Last Week’s Reading: May 28 -June 3

Birdie, by Tracey Lindberg: As usual, I am late to the CanLit party, but let me be the umpteenth person to tell you that Birdie is very, very good. Birdie, a Cree woman, has traveled to British Columbia from her home (that’s simplifying things, I admit) in Alberta, working in a bakery and hoping, maybe, to meet Pat John, an actor from The Beachcombers (had to look that one up). Birdie goes into a dream state in which she processes her memories of abuse; soon, her Aunt Val and cousin Skinny Freda arrive to watch over her. The novel is unabashedly non-linear, and Ms. Lindberg weaves Cree language and stories through the narrative, making this one of the more unusual, affecting reading experiences I’ve had lately. For a better review from a Canadian perspective, check out Laura’s post. Highly recommended.

Sycamore, by Kathy Fagan: I admire Kathy Fagan’s poetry so much, and Sycamore is no exception. In it, Ms. Fagan considers the sycamore tree as a physical object and as a metaphor (for growth, for change, among other things) in poems about the end of a long marriage. Sycamore is the kind of book that I’ll return to again and again, though its complexities and delights make it difficult to express how much I enjoyed it in this brief overview. For a better sense of the collection, please have a look at The Cloudy House Q & A with Kathy Fagan.

Mr. Rochester, by Sarah Shoemaker: Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea will always be the Jane Eyre-inspired novel against which all others are measured, though  Mr. Rochester is a fine addition to the category. If it didn’t, to my ear, quite capture the voice of the elusive and angry Rochester, it nonetheless is a noble effort, and Ms. Shoemaker plausibly fills in the gaps of his history. Subtly, the author shows us that Rochester is not so self-aware as Jane; nor is he particularly invested in righting the many wrongs he encounters in his travels. Recommended for Brontë fans looking for more of the gloomy Mr. R.

Lena, by Cassie Pruyn: This is a beautiful debut collection about the sweet-bitter nature of first love–longer review to come (sooner rather than later, I hope).

“Three days of spring winter and suddenly / birds everywhere.”

I had a lovely Mother’s Day — thank you for asking! My husband gave me the gift of extra sleep in the morning, which was glorious, and I woke up to homemade biscuits smothered in hollandaise. Couldn’t have been better.

I was looking, this week, for a poem about mothers, but I find that they tend to be, necessarily, incredibly specific, tied to the poet’s or speaker’s own mother or conception of motherhood. And, as I thought about it further, I realized how difficult it would be for me, personally, to write a poem even about one small aspect of my relationship with my own (amazing, kind, generous, hard-working, accomplished, intelligent, warm, self-sacrificing) mother.

So I gave up, and nosed around for a poem that would express a little of the happiness I’ve felt over the last few weeks when enjoying time with my son (it’s only my second Mother’s Day), and I came across Kathy Fagan’s “Letter from the Garden,” from her 2002 book The Charm.

Now, a disclaimer here: Professor Fagan teaches at my alma mater, and while I never had the privilege of taking one of her courses, several of my friends did, and I’ve met Professor Fagan once or twice, though there’s no way she’d remember me. Personal feelings and alumni pride aside, she’s a wonderful poet, and you should head over to your local bookseller and ask for one of her books.

“Letter from the Garden” has nothing to do with mothers and sons — it’s addressed to a lover — but what made me choose it this week is the poem’s attention to birds, filling the space of early spring, appearing “everywhere.” We’ve had that experience this year. I rather dislike birds (excepting only penguins, owls, and ducks) and their beady, gold-rimmed or black-pooling eyes and reptilian feet. Flying dinosaurs.

My son, however, loves them. He stares at them from the dining room windows. He chases every single one he sees, despite the fact that they always flee from him, and seeing ducks in a pond or robins at the cemetery is the highlight of many a weekend.

looking at the birds


Two weeks ago, we saw a wholly golden-yellow small bird (a finch?) alight on a tree next to us, and he turned to me and whispered, “Quiiiiii–et”; when it disappeared, he determined that it was sleeping, and that’s why it wouldn’t come back. I try now to see the birds through his eyes: the graceful hops and undignified racing for the trees when they see his little body bopping toward them, the sudden, knowing turn of the head.