Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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The Archaeologist’s Daughter, Anthony ChristieThe jacket is pale offwhite with a long rectangle in the middle containing a full colour photo (I think it's a photo not a painting) of stocky trees in a small troup, fat trunks, thin branches, no leaves. I think they are baobab trees in a dry landscape, long baked grass a big sky and some white cloud. The pamphlet title is above this, centred, in black lowercase. The author's name occupies the same position but below the rectangular image and smaller and italics.

Wayleave, 2019     £5.00

Where is her mother?

In Labrador, the archaeologist’s daughter, aged six and ‘in blue boots and yellow sou’wester, / is building herself a shore castle / of sixteenth century tiles’ while

her father, his back to the sea ice,
sketches the stone rows in the frozen bog
that show where its slow leaching of flesh
has honed to a bone cage
the Basque tile bearers
    ['She builds a castle on the shore']

Aged 14 and on the Lofoten Islands, the archaeologist’s daughter

[…] opens her Keats —
she will spend all day with him
while her father digs in the mud
for a buried boat.      
    ['She climbs moon eggs on Vikten strand']                         

Aged 46, the archaeologist’s daughter is ‘four days too late, distracted / by the limitless possibilities / of walls laid bare in the high arctic / by a shift in the permafrost.’ She is holding her father’s hand —

[…] tracing in its scars and blemishes
the record of his seven decades
as if it were parchment
which it could well be, she thinks,
if she stretched it on a frame like goatskin
and chastened it white with pumice.         
    ['She considers the nature of parchment']   

Where is the archaeologist's daughter’s mother? Perhaps she is the woman who ‘ponders mortality on the cemetery of a Roman brothel’ and explains

the foetus is full term [...]
the tension of bone and tendon
straining for air
the mother’s jawline frozen

mid scream —

And after that ‘scream’, ‘her granddaughter / brings her / a flask of hot tea’.

There is no direct mention of the granddaughter’s mother. We are never quite sure who the tea-drinker is. And then suddenly there are mothers and children everywhere (but blink and you’ll miss them).

For me, the absent mother is the presence who pervades these poems.

Sue Butler