Riding the Ichthyosaur
After Mary Anning
The fish lizard rises through a cliff bed
as her linen pouch of stone bones clatters:
devil’s fingers, snake-stones, verteberries
clack their fossil bodies, shift and slide.
Her brother finds the skull—pointed jaw
and conical teeth—but she summons
the rest of the beast. Basket of torso, flippered
phalanges beneath the unsung fingers of a girl.
All those invisible years, I picture her riding
the sea dragon: one hand reining its skeletal
spine, the other gripping her crude extraction
tool. Plesiosaurs surface through Jurassic waves,
Pterodactyls circle her on bony wings. She dodges
lightning, drags Darwin along in her wake.
In the churchyard, her ghost saddles up. Splinters
the stones to expose both monsters and men.
They’ve taken the skeleton
Of the Great Irish Elk
Out of the peat, set it up
An astounding crate full of air.
—Seamus Heaney, “Bogland”
and I rose from the dark,
hacked bone, skull-ware,
frayed stitches, tufts,
small gleams on the bank.
—Seamus Heaney, “Bog Queen”
In the dream, Heaney’s bog queen comes leathered
and fox-curled, saxifrage-ringed and riding the bones
of a giant deer. Within its prehistoric antlers, short-eared
owls swivel tufted heads and stare. Hen harriers circle
blue-grey bodies against a greyer sky. Where the great beast
steps, orchids bloom. Around the coffin bones of its feet,
a flock of curlews whistles and darts. The bog queen opens
a mummied fist, a dozen hares rushing from her fingers,
sprinting into wintergreen and heath. Her voice long gone—
a ghost light in the buttery bog—I hear its changeling plead
in the otter-slick gloom. Ache and branching of my heart
into sphagnum moss as the bone deer stoops to graze.
The peatlands sigh and syrup carbon from the air, absorb
my breath. And the bog queen’s hands turn to pipewort,
her sternum to a merlin’s breast, a collarbone of wings.
The bog keeps what it keeps and we take what we take.
From the bog queen’s darkened skull, a whooper swan.
Skeletal deer disassembling. Peat soaking me to the bone.
Brittney Corrigan is the author of the poetry collections Daughters, Breaking, Navigation, and 40 Weeks. Solastalgia, a collection of poems about climate change, extinction, and the Anthropocene Age, is forthcoming from JackLeg Press in 2022. Brittney was raised in Colorado and has lived in Portland, Oregon for the past three decades, where she is an alumna and employee of Reed College. She is currently at work on her first short story collection. For more information, visit http://brittneycorrigan.com/.
photo by Pexels (via pixabay)