Monday, June 07, 2010

Sandra Ridley, Fallout


First time the Officer rides in high style is four days after he dies.

His hearse is polished spotless, screw-you dignified,
reflecting the casualty he leaves behind.

She wears navy blue to spite him. No one looks at the lines she cut
into her hands. His affair’s denial stays unopened
in a clutch of his letters.

She presses a bouquet of tiger-lilies to her side.
Never given.
He said, flowers are for funerals.

The driver stumbles, fiddles with the latch on the hearse’s back-door.
She steps left to let the coffin slide out.

For a moment,
nothing else seems to happen,
but oh, does she miss him and regret.
There are some of us that have been waiting years for the quiet reserve, the long thoughtful lines of Ottawa poet and Saskatchewan exile Sandra Ridley to appear in trade book form, after chapbook publication through Jack Pine Press, with the bpNichol Award co-winner Lift: Ghazals for C. (2008) and more recent Rest Cure (Ottawa ON: Apt. 9 Press, 2009). We finally got our wish through the publication of her Fallout (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 2010). For those keeping score, a previous version of this book, titled “Downwinders,” won the 2008 Alfred G. Baily Prize, and a subsequent manuscript, “Post-Apothecary,” was a finalist for the 2009 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. There is something in Ridley’s work of the small moment stretched out in long lines, much like former Alberta, former Saskatchewan poet Monty Reid, but more lyric, more like a drifting long prairie wind, and the dust that it leaves.
Imaginary Friends

She will confess. She had three. They made sense at the time.
What about you?

Will you confide your twin didn’t make it?
Your mother insisted: you were the only one.

When your parents left town, they wouldn’t let her into the car.
Her bag was packed and she stood waiting.

They sped off as you cried,
face pressed to the dusty back window.
The strength of her poems, the strength of the collection comes from the extensions, the poems that pull, stretch further. There is so much happening that Ridley packs into these lines and pull dangerously apart, in sequences such as “Base Camp Memory,” “Broadcast: July 16, 1945” or the magnificent poem “The Atlas E Missile Complex”:
The corner of your eye is more sensitive to light.

Here, there is none.

You climb down a metal ladder and disturb a conspiracy of wings,
find a rag doll with a gas mask, but I don’t care –

poisoned water instils more fear.
The poems in Fallout work through what is left, after the nuclear age of the 1950s and beyond, a line to the past constantly pulling on the present day. This is Ridley working through grief, and other elements of wind, exploring the remnants of this questionable dust, including the final section, the twelve poem “Lift: Ghazals for C.,” as the notes write, “for my sister Carolyn who died in 1958, two weeks before her second birthday.”

How much detail should we give in our answer?
How many children are playing in the field?

We do not see stars but the echoes of light.
The stars that are out there move farther away.

& we do not want to look up.
We want to turn green glass back to sand.

A tear drops & a tear drops & a tear drops
& a light sleep comes & she is grateful.

Dear C., small mercies are never given.
There are nine children. There are eight.

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