curled at the feet
of the old men sitting at their tables
in the sun. They talk
about what went wrong
after a strong season, pause
at the sound of high heels, and then
resume; they reach down
I am a vague memory
of grass and mud and the dirty tricks
that boys will play on boys.
On and on they go
deeper into the past -
I dig things up
and bury them
The first section of Eve Joseph's splendid The Secret Signature of Things is titled "Menagerie". Although not made of glass every animal, insect and bird that makes up Joseph's clever little menagerie is precious. Simple and beautiful when held up to the light.
Summers, I imagine
so much more
than the sound
of my own falling.
Heads of flowers dip,
they swallow me whole -
the scent overpowers.
What boy doesn't wish
I brush against
their sex. I am
their golden boy.
Joseph's second section of The Secret Signature of Things is titled "Amongst Strangers". Joseph's voice doesn't change in tone with this new section. The subject changes and Joseph opens another prism from her kaleidoscope eyes.
It surprises me each time
I see a horse lie
down in a field
in the bend and
fold, the way a body
relinquishes its hold as it
to the earth.
Like many artists Joseph references other poets in her work. There is a lovely poem about Akhmatova in this second grouping. It often happens in poetry collections that there are poems about poets and poems about poets talking about poems - the reader has every right to expect that these might drag - but Joseph has animated her poems with a perfect sense of pace. She knows when to put her foot on the gas and when to coast so as to best navigate the road, regardless of the terrain.
Or maybe I am just reacting on a personal level to these poems. So many of them seem to have been written out to the fabric of my life - the better explanation would be that Joseph has done that difficult thing and has found that voice we all hear, submerged, but honest.
A Brief Visit
In his last weeks he called out
the names of the dead.
Most often it was a kind of greeting.
the way one might leave the gate
to the garden open, or
the chair pulled slightly back
from the table.
Occasionally he seemed surprised
by the peripheral dead, the ones
spoken about in hushed tones
in the stunned days of summer.
I didn't know him.
I was only there at the time
of his dying, the short hour
before his death.
What I saw was this:
his wife bent over him
whispering the names of the dead.
throwing open the gate
to let them all in.
"A Few Provisions" is the title of the third section of Eve Joseph's The Secret Signature of Things. This grouping of poems contains prose works.
Are we drawn from sleep like fresh well water surfacing, hand
over hand, into the morning light? Or do we stand in the doorway
watching the guests as they leave in their various disguises? Either
way, we leave one place behind and arrive at another.
Some dreams, I'm told, are visits; others, old problems working
themselves out. I envy those without doubt, the ones who find
comfort in the appearance of a hummingbird in winter or an eagle
circling above a freshly dug grave. I looked for you on a remote
beach, a crow hopped near the surf, another watch from a twisted
arbutus; as much as I wanted to believe, I remembered how much
you hated crows.
It's not easy looking for a sign; hoping for a pinwheel of light to spin
in the middle of the night or a woman in a long white dress to finally
appear. Sometimes I think I'm too stubborn to see you, rejecting
everything you offer as proof; your address on a random licence
plate, a favourite song playing in the doctor's office, "A Nightingale
Sang in Berkeley Square," or perhaps something else by Vera Lynn;
and what was I supposed to think about the bees, hundreds of them
spilling out of the flowers in the chapel and the one lying motionless
on the pillow in the morning?
Sometimes a voice singing in one room breaks a heart in another. A
figure crosses an empty square where hours ago a bride stepped into
her new life; sometimes a voice sweeps across a tiled city lifting scrap
and leaf, calling a name, the same name over and over. The doorway
is empty. Impossible to say if somebody once stood there and waved.
The last section of The Secret Signature of Things is made of up of one long poetic sequence titled "Tracking". This moving work is one long poetic plea/treatise on missing aboriginal women in Canada. One of the least talked about tragedies in our society is the blight of missing aboriginal woman and the general ignorance with which the issue is dealt with.
Eve Joseph is crystal. This entire collection is packed solid with strong poems, wicked vision and a voice we all recognize as a familiar.