Tuesday, May 29, 2012

All The Missing Names Of Love - A Review

Discovering All The Missing Names Of Love motivated me to do two things I have never done before: buy something online, and write a review. The first was easy; the second, definitely not so much.

Reading blogging friend Roselle Angwin's beautiful posts over at Qualia and Other Wildlife, I knew her new book of poetry would be worth reading, and now having read it, definitely worth sharing.

Like the tapestry by Anne Jackson on the book cover, Roselle’s poems interweave her thoughts and feelings with a sympathetic vision of the natural world to which she is clearly attuned.

In his haiku Nazuna (The Shepherd’s Purse), Basho was captured in an instant by the beauty of a lowly weed, then captured the moment in a poem:

When I look carefully –
Nazuna is blooming
Beneath the hedge.

Roselle does this too. By capturing moments that captured her, she captures us. This is from Tracks:

Now, dawn; the stillness
broken only by a clattering tractor
and its retinue of gulls.

As in On Staffa:

… It’s in these moments

that we remember the truths behind words;
and recover an ancient longing; and our
kinship, our covenant, with wild.

True to the title of the book, Roselle invites us to share her view of love from many different vantage points.

This is Rosa Canina:

Rain, milky with mist, has gently
erased the moorland distances.

Lanes are at their heartbreaking
fullest: buttercup, bluebell, campion,
Queene Anne’s lace, buds of dog rose.

And this is also an act of love:
to see another over a threshold.

Love of nature, animals, friends, lovers, parents; joy in their life, and sadness in their passing and decline.

I’m going to turn off my commentary here. These excerpts easily speak for themselves.

From Wild Garlic:

Everyone we love will leave us eventually,
or we’ll leave them. That’s what the wise vicar
said at that wedding blessing all those years ago.
Knowing that, how can I not love you fully?

From All The Missing Names Of Love:

Today I’m obsessed by things transient
or lost: the dog dead for fifteen years
who today lapped water in the kitchen
at noon, even though I couldn’t see her;

my father’s mislaid past; or the names
that slip through my mother’s grasp
like the minnows we’d try to catch
up to our childish knees in the Vellator streams …

From Rain Dharma:

Rain settling in like conversation between
lifelong friends; rain, plants, stone, birds
at ease with themselves and each other, at ease
with how the world needs to be.

From After Midsummer:

My mum is so light now I can
carry her in one chamber of my heart.

From Going into the meadow after the retreat:

the horse’s light breath on my cheek
the way he delicately politely

only just
meeting my eyes reads my face
hands hair with his gentle muzzle

as if he smells
questions, as if I were an event
blown in on the whirling wind

as if
from within the zero
of Zen in which he dwells

he barely
recognizes me, each thing wholly
new, every encounter the first.

From South Cerney Sonnets     ii Cotswold Water Park: Plate Movement:

The layers beneath our feet are provisional
as anything else; time swallows its tail
and I’m afraid. Hold me. …

From On not going over the lip of a waterfall in an oil-drum:

                               Tell me again
what you said about love;
speak it again – the one
about two bodies’ heat,
the one about crossing the water.
Tell me again.

From This rain, the window open:

Still I lie on the roomward side
of the bed
after all these years

wash the pillowslips
on which I never lie
when I wash my own
put them out to dry
billowing in the salt wind
and reinstall them

neither foam nor feathers
ever as good a pillow
as his chest

for my parents:

i Alzheimer’s
Once she found a goldcrest’s nest,
tucked it carefully in a crook, made sure
the entrance was clear and open.
Recently the winds have blown it far
from the tree, are gently taking it apart.

ii Stroke
The last dominoes perch unsteadily.
The rest have fallen so that their black
sides are uppermost, the numbers
and the narrative mostly obscured.

From Whiteout:

… On that high crest
the snowdrifts fell and fell and were chest-height
and head-height and then filled the lane till

even hedges were eclipsed, the white drift a foretaste
of what later would take my mother’s brain and gently erase it.

From Let there be peace:

Let me go in a breath of applewood smoke from the mountains
Release a white mare into the hills for me
Whisper my name into her ear
Let her go.

Thank you, Roselle.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Buried Treasure on Lyle Hill

He was the kindest, most gentle man I have ever known, and I loved him for it.

My dad was born at home in Greenock, Scotland in 1910. Thirty-nine years later, I followed suit. Unfortunately, I never met his dad, a crane operator in the Greenock torpedo factory, as he died shortly before I was born.

I don't know a lot about Dad's life before me - just snippets of stories about his childhood and youth, like the time he acquired a permanently deformed fingernail after one of his friends, startled by a frog, dropped a heavy storm drain grate; and later, when he sang tenor songs out the window of the YMCA to impress the girls in the street below.

Then came war. I've already written about how Mum and Dad met as pen pals.

Most of my earliest memories are of Dad taking me places - to the beach, to the Italian ice cream shop, and to my favourite place - the top of Lyle Hill.

Greenock and Gourock on the Clyde from Lyle Hill
There was a circle of indentations in the ground near the summit. Dad said if I tried digging in them I might be lucky and find buried treasure. I dug in one but didn't find anything. Dad suggested I try a different one. I did, and found a penny! He suggested some others, and I dug up more coins, even a sixpence! On our way home, I suspect he did a lot of internal grinning, and I was bursting with excitement to tell Mum all about our adventure. It was easily ten years later when I was marveling to him about the coins on Lyle Hill that he finally confessed to planting them.

In 1957, we emigrated to Victoria, British Columbia in Canada. Dad said he would have been more homesick, but was comforted by the similarity of the landscape and the mountains across the water.

Victoria on the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Gonzales Hill
Again, my memories of Dad's life in Victoria seem to be just snippets: my mum often playing his favourite melody, "Moonlight Sonata" on the piano for him; our suspicion that he was colour blind because of the blue trees in his paintings; and later, signs of his advancing Alzheimer's when the last batch of the blackberry wine he made every year turned to vinegar and he 'solved' the problem by adding large amounts of sugar...

Except for The Upper Room, a daily devotional he read every morning while eating his porridge alone (he was up and off to work before the rest of the house stirred), the only books he seemed to read were westerns. One summer we drove to California, and as we passed through Oregon, we came upon the Rogue River. Suddenly, Dad was like a little kid, so excited to see for himself the river he had read about in Zane Grey's stories.

Dad was a gifted carpenter. He loved to build furniture and fix things, and would never accept payment for the work he did for our friends. I still cherish his old hand tools with his name stamped into their wooden handles. We used to walk along the cliff top and he would identify different kinds of wood washed up on the beach below and then go down, saw them into chunks, and lug them back to his workshop in the basement.

After almost forty years, it was finally time for Mum and Dad to leave their house and move into a condo. I don't recall Dad ever getting angry or saying an unkind word, but on their last day there, Dad went down to the basement, fired up his table saw and cut some wood for the last time. As the noise of the saw echoed through the house, we knew how he felt.

Although he gave up driving, much to everyone's relief, he continued to go on long bicycle rides with Mum every day well into his 80's. It was a sad day when we realized it was time for him to stop, because his dementia had progressed to the point that he would cycle off and get lost if not closely watched, and because he would pedal so slowly that he fell over turning corners.

Mum used to do jigsaw puzzles. One night, she woke up to find Dad standing over the puzzle eating the pieces. After that, we moved him into a nursing home. He didn't complain, but expressed his disapproval by catching pneumonia and dying peacefully about a week after he arrived.

All my life, I never told Dad how I felt about him until, in his last hours, I thanked him for being my dad and told him that I loved him. I don't know if he heard me, but I hope so.

If I could have only half of his kindness, I would be a very lucky man.
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