Time Out of Mind. Laurie Block. Oolichan Books. Lantzville, British Columbia. 2006.
There are an infinite number of tragedies in this modern world. It is a smorgasbord of tears, an endless litany of horror.
But perhaps there is no pain quite so primal as the death of our mothers.
My mother, like Laurie Blocks', did not go gentle into that good night. She went screaming, cursing her early demise until all reason abandoned her. In the end she was a meat-puppet blathering at the diminishing light.
No sadness like it.
Even before I arrive on the ward and check in
with the nurse I know it's my mother by the sound
a relentless hammering as she slaps her knees
and the arms of her wheelchair punctuate
the lunatic corridor, a long day closing
with a dull thud and an open hand.
This is no case of nerves, the drumming
of a mind on edge or absent
as it taps a table or the crystal face
of a watch, fingers feeling their way
along the smooth hard surface of an agenda
toward cancelled appointments and imminent events.
Nor is it holy vacancy, autistic hands
rearranging the sacred furniture and music
of a deep deep world while waiting
for the call. There are no visible signs
of grace as she bangs against the mystery
of matter and the limits of medicine
only the wreckage of what she used to be
a vacant lot littered with orphaned shoes
and unwanted metal, the broken springs
of thought and language where all she knows is
to kick it into life, shake the machinery
until it starts to run like it did.
Laurie Block addresses the anguish of those left observing. With a knowing eye he shares the grief of the witness.
These aren't easy poems to read -- but there is something reassuring about them.
These poems are that voice recording the steps towards the ultimate darkness with diligence. Nothing is left out.
Your absence has grown
to the size of a grapefruit
floating beneath my skin
irreversible, neither self nor
other but an organ or a thought
without a home, a question
that won't fit and can never be
answered or forgiven.
Don't you go dying on me
again, bending one morning
to tie a shoelace or to open
your book, you lost your place
falling into silence, a hand
at my elbow, a voice
turning and returning.
What did you mean to say?
That this room will be a comfort
that the earth will continue
to amaze, whether or not
you are here cool and familiar
to the touch, darkness will contain
the loss, something to bump into
press against like a wall
or a dream you insist on
passing through, these words
only a membrane, a story
I can neither finish nor put down
stumbling between the beginning
and the end, feeling for the door.
This book won't cheer you up, that not a poets' job.
The job is to illuminate, startle, report, imagine and so on. Laurie Block's Time Out of Mind does all those things and more.
He looks at what most of us try to turn away from. Block ventures into those harried moments before death and tells us what he sees.
Without love how would I be here
to see this day dying how would I notice
the golden light anointing airborne
wings, the holy outcry of ice
letting go and birds as they soar
and descend, returning to touch
the open water of ancestral lakes, the nests
that hold their deep blue history and perfect
oval future. Once again I am here, in time
for the arrival of eagles and untold geese
more ducks than I can name: Mallards and Teal
Bufflehead and Goldeneye, each one
recognizing their home in creation, gifted
to read the opinion of the wind and call out
the complete story of up and down. Myself
I don't need to know why they fly or who
dictates the revolution of heaven and earth
it's enough to see the season turn, to hear
the hum of generation and witness how they govern
the green shifting territory between water and sand.
This country where I am always a guest, walking
along the edge, welcomed and cleansed
in the smudge of the setting sun.
Time Out of Mind is no fun, but it is very necessary.
ABOUT THE AUTHORLaurie Block is a poet, playwright and storyteller. He was born in Winnipeg and now lives in Brandon, Manitoba. His previous work includes a chapbook of poetry, Governing Bodies, and a bilingual collection of poems, Foreign Graces/Bendiciones Ajenas, based on his experiences in South America. He is also the author of a full-length play,The Tomato King, produced by Theatre Projects of Manitoba in 1997, and a short piece, Pop! His short story, While the Librarian Sleeps, won the 2003 Prairie Fire fiction contest and, most recently, The National Magazine Award Gold Medal for fiction. Time Out of Mindis the winner of the inaugural Lansdowne Poetry Prize.
"These poems, and the eloquent essay that precedes them, are bittersweet, outraged, heroic, surprised, witty, sensuous, occasionally surreal, generous, broken hearted. Poems of middle age, mourning the loss of a mother to slow dementia, fiercely resisting the downward spiral of amnesia. A beautiful book, a necessary book, a grand shout at the hubris of modern medicine, that claims to protect us from physical pain while multiplying the diseases of the spirit. The poems startle us into clarity, the discovery of pure love, 'coming into fullness at the end/of the season.'"
Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher. They are shown here for publicity and review purposes. For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.