Forget the coffee. We’ll pretend we’re in a foreign
country, and in love.
Raymond Carver, “THE ROAD”
again, the coffee
pods—used, from your last few or three morning-made mugs—
are here and there, strewn; lewd travesties at a rued near-attention.
Stolidly broadcast and full in the way of any quick-sorted use
of the quaint coffee-bar-breakfast-nook we mutually share
in. Me? Galled, I’ll grimace and bear it, pretend this isn’t
a bother; that there’s near-nothing in my nasty-packed grab-bag
of bad habits that’s ever been close to akin. My skin crawls,
for an instant—an odd moving itch—and I switch: I’ve drunk in
some far-flung foreign state—a country of whose mother tongues
I’m bemusedly ignorant—and all I want is a simply made sandwich:
one I can easily chew and pronounce in my own low-blood-sugared,
quotidian cadence. To be free of everyday effort to swallow,
to fence-post the far limits of things. I just know I want out,
nothing more than to be queued and bone-tired, mind hollowed,
caffeine-cranky at customs, already half-way to gone. It’s a shock
to the system, then, when I’m all-at-once reflexively drawn
to your half-stifled yawn and languid soft steps coming—
a song, shuffled—from the bordering room. I’m aware of you,
unaware, of this us, of this assumed trip we’ve just taken. While you?
You are still home, and in love.
Halifax poet Matt Robinson’s latest, after five full-length poetry collections and a small handful of chapbooks, is TANGLED & CLEFT (Wolfville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2021), a dense collection of lyric around domestic intimacies and daily life, writing a clean language with an impulse to utilize language in direct application to intricate study. Robinson carves poems as rough-hewn shapes; not diamond-in-the-rough or even diamond, but something that allows the edges to remain, offering the poems a particular kind of lyric heft. “The median’s up-bunched,” he writes, to open “DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME,” “glut-hunchy tumult / of just-ruined sod becomes—in this November dusk’s / dun sleight of bland, fading light—a grand drive-by / mistake your eyes make on behalf of your mind’s / baffled racing.” There’s almost a tenor of the complexity and acknowledgment of outdoor daily activities—I see these poems, somehow, akin to chopping wood to supply the wood stove—of the late poet John Thompson, but one utilizing a form and lyric attention closer to that of, say, the poetry of Ottawa Stephen Brockwell or Don McKay. “When the sun hits them right,” he offers, to open “AGAINST THE NEW YEAR’S DAY HANGOVER,” “those empties / extant in their nesting of shards are less / a dull, throbbing reminder of last night’s poor choices / and excess, and more a loosely curated drunk’s / afterglow, a showy blown-glass derangement // resting skew-countered, serrated, all edgily cornered / yet softened somehow by fruit flies’ flittered near / caul.”
There is something curious, also, about a collection this physically slight: at less than forty pages of poems, would this be a collection to even count against Canada Council designations of the “full-length” work? Hardly a complaint: more of an observation, really. Either way, in a trajectory that would include his accumulated work-to-date, Robinson writes in short, self-contained bursts of earnest and considered thinking and experience in a lyric narrative mode on marriage, beer-league hockey, nostalgia, aging parents, hangovers, daylight savings and snow. The collection also opens with the loss of their dog and ends with a poem around their new puppy. “The cat’s token slouches,” Robinson writes, to open “THE NEW PUPPY, IN HINDSIGHT,” “velveteen / and cooling. A cattywampus / composed, disposed // of and forgotten, / the small shrew was dead. / Is, still.”