Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Whirr & Click - Micheline Maylor

Today's book of poetry:  Whirr & Click.  Micheline Maylor.  Frontenac House Press.  Calgary, Alberta.  2013.

Unfettered and alive.  A phrase from a Joni Mitchell song.  It comes to mind easily enough, Micheline Maylor's Whirr & Click almost pulsates in your hand.  These vital poems spark, small blue flames appear between your fingers and the page.  Maylor has mastered that most difficult of tasks, she has made very plain speaking narrative poetry both vibrant and lyrical.


When I was a child, I ran into a wheat field. Golden straw framed
bright sky and our Irish setter snuffled her way to me while parents
called my name down the dirt road. I waited in relative silence for my
memory to fix itself to a point in the sky. Immaculately. Forty years
later, I can close my eyes and recall that shade of blue. But those voices
ran away and, even now, I cannot pull my often-heard name back out
of that time with the same concerned, loving tone. That moment is just
a dream except for this whirr called memory. This intangible cog turns
its wheel at the most unexpected moments. I drive past your house.
The windows are dark. I hear my own breathing. The world is still
much larger than I thought.


Patrick Lane says the following on the back cover of Maylor's Whirr & Click, as readers of this blog will know, when Patrick Lane speaks, I listen:

     "We read the poems of Micheline Maylor and touch the urgency of a sharp and shifting
     mind, sometimes playful, sometimes ineffably sad.  She is a poet to read and wait for."

And of course he is right.  Maylor's "sharp and shifting mind" is like mercury on a table, rolling with perfect gravity towards the truth of level.


When Rob said, look at this,
he snapped a glass thermometer.
Mercury bled into his hand
while downstairs adults chattered.

He snapped a glass thermometer.
Ebb and flow in laughter
while downstairs adults chattered,
he whispered, quicksilver.

Ebb and flow in laughter,
down his heart-line, up his life-line,
he whispered, quicksilver
until his hot fingers tipped the ball

down his heart-line, up his life-line
into my palm and I felt it slide
until his hot fingers tipped the ball
down my life-line, up my heart-line

into my palm and I felt it slide.
It's poisonous, you know.
Down my life-line, up my heart-line.
Get it in your mouth and it can kill you

It's poisonous, you know.
Then he darted his tongue
Get it in your mouth and it can kill you.
He tasted his skin where the mercury had been,

then he darted his tongue
his eyes never moving from mine.
I tasted my skin where the mercury had been.
I let the ball roll into a pop-bottle cap

his eyes never moving from mine
did the same with my own tongue.
I let the ball roll into a pop-bottle cap
in my own hand.

I did the same with my own tongue.
Certain death never came
at my own hand.
He and I, eye to eye

certain death never came
in the bedroom.
He and I, eye to eye,
my first dangerous man.


I like how easily Micheline Maylor lets us into her movie, directs us, the readers, and our emotions like Duke Ellington effortlessly controlling tempo in a maelstrom of beauty.

On the 24th anniversary of losing my virginity

I remember the cold floor of your mother's basement
the itch of a wool couch, but only for a moment
before the present takes my hand, brings me back
to bills to be paid, the dog to be walked,
Valentines to be purchased for a daughter's grade four class,
with all its budding romance and sugar-coated
frissons stapled to foil hearts.

Would I know you now, were we to pull up
beside each other at a stop light?
The burning red, waiting for the green of go
while a glance of your dirty blonde hair shakes
its way out of moss-blue eyes
as we press towards a somewhere else.

There is none of that recognition anymore
none of that jump in the chest for one so far gone.

I remember the way your hands looked
by the light of the television,
the way your fingers might look today
resting on a wheel at the intersection of 5th and 33rd.


Reading Whirr & Click is a little bit like hearing a good eulogy.  It is tender and loving with just the right amount of gravitas and humour, and it is so very human.

The Can

We go in packs.
In one of the stalls,
there is view into the boys.

Rachelle stuffs her finger in trying
to make the peep-hole wider.

I see James! He's got a wee one!

I gotta piss like a racehorse. You go, too.

I squat but nothing comes.

Andrea guards the door.

After lunch Kevin grabs me
round the middle
presses his hip into my back.

The heat from his fingers brands my ribs.
His breath unrolls, was
chased from a conflagrant wick
down my neck
down into my shirt

I saw your pussy.

A flame in my ear.


A flame in our ear.  Micheline Maylor's Whirr & Click is a flame thrower when it wants to be.  I love the sudden and unexpected intensity Maylor bring to those everyday moments.

Whirr & Click ends with Maylor's long poem "Starfish", a taut and moving goodbye to a dear friend.  Like the rest of this book, it reads like a familiar, a message from a voice you are already comforted by.
Some books feel like you've read them before, the wisdom is hard won but welcoming.  Whirr & Click made me feel like I was sitting in the kitchen with an old friend, one full of humour and grace.

Maylor's previous publications include Full Depth: The Raymond Knister Poems and Starfish.


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