Today's book of poetry: A Bee Garden. Marilyn Gear Pilling. Cormorant Books. Markham, Ontario. 2013.
When I read the books of poetry for this blog I keep a note pad beside me and jot down the numbers of pages/poems I want to refer to. It's a measure of sorts, I keep track of the poems that knock me out. Marilyn Gear Pilling's A Bee Garden is, thus far, far and away winner of the opening salvo. Ten or twelve poems into this collection and I've stopped and made notes on ten or elevens poems. Astonishing.
She has never hung the sheets outside in winter
but she wants that waft of wind and sun and lingering
moon to meet him
when he enters their bedroom again
at last. Two degrees in Sudbury that morning.
She dons her winter coat and wrestles the wet
sheets onto the line, her plan
to bring them in
before the mercury drops, to drape them on counters
until they're dry. If they hold their scent,
she'll do it again next week,
on the day he's due home.
They arrive in full dress uniform that very
afternoon, three of them
on her front porch, making it small,
the porch of a child,
a place she will never sit again.
That night, late, she steps outside.
The cold gnaws at her face and hands
and she offers it her bare arms too.
Clothes-pegs a welcome scrape on her knuckles.
She shoulders the icy, cracking sheets
through the door, into the dark kitchen.
They stand up, stiff, by themselves.
Odd, inhuman shapes.
One stunning excellent poem after another, like dominoes falling in a line. Then, still early in the collection the reader encounters THRENODY FOR BETHANY, a suite of poems about a suicide in the family - this lament of ten poems is breathtaking. Pilling is one hell of a poet. This first poem of the suite hit like a sledge hammer to the stomach:
i As His God Holds Him
The day my sister had to go to the farm to tell our
brother that his daughter had ended
her life, she had a hard time
getting him off of the place,
succeeded at last in taking him home,
bathed him herself in her big
tub but still his clothes
stank, she said, of rotten eggs and manure and
mouse droppings and the barn, smelled as if
they'd been worn and slept in,
worn and slept in. We'd promised our mother
we'd look out for this son
who'd turned the world
away, but it's been my sister, mostly,
who's kept the vow. A month later, I walk in
the long farm lane through deep snow
to visit him, this man who once
sired a family of five, provided, sang
at the piano with the rest of us, recited Shakespeare
'til the last log burned down.
When I've passed through the stench of the
outer porch, passed by the
unemptied chamber pot in the back
kitchen and slid open the door to the big
kitchen, I'm hit
by a wall of heat the wood
stove blazing one of the heavy lids off
above the hole his hand a mouse
he holds it by the tail it is not
dead its small feet
paw the shimmering air above
The nine poems that follow in this suite sew a family's torment into such beautifully powerful poetry I had to stop and take a break.
The second half of the book, following a necessary intermission, is no let down. Marilyn Gear Pilling is droll, deadpan and dead on.
I clean the hill half an hour from home
for my mother. She left her eyes
to science, yet I can feel her
looking down on me
these past twelve years, feel
her desire to see me at last do honest
work, by which she meant work of the hands
and arms, work of the feet
and legs, work of the muscles and bones,
work in which the suspect
mind has no part.
On foot after lunch, off to the top of the long green
descent to lake, its path
studded by styrofoam, plastic, cardboard, metal.
The surprise - that I love the work.
Rush of blood to muscle.
Yin of bending, yang of straightening.
Over and over, the movement
from sullied to unsullied.
Slow merge of her desire with mine.
Pilling's work has garnered her numerous literary awards including Descant's "Best Canadian Poem". I didn't bother looking to see which poem it was as I figured it could have been almost any poem of dozens in this collection.