Exile on a Grid Road

By Shelley Banks

Exile on a Grid Road
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Exile on a Grid Road is a celebration and exploration of the human experience, from youth to adulthood and illness to joy. Sadness, healing, humour, forgiveness, and joyfulness mingle as Shelley Banks creates detailed narratives of office life, failing health, and complex relationships ... Read more


Overview

Exile on a Grid Road is a celebration and exploration of the human experience, from youth to adulthood and illness to joy. Sadness, healing, humour, forgiveness, and joyfulness mingle as Shelley Banks creates detailed narratives of office life, failing health, and complex relationships and confronts the rootlessness and disconnection common to a contemporary experience marked by globalization and increasing mobility. In many of her poems, Banks presents the conundrum of belonging, identity, and culture. She displays an intimate knowledge of the many environments in which she has lived but also possesses an underlying disconnect due to the temporary nature of her stay in each place. Though poems such as “Moon Offering” and “Grasshopper Summer” are rich with natural imagery of the Canadian prairies, Banks’ writes, “I have no farm./I am three generations past my mother’s flight/from saddles, curry combs and dill./I am afraid of horses./I’m city-deep.” She expresses a similar separation from her youth in the Caribbean, recalling the vivid details of storms, beaches, and “curry, chutney, tangerines” yet reasserting her alienation and feelings of loss. Encounters with mortality are brought into sharp relief in later sections when Banks introduces an elderly grandmother, aging family pets, and the sudden death of a parent on his way to McDonald’s for a morning coffee. In “Kiss of Knives”, a sequence of nine poems which follows a woman battling breast cancer, Banks reveals her insight into the complexity of emotion present while dealing with illness. This complexity is especially evident in the poem “2: Wings Spread Under Glass” when a woman “so tired she can’t walk/across a grocery store” agonizes that she has become a neglectful parent even as she fights to stay alive.

 

Banks’ quiet wit keeps her serious subject matter from overwhelming by presenting mundane details of working life with fresh observational humour, including describing tea that “is cold and tastes like chewing gum” and expressing envy towards an irresponsible coworker who “wears Black Cashmere,/come-fuck-me shoes.” She uses rich imagery to evoke nostalgia and to remind readers of the details we often miss during the process of daily life. By combining sharp observation, humour, and accessible verse, Exile on a Grid Road reveals the wonders to be found among the seemingly mundane details of the day to day.

Shelley Banks

Shelley Banks was born in a small town in the British Columbia Rockies, raised in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, and has worked and studied in Ontario, Quebec, and BC. She has been a newspaper reporter, freelance writer, and editor, and her poetry, fiction, and non-fiction have been published in Grain, CV2, The Antigonish Review, and other Canadian literary magazines. Banks is also a photographer and an active blogger with a focus on prairie wildflowers and birds. She lives in Regina.

Excerpt

“Vacant Lot

 

We wait until the man tumbles

from sleep, fumbles for his spliff,

trails his cows back up the mountain,

 

then we root through dirt and rusted

tins for stones to pelt the tamarinds.

 

Raid ripe pods 

crack brittle shells

suck sour-sweet pulp

from glossy seeds.

 

Indian date, gypsy tree,

sailing over a bitter sea,

an immigrant, like me,

 

but I’m a child

of tuques and tamaracks,

not curry, chutney, tangerines.

 

“Exile on a Grid Road”

 

I want to know their names,

the natives and exotics,

everything that flourishes

sun-baked, neglected,

on this gravel road.

 

Would I belong if I could tell

milk vetches from alfalfa?

Could I stay longer

with every plant I named?

A week for yarrow, two

for goat's beard, three

for groundsel, more.

 

Beside me, dragonflies

flash on wild chamomile.

“8: Scalpel Song”

 

long green hallways

where patients wait in backless gowns

 

smell of rubbing alcohol

swabbed cold across my hand

               

stab of needles, toxins

questions in this house of knives

 

dream of nausea that buries me

in shutters, darkness

 

the doctor who scans, samples, calibrates

clips, freezes, radiates

 

breasts                 blood                    bones

                abandoning          abandonment

               

a specimen pinned to his pages

wings spread under glass

 

my body an instrument

in his scalpel song

 

“9: Hummingbirds “

 

Ruby-throated

hummingbirds sip nectar

from a twist of deep bell flowers

on the kiss of knives

across my chest.

 

Hummingbirds

hover, dip their beaks

in bougainvillea, crimson

petals cup their throats,

my breasts.

 

I dream I reclaim

absent flesh.

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