Marlene Cookshaw's first collection of poetry in over ten years is a bounty:
Mowing (Brick Books) meditates on death and grief, community, and connection to land that invites readers into a harvest filled with images of high grasses and farm animals. Below we share two poems from her collection, "Sideways" and "Convalescence."
When I moved here more than two decades ago we bought our farm from the Johnsons,
but they’d owned it only three years and had never moved in. We arrived midsummer
to repairs made on the foundation and the base of the house scraped bare.
While I ran my gaze from the uncut field to an ailing cherry to the well at the heart of the brambles
and inhaled deeply the direction my life was taking, the young sons of a neighbour trailed a snake
over cracked earth and the caretaker chatted about Africa, where he was headed in a month. So
my vision of what we were buying was equatorial, parched, and reptile-haunted.
In fact we are part of the rainforest and only garters and sharptails abound.
My point is no one else wears this precise chain of perceptions, linked
charms braceletting a particular piece of land.
When our sometime handyman Peter hauled the woodshed upright and reroofed it,
he unearthed bricks from a kiln that used to operate nearby, on Bricky Bay,
before either of us was born. And while he winched the come-along, because the shed is on the road,
drivers stopped, among them a man who’d lived in the house as a child and recalled
his father fifty years before, erecting the “garage”—which, unbraced in time, slid sideways
until supported by surrounding trees. My point is the land is still called
the old Mollison place, though I’m not sure if the Mollisons lived here before the Johnsons
or before the owners before them. It takes a long time to be recognized. As if
the island were peopled by all who ever spaded the valleys or levelled ridges or stumbled
over shale. Once you’re here long enough you begin to see where each fits.
When you’re here longer still those who’ve passed begin to see you.
I bribe the dog with a biscuit, and we both
take up spots on the divan. Thin cloud veils the sun, and cool wind dries the morning mist.
Averse to taking up my pen, I’ve been
afraid to fix on nothing. I was looking for an idea of note, a sign of my own intelligence.
Yesterday, thunder. Great cracking rolls of it.
John Banville has Copernicus discover on his deathbed: the world,
which is the point, and its mundanities. Memory
fragmented, scrappy, like old lace. Then clarity of mind. With health comes agitation.
I say to myself, How long can you lie incapable? Or no, unwilling. Banville’s Copernicus hoards his work till the end. I drink a second cup of tea and feel it
shimmer in my heart. Bird in the hand.
The world is all, the world and our longing. Children leave the school bus to walk
the sunlit road, raised voices free of words. They
mean nothing. How good it feels to write this—not joyous, not only,
but an ease of anxiety, as if someone
has been saying, Pay attention. As if writing were an act of listening.
Yesterday I believed, reading Rumi,
that everything is god, that I should walk into morning with that as a mantra.
But I didn’t. Nevertheless the trees
shout their holiness; impossible to be deaf to it. Pasture, the green sun made edible. The cows come
late afternoon to the cool of cottonwoods,
the bull and nine cows and a half-grown calf. They lower their heavy bodies into puddles of calm.
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Born and raised in Lethbridge, Alberta, Marlene Cookshawstudied writing at the University of Victoria and later worked for several years as the editor of The Malahat Review. Her poems have won several awards, among them the Ralph Gustafson Poetry Prize and Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize, and in 2008 was presented with the Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award for outstanding achievement in mid-career. She lives on a small farm on Pender Island, one of B.C.'s southern Gulf Islands.
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Thanks to Marlene for sharing two poems from her newest collection
Mowing with us, and to Brenda at Brick Books for connecting us! For more poetry samplings,
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