A Dovetail of Breath, Fiona Larkin
Rack Press, 2020 £5.00
Fiona Larkin writes with delicacy about her father, Michael, and how global aphasia slowly took his speech. He is forgetting words; she uses the full resources of her language to show the effects on both of them.
All your vowels fall away. I am left
with liquid initials, a twilit dissolve
He is ‘in the violet // light of leave-taking’, that space before death, while she remembers with a child’s eagerness the richness and range of his reference —
Old Nokomis, Opel Ascona
— spell Czinowski, daddy!
— draw me a neddy!
My ear’s still attuned
to those polysyllabics
your sheltering warmth
in a dovetail of breath
There’s no end to memory; she remains ‘still attuned’, not only to his words but also the warmth of his love.
There’s no end to grief, either. ‘Finistère’, the opening poem, shows this. It’s an extended metaphor, using the geography of the headland to show how grief has no clear-cut edge, no boundary either in space or time.
I expected precision
distinct as its name
the edge of the land
clean as a blade
a headland whetted
against the spray.
But instead of the expected division of land and sea. there’s only blur. It’s ‘a cataract light’, and ‘the salt / wet on my cheek’ is both the Atlantic and her tears. She should be standing, literally, at the end of solid earth. Instead, all she can discern is an unresting mix of rock and spray —
a fold in the cloud
is blunting my eye
and where can I say
it is finished?
The question — with its echo of Christ’s last words — carries its own answer: there’s no place on earth where her mourning will be over.
There is no sentimentality in these poems, only a deep and abiding sense of loss, beautifully told.
D A Prince