Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mammoth, Larissa Andrusyshyn

The Mammoth Sequences the Ivan Andrusyshyn Genome

Claustrophobia was his first obstacle,
then the heat. The mammoth’s coat became
somewhat matted (the lab had very poor ventilation),
but still he managed to map the Andrusyshyn genome
in eighteen months.

The trunk is surprisingly nubile so he was able to handle
data, microscopes and test tubes like any other geneticist.
The traceable graphs are ordered like dental records,
base pairs identified, a collection of letters and mutations:


The mammoth is optimistic, sends a letter
to Ivan’s daughter, says
we are very close.

Ivan Andrusyshyn was the only known specimen.
When the mammoth presents his findings
he brings a small cluster of lab technicians to its feet.

Between the loss of a father and ancient species, Larissa Andrusyshyn’s first trade poetry collection, Mammoth (Montreal QC: DC Books, 2010) is a book, basically, about extinct, can never be returned. A graduate of Concordia’s creative writing program, Andrusyshyn writes out a genealogy between lost species from the Pleistocene era and her late father, Ivan, writing out her ancient history, one so long ago it belongs in another era: “My father’s death is eighteen now and wakes, / stretching its long arms, mouth agape in yawn / with the thought of coffee and Lucky Charms.” (“In Which My Father’s Death Is Registered to Vote”). How far back is away?


Mammoth walks the halls of the museum after hours,
and here the quiet only breaks
with footsteps, the squeak of overgrown claws
on freshly waxed floors.

He comes to the display
where a model mammoth stands, a perfected species
in fake fur and longer tusks.

It’s good to know yourself, he thinks,
in the real of the real,
your uncertain place in this world.

Her small volume, Mammoth, includes writing filled with hesitation, a discomfort in so many lines; where does it come from? Is it simply a matter of her subject matter? This is a book of recrimination and regret, and coming to terms with the distance of this important loss.

It is only in some of the narrative pieces, such as “Oranges,” working out a distance of not just her father’s absence but his presence, do her pieces really bring out a fine resonance, and make me question her use of line-breaks. She seems far more comfortable in the prose-poem, and it makes me wonder what she might be able to do if she explored prose further, whether as fiction or the prose-poem. She seems more comfortable and confident there, than in many of the pieces broken up into poems. Why not simply explore this further?


This was the first year Phillip and Natalka could buy presents for the children and each of the four received a fresh orange. The children had never had one before. Maria ate hers first, right after dinner and it disappeared like a tiny drop of water in a long flowing river. Sasha had his for breakfast the next day and it was sweeter than syrup. Phillip waited until his birthday on the twenty-eighth and he remembers how it tasted even now. Ivan found that no day was good enough to be the day he ate his orange and so he carried it in his pocket, not trusting his siblings around it, waiting for the right time until his orange shriveled like a lump of dry and crumbling bone.

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