Sally Douglas’s Candling the Eggs

Sally Douglas was born in Cornwall in 1962. She read English and European Literature at Warwick University, a course which involved a fair bit of Latin and Middle English poetry, but nothing more contemporary than Yeats. More recently, she has been awarded a Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing with Distinction from the Open University. She lives in Devon.
Sally has been widely published in magazines including The Rialto, Smith’s Knoll, Envoi, Orbis, The Interpreter’s House, Iota, Acumen and South. She was a prize-winner in the Challenging Poverty Competition and was awarded joint first prize in the Cinnamon Press Poetry Awards.
She will be reading (with Anne Caldwell) at Lumen, Tavistock Place, London, WC1 on 15 March 2011 and will be featured poet at Uncut Poets, Phoenix Arts Centre, Exeter, Devon on 28 April 2011.

Candling the Eggs (Cinnamon Press, 2011) explores the ways in which we both hide and reveal our experiences and perceptions of life, the ways in which we are able or unable to speak. Images of water, birds, paper and dolls, and allusions to myth and history, thread their way through the collection illustrating fragmented stories in a landscape of light and dark, of silence and sound.
The poems in this collection are precise, lyrical and beautiful, sometimes disquieting and strange, often pushing at the boundaries of language and into silence. This is a mesmerising and accomplished collection.
“Sally Douglas’s poems are disturbing and beautiful; broken, elliptical narratives, monologues from subtle, unpredictable perspectives. There’s a sense they are written from a place of loss, or damage. She’s a poet who can evoke, and conjure, who understands the power of what is left unsaid. At the same time her poems sing, and it is precisely this pervasive, darkly lyrical tone that allows them to be heard, and felt, with such emotional and dramatic force.” 
– Greta Stoddart
If you had done what you say you have done
you would have scars.
If this had happened as you say,
someone would have noticed.
If he had done this thing you say he has done,
you would have spoken then.
If what you say is true, there would be records,
not poems.
We have looked for records.
There are none.
If what you say is true, the dark would be spooling out
behind you.
But all you have done is create these things,
opaque as swans.
There is a silent line
under her skin.
Trace its route from earlobe, neck,
down to the margin of breast,
skimming the border between front and back
where she is always cold.
Sweeping, silver, to the groin,
and down like a pungent trickle
that dried many years ago,
then kissing the braided cavity of knee
and the ankle’s egg-like bone.
It’s all that’s left from when
he stitched her with harebells
culled from the verges of the Wissenweg –
the thread so fine
it hardly hurt at all.
Adam’s task was the invention of language,
to name each thing.
Because they do not dazzle her,
she gets to name the white things.
Teeth, feathers, bandages, the old man’s beard, bones.
Plaster casts, the face in the river, the sand.
She can feel their shapes with her tongue.
Ointment, ghosts, marble, snow, paper, kaolin, milk.
Tissues, tampons, sanitary towels, lies,
the small round pills, the sheets, the suds.
The Robe
She threads her warp on a strange loom:
weaves red symbols through the white.
               Ovid: Metamorphoses
You swaddled me with furious proofs,
wrapped me in cloths bleached brightly with rage.
And as I grew, I joined you at the loom:
wove shadows of the things I’d never seen.
Now I prowl the riverbank,
dragging the robe like broken wings.
I can’t unpick this history you’ve stitched to me.
Candling the Eggs
Carefully as a jeweller – fore-finger to apex,
thumb to base – she holds each one close
to the forty watt bulb set up in the corner of the barn.
Leans forward, as if to an airless bell-jar
in an eighteenth century study, assaying
futures as the egg inhales light.
There are three possible conclusions:
fertilised, edible, bad.
She thinks of how these dark trawls
are cloaked in words of light.
Last night, for instance, lamping in the fields –
rabbits, frozen in the rapture of the beam;
the shotgun’s long pragmatic aim.
Tomorrow, it won’t be light that candles
her, but slender waves of sound.
Carefully she holds each one, as if it were
a tiny skull: thumb to occipital crest,
fore-finger to unclosing fontanelle.
Role Play: Therapy in Three Parts
When you’ve left home,
they said.
So he left home.
When you’ve got children of your own,
they said.
So he built a house on salt-drenched sand.
When they’re both dead,
they said.
So he waited till they died.
But it all still flickers like a broken film
strobing at the corner of his eye.
He starts like this:
Leichner 5 and 9, slick as butter,
skating the planes of his face.
28 for the shadows.
Black around the eyes.
The flick of a match:
lit, spent.
Then to brighten himself
in that bleached bowl of light:
he takes a cocktail stick
to gouge out carmine, white;
stabs careful dots
tight in the eye’s soft angles.
Fossil Hunter
He stumps over the shale beds
which slump from the undercliff,
that brink where land falters,
loses balance.
He picks over spoils
like a crow at road-kill.
Places the shapes of the dead
in a red plastic bucket.
When he gets home, he’ll grind them to powder
trying to find their hearts.
from Candling the Eggs (Cinnamon Press, 2011).
Order Candling the Eggs.
Visit Sally’s poetry-themed blog.

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