G is for Griebel
To celebrate National Poetry Month I am featuring a new poet for each day of April. I will be at my abecedarian best and go through the alphabet from a to z, with a few letters getting more than one post!
After Franco: The Spanish Couple
It was like a heavy quilt, the way the afternoon threw its heat
over the hills. Together they slowly moved from bleached field to
shade of trees, their cloths stained with sweat. There they drank
water from a jug, ate hard bread, cecina and cheese. The leaves
rustled in the small wind.
It was then they would talk between themselves. Sometimes
about their children who lived in distant cities, or the work that
needed to be done. Once, the husband recited Lorca’s poem
about the moon, and his wife wept.
They never spoke of what was buried in the ditches or what the plow
would accidently leave under the hot sun.
by old death.
Rosemary Griebel (1957 – ) from Yes, Frontenac House, 2011
Surprised? Not G for Gilbert? G for Gregg? G for Goldbarth? G for Gibson? G for Gluck? G for Ginsberg?
Be surprised. Buy Griebel’s astonishing first book, astonishing because it is so fine and astonishing because it is her first book, published last year when she was 54. The haibun above so characterizes Griebel’s fine eye, how she can get so close yet stay at perfect distance. See how in a seemingly simple description of a picnic she captures so delicately, so indirectly the broken world of the Spanish Civil War and an echo of the shocking disappearance, and for years the unconfirmed death, of Garcia Lorca in 1936.
And already Griebel’s book has caught the notice of award judges. Rightly so. The book has been short-listed in Canadafor the prestigious Gerald Lampert award and the Pat Lowther Memorial award.
Griebel, now a senior librarian (something she shares with the poet Phillip Larkin) in Calgarywas born in Castor,Alberta. I have had the privilege of getting to know Rosemary and her work when she joined me and others at a Patrick Lane workshop in 2008. Even better I was part of a Patrick Laneon-line workshop in 2009 which included Rosemary and I was able to see first hand the progression of her work from first drafts to final copy. A rare treat.
It was during the 2009 course I first saw the poem that ends her collection, a poem that shows a poet at the height of her craft; a poem that would not be out of place in the company of celebrated contemporary poets like the ones mentioned above. Here it is:
WALKING WITH WALT WHITMAN THROUGH
CALGARY”S EASTSIDE ON A WINTER DAY
Blue-white afternoon. The Bow river churns and smokes
as the city rumbles, economy chokes and bundled homeless
build cardboard homes in the snow. Yes, Walt, this is the new
world, and how often has your huge, burled form lengthened
beside me as we strode through parking lots, the filth and ice
of streets. Great seer, I listen for your relentless cheer
and barbaric yawp: unscrew the locks form the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!
The truth here is that is not easy to loaf and invite
the soul when you fear death from winter winds; when crystal
meth is more common than a leaf of grass. But I am learning
from you. Today when I passed one of the broken-down men,
I barked, By God! You shall not go down! Hang your whole weight
upon me. The man looked at me as when pain is far away,
and summoned your great capacity for wonder as I headed
into the white, blurred fields where sparrows and homeless scatter
like chaff. There I quaffed the sharp, chiseled air, the slow, sad light
of merciless winter and said, yes, this world is for my mouth forever…
and I am in love with it.
How Griebel’s unsentimental love for this world, in its light, in its dark, shows up in her work!
HOW BRAVE THE BLACKNESS OF NIGHT
How brave the blackness of
night that marries aspen and owl
river and rock.
And with what certainty the field becomes
surrending shadow, surrendering light.
Tonight someone is writing a love story:
mystery, desire, redemption.
The writer knows not to use such words
for the sun is the reason
we cannot look at the sun.
What does it matter if you’ve left
without a good-bye? Remember the quiet
happiness of a room, the lover returned
from a long journey.
Let me be the patient earth, surrendering.
Let me be river, let me be rock.
Tonight there’s nothing
I would not forgive.
There is never enough time or space to include the breadth of a great poet’s voice and work. Griebel’s poems of place, of her father, filling his stone boat with rocks still, her father who comes back a draught horse, her love poems, a heart-break, of Hellen Keller and Ann Sullivan and her other love poems. Gentle but fierce as the best love poems are.
If you come back we will sit at the kitchen table
and drink glasses of dark wine. I will listen
to every word you utter. Your hands, birds that fly
the slipstream of memory. Tell me about the dream
where we pull your body from the water and dress
you in warm clothes. It is late the dogs
are barking and no one can sleep. You are beautiful
and the milky way is a carpet we roll back toward dawn.
I didn’t know the hollow bones of the heart break like small
Tell me about the weather. How the colours said autumn.
Purple fleabane and goldenrod, a street that smelled of ripe
Go on from there. Tell me how everything was leaving:
wild geese, stripling winds, your house slumped toward ruin.
Tell me the mystery is not the light but how it passes through us.
How sorrow is like birds that lift, resettle and one day are gone.
You wanted to stay. Tell me that.
A NIGHT FULL OF RAIN
Winter, the heart visible in smack ghosts of breath
And here, a lit house on a dark Vancouver street,
the sycamore tree now bending over the gate.
Never more beautiful your face at the window,
Your face at the window, familiar as a winter moon
twenty years ago, on a night not this black.
And the rain? Never this wet or so filled with longing.
You, through yearning we are given what we desire.
We are given what we desire through remembering.
Together in a night full of rain, how small we are.
Touching skin, knowing we are mostly water, bone.
If not for memory we would be lost to each other.
We would we lost to each other if not for this night.
When next clouds gather over this dark city –
please remember two lone figures at a table.
A sycamore tree in the rain, its bark white as bone.