Two poems from Marlene Cookshaw's Mowing
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."
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From Marlene Cookshaw's Mowing
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 Cookshaw studied 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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