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An Unreachable Light: Their Lunar Language By Charlotte Eichler
Steve Whitaker, Literary Correspondent
I often wonder about book dedications, about the dedicatee(s) - the real and pet names, mentors, mentees, friends and relations. And how wistfully at variance they may be from the entirely serious nature of a writer’s discourse. It would not be fitting of me to name the dedicatees of Charlotte Eichler’s gorgeous new pamphlet in a review, but suffice to say they might be characters in a children’s story.

And in a sense, the image-furniture of Their Lunar Language encourages a journey towards another realm as it unravels, in cascades of colour, the kinds of psycho-drama upon which the narratives of fairytale often hang. With astonishing skill, Eichler pins noses on donkeys as a child or an abstract artist might: blindsiding the received order of interpretive service, she sometimes softens the disturbing underside of her lines in the comfort of illusion:


‘Our aunts show us a glass case of curled-up figures.
All we want is the china cockatoo and toy koalas.’
(‘Survivors’)



Charlotte Eichler
The truths that children cannot know are hidden behind the wrinkles and liver-spots of the old; their lives are circumscribed around the twin axes of sensory awareness and pleasure, entirely oblivious to signifiers of endurance, death or survival.

Eichler’s remarkable poem ‘Survivors’ hinges on children in the presence of remote and strange ageing aunts, who ‘drink tea for hours’ and whose ‘hands shake and rattle the cups in their saucers’. These last, these ‘Old Fools’, are anathema to the embryonic minds whose dwelling place is without death.

The dark realisation which accompanies the final couplet is predicated upon the burden of guilt conferred by knowledge and hindsight. The suggestion that the aunts survived the Nazi camps is inscribed on their limbs, and the children are repulsed and unknowing:


‘Their arms come towards us lined with numbers –
we wriggle away from their touch.’



The narrator might be putting several ghosts to bed here. And she performs a similar ministry for the ‘The Navigator’ whose unconditional, possibly grandpaternal, love is rewarded in the tenderest of commemorative lines. A stoical wartime air navigator, ‘used to fear’ and negotiating fog over ‘maps’ of landscape, uncomplainingly translates the quiet heroism of his own youth into the dignified service of his family:


‘although later you remember
where the graze came from:
walking home with us you’d dragged
your hand along the wall until it bled
to keep you conscious
so we wouldn’t be afraid.’



The even rhythm of the lines holds emotion as steady as the pastoral navigator’s selfless commitment, rendering Eichler’s concluding sestet one of the most simply moving tributes i’ve ever come across.

If the poet’s impulse for the airborne and the transitory looks like a means of escape, then her narrative world is somehow end-stopped at its own horizon like the makeshift microcosm of the Truman Show. There is something terminally self-reflexive about the figure of the ‘Balloonist’, whose flight above the upturned, marvelling heads of spectators at Haworth Gala in 1906, is doomed to catastrophic inevitability. Informed by the sad story of twenty one year old Londoner, Lily Cove, whose own attempted parachute descent from an airborne balloon ended in death as her harness was inexplicably jettisoned a hundred feet above the ground, Eichler’s protagonist suspends the star-bound and Icarean memory of Lily in amber.


‘She looks down on the village,
pictures it wilder –
black hats a penguin circus
the Old White Lion
roaring her name –

all those extra hearts
to bloody her.
She chooses
the balloon’s silky bones
a lampfish sky.



These strange, very beautiful lines nuance the balloonist’s character, write her name in the air, illuminate her brilliant, flawed endeavour. A sense of being alone in the world unites several of Eichler’s excursions, perhaps taps in to a stream of human longing. The poem ‘Islomane’ yields a persuasive picture of a castaway through an ingenious rendering of her newly-refracted perception. Here, brocades of desert island images are weaved synaesthesially around objects of recollection, to make an alliterative, and seductive, tapestry of loss:


‘With a toe in the water,
she leaves rows of pleated shells –
wedding dresses

and the trees filling
with a robin’s twisted
ribbons of song.’



Also by Steve Whitaker...
Taking A View: Landscape Photographer Of The Year – Collection 12
Poem Of The Week: ‘Authentic Victorian Mermaid’ By Cliff Forshaw
Banksy & Hockney: A Tale Of Two Auctions
‘Ye Are Many’: Film Review - Peterloo
Bantams, Bum Bandages And Book Signings: The Diary Of A Yorkshire Vet By Julian Norton
Elsewhere, the serviceable ‘ribbon’ is a metaphor for the green darkness of a channel between sea stacks on what may be St Kilda or a remote Hebridean island. Eichler’s instinct for peering aerially into the abyss is rejoined in ‘Last Egg Collection’, whose persuasively vertiginous camera angle pans down from cliff-edge to the ‘open graves’ of empty houses below, themselves indicators of abandonment and migration.

Angles and spatial perception are significant to this poet, especially as disorienting landscapes invite a readjusted awareness. With the rising of the moon in a blue sky in Yosemite, a new way of seeing induces a moment of temporary calm in the spectral twilight - a sense of illusory wholeness conferred by an early evening vista:


‘I watched your profile – the suddenly unfamiliar
curve of your nose. We thought we knew

how things like day and night
and love would work.’
(‘At Mirror Lake’)



Later, in the optical illusion created by the phenomenon of inversion in Fjord-land, Eichler’s narrator finds a metaphor for psychological submersion amongst the ‘polished image of the sky’, the waterfalls pouring upwards and the pristine ‘shimmering’ of sunken villages (‘into the Fjords’). The poem ‘Fata Morgana’ - another optical illusion at the sea’s horizon – disturbs landscape in the way that a tidal wave might, but what distinguishes Eichler’s vision is the astonishingly convincing portrayal of flotsam in a tableau of the imagination:


‘    rivers split and trap houses
so they’re swimming    next to barnacled cars
    as cod leap up to line roofs

salt crusts everything – the grass crackles with it.’



To read Charlotte Eichler is to be oceanically displaced. The presence of airborne fish, of sea-birds, of flying insects, sometimes in arbitrary suspension outside of their natural element, does not surprise the narrator, or her mentally reconfigured audience. Her ‘travels’ – a languid railway journey to Voronezh, or on the luminous wings of a moth cleaving towards the unspoken language of the moon’s light – are immersive, utterly.

A scholar of Norse and Viking studies, it is no surprise to find Eichler consumed by the landscape of mythology. And if the student of Their Lunar Language takes nothing else away from this visionary body of poems, I urge he or she to embrace ‘Valkyrie’, whose depiction of an imagined terrain speaks as clearly to the inner mind as Coleridge:


‘She watches from the window,
    thinks of all the words she knows for dark.
        Tonight she goes to them –

they croak to each other, their bright beaks,
    the bow curves of their necks.

        She looks back to her house
            and her arms feather in the cold.’




Their Lunar Language is published by Valley Press.

An Unreachable Light: Their Lunar Language By Charlotte Eichler, 8th November 2018, 14:51 PM