined the meadows set forever in pink and yellow and white, like cloisonné enamel work, with flocks of goldfinches and high-stepping deer, hares hiding low and foxes making tracks in the dark. They would not mow at high summer, leave the wild things alone. They could let saplings grow here and there and become trees, let the woodland spead and step prettily among the flowers. Some said without a cut, bramble would smother everything, an unholy mess. Others said it wouldn’t. Sometimes, she decided, the only thing to do is follow the dream and see what happens.

White night horses

They came again in the night, white and wild, singing their songs of plains that roll on and on until they tumble to the sea. I tried to run with them (as if I could) or catch a bridle (but they tossed their heads aside) and the ringing in my ears was the silver bells tressed into their manes.
The sky runs red these nights, specked with the yellow stamens of roses climbing among the trees, plucked by the outstretched hands of stars. There are apples too, nesting in the high branches. If only I could climb that rugged road from bough to bough, I could tempt a horse to bow her belled and bridled head and let me ride the almost endless plains to the tumbling sea.



Sun falls silent across the meadows, but the grass mutters. Wind with a warning in its throat rocks tree-masts, crow’s-nested and billowing in full leaf. It used not to be like this. I remember when sun was just sun, rising warm in late spring, preparing summer, blue radiated glittering in full running streams, and dew-damp rising where flowers blow. I listen now to the spare song of the birds, counting the missing voices. Pigeon-scarers boom like Armageddon. Mowers growl, the slashers and burners still active though the sky glowers, and the warning light of the sun blinks on off on. Off.

Fishbird myths

It’s a purple lie,’ she said, watching evening clouds drench the flame of sunset. ‘Nothing lives in that hue not even when it leaches into the lake water where mermen carve their names in the rocks.’
I listen to the murmur of her words and the woodpecker-tapping beneath the smooth oilskin.
‘They’re creating,’ I said,’ like all men do, stone feathers. Will they ever fly?’
She laughed. ‘Only the sun births firebirds and wraps them in eggshell blue, and moon births silver water, where fish glide in winged suspension. Meet me here at indigo midnight, and I’ll show you.’

Honey birds

They sat around the honey pot, as golden light crawled over the sill like bees. He held out a hand and she clasped it, soft brown skin, the hairs like sundust. Over the sill, watersound ran in rippling cascades on its way to the distant sea. Birds carried the wash-crash on their black wings, white wings, purpling the hills with the roistering song of mussels.
Gold, she said, we have it in buckets.
I can hear it singing, he said, in the deep trees.
Orioles looped lemon-yellow loops to settle, quivering on the honey pot’s lip.
Look, she said, butterflies.

The note

A sketch of the opening of a story.

The girl who wasn’t really her friend had excused herself and gone to see why her mother was calling, leaving Mathilde alone in the big room with half-closed shutters and the distant sound of a lawn mower. Ample sofas and armchairs seemed to hold their ample breath. A vase of cut flowers whispered, don’t touch. Mathilde gave the dainty tables and antique bibelots a wide berth, and wandered over to the bookcase.

It was just for show, she decided, nothing in it was intended to be read, all tooled leather bindings, gold-embossed, probably first editions, immensely valuable. She ran her finger along the spines, hesitated at a slim volume in dark walnut leather. The book fell into her hand unasked. It was cool, smooth and had no title. A diary, she thought and opened it. Not a diary. There was a fly leaf with a single word printed in an archaic font. Verdiana.

Her lips mouthed the word, and the dust motes in the rare beams of light danced. She shivered and snapped the book closed. In the movement to replace it on the shelf, a folded slip of paper dropped out from between the end papers. She picked it up, slowly turned it over. A name was written on the outer side. Her name, Mathilde. She moved into the light, curiosity overcoming the creeping sense of unease. The thin paper was yellowed, almost translucent, and allowed itself to be unfolded with reluctance. The note was just six words of faded black ink.

Meet me at the jetty tonight.

There was no signature, simply a scrawled doodle of something that might have been a rose. Mathilde read the words again, heard a voice deep inside her ear, a voice that made her shiver, in fear or excitement, she couldn’t tell. She replaced the note and slipped the volume back into its place.

‘I’ll go,’ she said aloud to the empty room and the beam of sunlight. The dust motes leapt and span, and from the garden, beyond the shuttered windows, a jay laughed.

Into the dark

For the dverse prompt.

Into the dark

It will end this year, this winter that will have no spring, perhaps on this day without a date. On a back street, dusky light falls from an orange sky onto bundles of human rags. On a suburban street of luminous green grass and white houses, the lights dim and fail. Somewhere a child wails. On the back street, a cat whisks out of sight behind plastic bags of refuse, ratting, and the last overhead train slows to a halt above a silent thoroughfare.
Running footsteps echo, a door slams. Automatic fire rattles at the end of a street eerily empty, where shop fronts glisten in the leaden stream of acid rain. There is nothing left, nothing to do but wait. Between wall and pavement, a lone daisy grows. I bend to pick it, to take its beauty with me into the dark.


For the dverse prompt.


For many of us, it takes a long time to emerge from the pupal state. Some aptitudes go unexplored because adult life demands a job and setting a course that meets family expectations. Talents remain hidden and dreams unspoken. The nagging voice that says nobody makes money out of art, echoes down the years, loud when we are young and impressionable, but it fades with age and experience. It dies altogether when we realise that making money is one of the least fulfilling things we can do.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I knew that, along with the new life and the beginning of a family, the seed of a poem lay dormant. In my heart was room for not one, but a book of poems, and that is what I wrote.


Well, that was quick! Thanks Merril for such a supple dverse prompt line.

“In space in time I sit thousands of feet above the sea”
From May Sarton, “Meditation in Sunlight”


Days stretch into weeks and months, of feeling lost In space, in time. I sit thousands of feet above the sea in my thoughts, waiting for my wings to fledge, so I can let go, fall or fly. Either will do.

I watch the landscape change as the sun moves across the sky, the cloud-patterns dappling the fields like passing ghost ships. When night falls, the fields are flat, full of silver and night-noises. Leaves shiver. I watch and wait.

Stars open like blossoms, so close I can almost smell their scent, and something, someone whispers, the change is coming.

Through the fabric of my shirt I feel the sprouting, the sharp tender pain of pinions, their hard sheaths breaking into down, fluttering in the night breath of the wind from behind the moon.
Look! I call to your shade, It’s time. I’m coming!