small flames

By Dina E. Cox

small flames
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small flames is, like its title poem, an arrangement of lambent coals which brighten their hot cores under the breath of the reader’s gaze. Quiet, contained poems flare up with the intensity of peak experience – in moments of childhood, womanhood, birth, death and the infinite ... Read more


Overview

small flames is, like its title poem, an arrangement of lambent coals which brighten their hot cores under the breath of the reader’s gaze. Quiet, contained poems flare up with the intensity of peak experience – in moments of childhood, womanhood, birth, death and the infinite in a cormorant’s flight or Chaucer’s tomb. Dina E. Cox has the extraordinary gift of having begun to write seriously only after her children had grown, and yet writing as though she were in her twenties – youthful energy, enthusiasm and passion seasoned already with mature wisdom. small flames is a story of beginnings, endings, and of new beginnings. While small flames has not a single stand-alone haiku in it, the poet is schooled in the form and has published haiku as far away as Bulgaria. Even in the extended pieces, there’s hardly a formally Japanese poem here, but each, stanza by stanza in the longer ones, enacts the grace, precision and poignancies of highly disciplined verse. In the title poem, a sun-warmed field of lupins / burns as brightly, peppering / the transparent air with pungent /colour … In “The Gift,” where she’s present at the hospital when her father receives a diagnosis of the cancer which will end his life, After the doctor leaves / I search for something / concrete to hold onto: / in silence I soap each / of my father’s leathered soles, / awed by the intimacy / of fingers and toes, / and by his acceptance / of this macabre dance. These are the poems of a woman who has known in her life most things we all know, but has seen further than many of us are given to see.

Dina E. Cox

Dina E. Cox is a writer and musician, and now an empty nester, living with her husband, David, in a northern suburb of Toronto; several children, and a Biblical number of grandchildren, live near enough for frequent visits. Dina was born to parents of straitened means in postwar Saint John, N.B., but the family’s fortunes improved and she went on to the University of New Brunswick, then taught high school in the province before marrying. As a B.A. English (Hons.) and neophyte writer she devoted herself to her husband and children, not returning to her pen until they were all grown.Dina Cox’s poems have appeared in periodicals as diverse as The Antigonish Review, tempslibre, The Cormorant, CV2, Room and Simply Haiku, and have been published in Canada, the U.S., Ireland, and Bulgaria. She has also won numerous awards, including the Betty Drevniok Award from Haiku Canada, the nation’s premier award for English language poetry in that form. small flames is her first book.

Excerpt

After a Funeralthe house where death has entered is quiet is noisytoo many voicestoo many whispersaccusing not yetcomfortingthe sweet smellof wilting chrysanthemumsaccosts… what you did what you did not dohandwritten cards holdtheir studied distanceas sunlight tracks new dustacross unchanged mahoganyfrom the kitchenwhere words are not spoken,an odour of dinner turned lowand the silenceof a widowstill unsurehow to wearher new clothes His Felt Cap Between monitor and keyboard it rests lightlyon my Oxford New Thesaurus for the 1990s,wordless for all that, his felt camel-coloured cap. Some might deem it shabby yet it mustersthe shape of his head, how it crowned, tilted;I remember that he wore it jauntily, askew. Thus it sat on the head of such a man, my father — serious, worried, perfunctory, a man who gavecommands, expected results. How many timesit warmed his head, taking shape from his particularsynthesis of bone, hair and grey matter… agedin the swirl of cigarette smoke and a widower’s portion. On his seventy-fifth birthday we went to Marketbought cheese, breathed deeply past stands of dulse(quietly rememberingmy mother’s love of it)and freshly harvested seafood, swallowingthe old salt aroma of primal spawning grounds…Finally we found the soft ice cream stand. A peacock strutting, he made much of choosingfrom 24 flavours, my father who never enjoyed shoppingnow playing at it with his only daughter. A benediction borrowed from ancient cathedrals,light found his cap, settled on it, transformed it. I remember how he came alive for me that day,his felt cap drawing rays to itselfas the sun draws water. In My Imagination I imagine your room,the big window facing south,the cold brightnessof winter opening up,the bed you adjust yourselfI imagine friendsfamily and othersvisiting you,palliative care workerskeeping the backgroundThis is the roomwhere you will die,it is not homebut you are surroundedby love; I imagineyour morphined mindlooking for a balance,groggy, your mindthat was always exact,your ready witI imagine youin that homely roombecome the paradoxas you always did?—?grateful,still asking the questionsI cannot imaginea world without you,focus insteadon that window facing south,imagine you asking someoneto open it KaddishIOnce after she diedI stood at the edgeof her kitchen andshe moved me, made memove my legs to cross itone more time,then my mother was goneforever. I can still feelmy legs moving, notof their own volition. IIAfter my father died,the warmth of his handin mine, I sat beside himfor a long while, just satthere, and it was enough. Orphaned, I shookhands with the strangerI had become, and soprepared myself forthe rest of my life. IIIIn the beginning the Wordbecame flesh. Now only words remain. I imagine their soulsas I search to namethe faces of memory,to illuminethe language of my dead.

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