Sleeping on the Wing, Eleanor Page
Against the Grain Poetry Press, 2021 £6.00
A flutter of wings
The natural world and a feeling of sadness permeate this pamphlet. The poet often uses the image of wings. The title of the pamphlet comes from the poignant poem ‘Swifts’:
as he lifted, I thought how peaceful it must be
to let go your foothold on the earth, to soar
above it all, sleeping always on the wing.
That poem also includes a lovely, imaginative description of a swift trapped in a bedroom. The bird
skithered over floorboards, a pair of compasses
trying to walk, leaning on the hinges of his wings
In ‘While You Were Sleeping III, The White Bird of Oxenham’, the narrator brings to my mind angels with the poem’s closing words:
can’t tell if I dreamt
the white wings above your bed
those small white wings above your head
The restless movement of birds, moths, butterflies and other insects features in many of the poems. The narrator becomes a winged creature herself in the multi-layered poem ‘Pentimenti’: ‘I let you kiss / my wing bones’, and later:
finding no veins, but a polymelia
of repentances; each a smear of moth
a different hieroglyph of wings.
In ‘Mayflies’, she writes:
After the dance — the shimmer and stop
of cross-veined wings, the struggle upwards
And in ‘Light and so many small birds’ she captures the sad fate of fledglings flying into glass:
And it’s too easy to lose yourself
in this maze of mirrors, under floodlights
frantic with wings
The goldcrest is one of my favourite birds which visits my garden pond regularly, so I was delighted to read ‘Goldcrest, 3rd February’, which captures so poignantly the quick movement of the bird with ‘its weaves and doubles-back’ and admires
life in such a tiny thing — its signals, the restless
twitching of head and wing
The pamphlet closes with ‘Pieris rapae’. The poet buries a Cabbage White, ‘studying its wings’ deckle-edge’. When she returns to dig in the same spot a week later, there is no sign: ‘I thought it had flown away’, she writes.
These poems transported me with their ‘breath of wing’, a lovely phrase from ‘While You Were Sleeping II, Spirit’.