Ketchup dripped down my arm like a wound…

Reading time: Less than 2 minutes

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of brilliant similes and metaphors from Helen Macdonald….

I wrote yesterday about a new word I learned from Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk. More remarkable than her vocabulary, however, was her ear for metaphor and simile. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with such a long list of extraordinary figurative language…

  • Have you ever watched a deer walking out from cover? They step, stop, and stay, motionless, nose to the air, looking and smelling. A nervous twitch might run down their flanks. And then, reassured that all is safe, they ankle their way out of the brush to graze.
  • A sparrowhawk, light as a toy of balsa-wood and tissue-paper, zipped past at knee-level, kiting up over a bank of brambles and way into the trees.
  • That was when the old world leaned in, whispered farewells and was gone.
  • A short scuffle, and then out into the gloom, her grey crest raised and her barred chest feathers puffed up into a meringue of aggression and fear, came a huge old female goshawk.
  • We ran our fingers along the narrow bones of her wings and shoulders to check nothing was broken, along bones light as pipes, hollow, each with cantilevered internal struts of bone like the inside of an aeroplane wing.
  • She disappeared over a hedge slant-wise into nothing. It was as if she’d found a rent in the damp Gloucestershire air and slipped through it.
  • Manfully, I finished the burger. Ketchup dripped down my arm like a wound.
  • She sits on her perch, relaxed, hooded, extraordinary. Formidable talons, wicked, curved black beak, sleek, café-au-lait front streaked thickly with cocoa-coloured teardrops, looking for all the world like some cappuccino samurai.
  • The feathers down her front are the colour of sunned newsprint, of tea-stained paper, and each is marked darkly towards it tip with a leaf-bladed spearhead, so from her throat to her feet she is patterned with a shower of falling raindrops.
  • Branches lift in the breeze; leaves shift with a collapsing, papery flicker.
  • Once it was a chapel, then it was a house, and now it is a ruin, a great , collapsing carcass of stained ironstone. The roof is a broken ribcage heaped with rotting thatch.
  • It is a smile that is a veneer on murder.
  • I had lost hope in her coming but I called her all the same. And she flew to me. She flew like a promise finally kept.
  • The hawk is on my fist. Thirty ounces of death in a feathered jacket; a being whose world is drawn in plots and vectors that pull her towards lives’ ends.
  • Kneeling next to the hawk and her prey, I felt a responsibility so huge that it battered inside my own chest, ballooning out into a space the size of a cathedral.
  • Outside, winter breathed in. Papery skies. Glittering trees. A wash of backlit fields that folded and shrank as the city grew.
  • Over the fright horizon the sky swam like water.
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