Cartwright 70

Fiona Cartwright

Remaking the whale

Here’s your bone. It’s the size
of a newborn in my hands,
its lightness shocking
like lifting a friend’s child
smaller than my own.
We get to work,
erasing its clothing of 100 years of dirt
like midwives wiping blood and shit
from a neonate’s skin, peeling
cell-thin layers until the vertebra
appears like a cloudfree moon,
cratered with its native pits.
You put two fingers
through the millstone hole
where the spinal column was threaded,
stringing each vertebra to the next,
pinging data from brain to limb. You press
your palm against your own spine’s
laddered knots, watch
the curators reassemble bones,
fitting our vertebra between its discs
as if the continents are rejoining.
You use your own body’s blueprint
to construct the whale,
the way cell is chained to cell
to curve each rib to its length,
your fingers miniature fins
that first spanned their reach
inside their own sea
inside me, knowing
your migration route
like whales do.

On 8th and 9th July 2017, the Grant Zoology Museum in London invited members of the public to help clean and rebuild a 160 year old Northern bottlenose whale skeleton.



Your cellophane wings
hide nothing. It’s your moves that count,

your wings that oscillate
each molecule over and over.

You’ve striped yourself
into a wasp costume

as you hang
before a gorse bloom, your head

inside its open mouth, your tongue
between the curve of its lips,

the hummingbird stasis your tell.
Hoverfly, I say to my daughter, fasten my gaze

to hers, and wasp imposters
appear to her everywhere.

Fiona’s work has previously appeared in Mslexia, Under the Radar, Algebra of Owls and Ink, Sweat & Tears, amongst other places, has twice been longlisted for Nine Arches Press/Poetry School’s Primers scheme and was highly commended in Paper Swans’ pamphlet competition in 2018. She lives near London with her husband and two daughters, works as a conservation scientist and spends as much time looking for whales as she can. Tweets @sciencegirl73