Fierce Grace – The Debut Poetry Collection of Susan Alexander

Canadian poet Susan Alexander

PRAYER

Unexpected day, cold and grey.
Only the daffodils like fallen shards of sun
glow among the ferns.

Wide-eyed at the lawn’s edge,
they coax us out of doors.

We come barefoot in wet grass,
hugging ourselves in thin pajamas.

Who has not seen
their green shoots pierce thin snow?

I don’t have within me what
makes then grow.

Susan Alexander from THE DANCE FLOOR TILTS, Thistledown Press, 2017

For me, a unique blog post. To feature a debut poetry collection where, in a number of the poems, I am the “you”, Susan Alexander’s wasband, former spouse. A tender thing, poignant, to read parts of my story through someone else’s words. For Susan that happened a year ago with my debut poetry collection Hyaena Season. Now my turn with The Dance Floor Tilts. To watch the life of someone I knew so well for more than twenty years, come so alive in her words feels like fierce grace. Yes, even a privilege. And yes, a sting of sadness, too, for a shared dream that died. Feeling again the wounded places. But somehow in the writing and receiving, something healing.

Prayer, the epigraph poem for this post comes from the book’s last section: Ministers of Grace, a series that includes  many poems I can just as easily call prayers, even if unlike Prayer, they are not titled as such. This section feels like such  a released breath. A celebration of  deep spiritual honesty and in that, a homecoming.

I hear wonderful echoes in this section of  other poems, always a delight. In PRAYER I am reminded in the surprise of its last two lines, of Rumi’s poem What Was Said to the Rose. And in her poem GREEN SEA, these lines – When I lose sight/ of my angels, as I do,/ as the day passes by,/ who is it that hides? – I hear a lovely echo of Levertov’s poem Flickering Mind.

It is not everyday that I get to answer a question posed to me in a poem! In the poem Muskoka Fall, the narrator asks: Do you remember the wind?/Waking up chilled under quilts/ in the screened in veranda?  Here is that poem and below it my response. Yes, I remember that wind and others!

Muskoka Fall

Those last years. Before your father died.
Before the stroke stopped your mother’s
careless tongue. Before your brother
tore down the paned casements
and cedar-lined rooms. A century lost in a day.
Before he set there something new, 
vinyl windows, aluminum siding.

                          Before this,
we would head to Lake Rousseau, witness
the silent fire capture the shoreline.
Do you remember the wind?
Waking up chilled under quilts
In the screened in veranda?
The table scattered with maple leaf stars?
A scarlet corona that set
our daughter’s hair aflame?

Tea served up in pink china
out-of-doors with the sky bluer against
its frame of gold and orange.

The end radiant around us.

Susan Alexander from THE DANCE FLOOR TILTS, Thistledown Press, 2017
There Was a King 
 
Do you remember the wind? 
Waking up chilled under quilts 
in the screened-in veranda? 
 
    — Susan Alexander 
 
Do you mean 
the wind – pneuma, ruach, God’s 
holy wind? 
               Wind, the Red Sea 
shrank from, wind to blow 
locusts into Egypt, wind to sweep them away?  
 
Or do you mean 
the wind off the lake we heard 
through the screens? Cat wind, 
its nine lives, its purr, its howl,  
its pitter patter on the gray canvas floor, 
its thunderstorm caterwaul, its jump 
on the bed unprotected 
from wind’s whirl and roar.
 
Or do you mean another wind, 
nothing as soft as a cat, sharper 
than claws or teeth, a wind 
dressed in black, homburg tilted down 
over its face, shadow 
in the back of the eye, stiletto blade 
at our throats?
 
What I remember? I remember 
how it screamed, that wind 
at eight thousand feet, 
sun not yet up, 
you and me, the long view out 
from Mount Nemrut, 
"Nemrud Dagi" in Turkish, 
snow all around. The wind 
so fierce we leaned far into it, so far, it felt 
past any angle of repose, yet 
it held us up. There, alone, 
with Antioch I, the God King of Commagene, 
his funerary statues, some tall, looming, 
some in pieces, behind our backs and those
shattered echoes, we couldn’t remember
until we made it down
the mountain, the words
from Shelley’s poem – Ozymandias –
the ones we read out loud, later,
away from the ruins, the wind.

Richard Osler, unpublished, 2017

Obviously I am not an objective reviewer of Susan’s collection but, for me, the poems there are finely crafted and brave. A great debut. I recommend it.

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