Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sheri Benning, The Season’s Vagrant Light


I thought there’d always be a lustre of time,
rich and slick like the animal’s oiled hide. I shot one

for its leather, another for the tender meat of its spine.
One more for the fetor of estrus in fur, for its tree-rubbed horns,

the spice of cedar and pine. One for its muscled gallop,
the crack and the echo, the arc of the bullet shattering prairie night.

For the shocked silence after the last streamed snort and cry. I stood
high on a pile of bones, sun-sucked skulls, rifle erect at my side.

From a thicket of poplar and birch, the coyotes’ keen rose,
cut through industry’s metallic reek, shroud of gunsmoke.

Drunk and gutted, sweet grease on my lips, I never thought
that my careless slaughter would lead to such hunger –

thin hospital flannel wrapped around my shoulders
by some kind nurse – that I’d be here,

trying to atone for that wasted flesh,
keeping vigil at your bedside.

I’m intrigued at the selected poems appearing in the UK by Canadian (or more specifically, one might say, Saskatchewan) poets, from Karen Solie’s The Living Option: Selected Poems (Northumberland UK: Bloodaxe Books, 2013) [see my review of such here] to Sheri Benning’s recent The Season’s Vagrant Light (Manchester UK: Carcanet, 2015). Offering selections from her two published poetry collections—Earth After Rain (Saskatoon SK: Thistledown Press, 2001) and Thin Moon Psalm (London ON: Brick Books, 2007)— The Season’s Vagrant Light also includes twenty-three pages of “new poems.” Benning’s poetry is vibrantly fixed to geographic spaces, much in the way that Solie’s work is, and the new poems offer a broadening geography, heading out from Saskatchewan specifically and Canada generally, from New Brunswick and the Saskatchewan River to Glasgow, Russia and New Mexico, expanding her reach while holding to her prairie roots. There is such a narrative precision to Benning’s lines, descriptively thick and evocative, writing intimately of numerous geographic, familial and personal spaces. Listen, as she opens the poem “Vigil,” writing: “I am no longer young. I know / what we love we will lose. / Your head resting in my lap / as you hold your newborn / to your open breasts, milk scent, / mown hay. Snow falls / beneath the street lamp’s glow, / flutter of her eyelashes as you nurse / her into dreams of light and shadow.”

No comments: