After he marries a pleasant single mother,
Larry the lech moves in two doors down.
One sunny day I go down to the backyard
to pick mint for tea. Rest my hand on the latch.
See my mother, gardening in cut-offs
and a sports bra, fists of dirt clinging to her knees.
Lecherous Larry leans over his wooden fence.
Lite beer in one hand, the other hand hidden.
His eyes on the hose in her hand,
her thumb on the sprout.
Later, I will be scolded for not saying hello.
Later still, lecherous Larry will enter our quiet house
during a street party. He’ll shimmy
out of dock shoes, pad down the hall
with bare feet. Drunk, he will look for my mother.
Vancouver poet andrea bennett’s first trade poetry collection, Canoodlers (Gibsons BC: Nightwood Editions, 2014) is a work of short lyric narrative confessionals exploring family and other interpersonal dynamics of small town growing up, existing as a darker counterpart to some of Elizabeth Bachinsky’s early work, notably her Home of Sudden Service (Gibsons BC: Nightwood Editions, 2006). Where Bachinsky merely hints at some of the Gothic aspects of youth, bennett articulates the failures alongside the accomplishments, as well as the dark aspects of violence, family battles and small-minded abuses. As the entire poem “In #2K11,” reads:
My mum defriends me on Facebook, and this means I am cut out of the family
Many of the poems in the collection exist as prose poems, skirting the boundary of short fiction or memoir, as she writes to open the poem “There’s a story”:
and it happens when I am twelve. There’s the back seat of a car, where my best friend Jane is sitting—I can see her in the rearview. Outside it’s a zoo, according to my mum. Rolling through downtown Hamilton, she says, Some of these people truly belong in cages. She points out the driver’s side window, flicks her fingers at a woman walking, Wouldja look at that, she says, and so I look—crunchy blonde hair, crop top, too-short cut-offs.
bennett is an accomplished storyteller, and much of Canoodlers is seemingly composed very much as a poetic memoir absolutely rich in exactly the right kind and right amount of detail. bennett knows how to create portraits quickly, and in small spaces, utilizing only what is essential to her narratives. And yet, some of the most intriguing poems in this collection are often the ones where she doesn’t allow the story she is attempting to overtake the flow of the language, and allowing the moment to simply be what it is, such as in the poem “Summer,” that reads:
is the well-meaning guest late to the potluck, needing to use the oven for a sec. The anemics swoon, stick their feet out the windows. Deficient in iron, rich in quiet time, they think of those they think of often but never remember to call. I am baking, says summer, echo the anemic. I am making you a pudding cake. I am pitting cherries and leaving their plump cups face up, waiting for syrup.