Their Lunar Language, Charlotte Eichler

Valley Press, 2018   £5.99

With and without wings

You’d have to fly to reach the Moon, and the ups and downs, ins and outs, smaller details and grander ideas of flight and wings are everywhere in Their Lunar Language, often in surprising ways.

A clue to the treatment of flight appears in ‘Trapping Moths With My Father’ — the heads that ‘lean close’ to inspect the moths’ wings are trying to understand the means of flight even as they prevent it. And it is the hieroglyphic markings on these wings that ‘speak a lunar language’, giving the collection its title.

All kinds of contradictory messages about flight, and about wings as the accessories of flight, contribute to the uplift of these poems. The ‘ladybird circus’ and the ‘rows of starlings’ in the opening poem (‘Divination’) remain grounded, despite their wings, and instead whales appear to do the flying. Expectations of flight are playfully subverted, too, in ‘The Coffin Calendars’ where ‘Our / dresses show the winged blades of / our backs as we fly off the shelves’.

Flight can be both dangerous and exhilarating, as the girl in ‘Balloonist’ shows, choosing ‘the balloon’s silky bones’. And the adventures of underwater flight are no less exhilarating — I love the idea of cuttlefish whose ‘eggs like a dropped necklace’ suggest ‘children in the weeds / brightening like bulbs’ (‘Clean White Bones’). Even the destruction of wings is portrayed as fascinating in ‘What Little Girls Are Made Of’ whereas ‘The Fifty-Year Traffic Jam’ shows a place where ‘blue tits / hurl themselves at wing mirrors / and oily pools collect electric dragonflies’ — hinting at a post-apocalyptic world where frustrations and anomalies of flight seem darkly normal.

Some of the most intense poems use bird imagery — and the potential for flight — to express dizzy heights of love and passion. A disarming desire for flight and darkness pushes through to the final lines of the striking last poem in the collection (‘Valkyrie’): ‘She looks back to her house / and her arms feather in the cold.’ Is she on her way back to the Moon, returning with that lunar language of flight?

Clare Best