Thursday, March 01, 2012

Sarah de Leeuw, geographies of a lover

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this tender wound is my missing your body, standing on a lake shore with the sun at my back, my shadow-outline fractured into filaments and halo shards broken into summer fattened fish i dissolve into thick overlapping scales, protective but useless against a hurt that is nothing at all, the nothing of emptiness gaping between rock edges torn apart from millennia of seismic shuddering, of sky wedges visible between red cedar roots upended and hurtled into driftwood with tide stripped-back bark, the nothing of the unlit moon when it rises far from full and we simply trust that what is not visible exists, like you, not here with your hips settling against my lower back you not here with your thumb in my mouth you not here with your hand resting between my upper thighs and you are not a river during break-up full against banks straining through muscled ice blocks nor are you the wrist-thick sturdy roots of water lilies wedged firmly into muskeg bogs warm below the line of decomposition, you are certainly not and this aches.
Prince George, British Columbia writer Sarah de Leeuw’s second book and first poetry collection, geographies of a lover (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2012), predominantly constructed of poems with latitudes and longitudes, is reminiscent of Monty Reid’s own collection writing out specific Alberta same in The Alternate Guide (Red Deer College Press, 1995)

A first and second place winner in the Creative Non-Fiction category of the CBC Literary Award, de Leeuw [see her 12 or 20 questions here] is also the author of the magnificent non-fiction title Unmarked: Landscapes Along Highway 16 (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2004) [see my review of such here]. Composed in eight sections—distance, place, topography, scale, mapping, contour lines, borderlands and north—de Leeuw’s first trade poetry collection twists the idea of the traditional ‘poems of place,’ skirting above specific site references still as fixed as anything, if you know how to read them.
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no one is needed, the horizon a sunset against red osier dogwood or cranberry bogs or the rushing sap of vine maples, bleeding times and i am digging in, deep, under the skin slick as deer fat the freshness of meat hanging ripe guts left in coils on rainforest moss and lichens bristly short-haired and tender with everything i bring myself to rusted waters coloured from tannin i lie back with the gorged body of a tick full from burrowing, we know ourselves better than anyone, a slip down around and into shedding, the deep brown of arbutus bark sloughing slowly as the trunk expands, rhythmic and alone.
In a sequence of physical and emotional geographies, de Leeuw fully and unapologetically embraces the lyric, writing a sequence of prose poems that lick and stretch across the surface of a variety of skins. She writes most of her titles in a geographic specificity that doesn’t reference inside the body of each piece, much like poet Gil McElroy’s temporal displacements in his ongoing “Julian Days” series, replacing de Leeuw’s latitude and longitude with dates of the Julian Calendar. Through the process, they might tell you what happened, but you might not know where, or even when. The poems flow into each other, and the section titles are but poems themselves, each section mapped out with section-title poem written as more linear, more narrative, writing out as Greek Chorus might, before the action of the section/scene gets underway.

Four feet of snow have fallen overnight, the temperature dipping below minus 34 and falling.

A new terrain is born, uncharted lands between my front door and the sidewalk’s edge. Old markers have vanished. I am directionless as I shovel, reduced to guessing where lawn meets driveway, where road meets property line.

Forty-nine days have passed since we made love and then you returned home.

You have since sent me photos of your holidays. I stare at your four-year-old daughter. She painted her fingernails gold. Her grandfather looks like you. In one image, on a bookcase to his left, is a photo of you with your wife, both younger.

I clear a path, shoveling to uncover details stored in memory. The scar beneath your bottom lip. The darkened trail of hair down your abdomen, wet from lying in my bathtub. The tips of your cuspid teeth. The dips of skin between your fingers.

Atlases were once my favorite books. Legends comprised of symbols that made perfect sense and little dogs of all the places I would travel.

The rarity of rhumb lines, stoic in their precision. If I lost confidence I could follow their constancy to the ends of this earth.
Sarah de Leeuw’s geographies of a lover is very much a collection wrapped around a singular construct, mapping out the lyric moments of an affair, nearly as a poetic travelogue. Opening with a quote from Ottawa writer Elizabeth Smart’s novel By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept, another book of a steamy, illicit love with a married man, de Leeuw’s narrator writes out her own love, with a far better ending for her narrator than Smart’s, writing, in the poem “NORTH,” “Your wife and children are no longer a magnetized pull home. // I am no longer an expedition.” But what exactly is this? Whatever story this is, there are elements of difficulty in sympathy for a woman who waits for a married man to tear himself away from wife and children, for the sake of an illicit love. Hers is a highly charged and erotic text that drives the point home, deep, in the earth, writing a passionate embrace between silent stretches, ending with the slightest hint of doubt, as the final poem ends, writing: “ii am left sliced open on my back dripping cum flows towards ground to the san andreas fault line, faulted, my fault but, still, you will leave me, without a doubt.” Is this remorse, or fear of abandonment? And does it matter? It might.

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