Saskatchewan writer Carla Braidek’s most recent poetry demonstrates deep gratitude for the boreal forest in which she lives and the enviable life she’s made there, but, like anyone with the gift of imagination and the fancy of a dreamer, her emotional pendulum can’t help but swing toward “What if?”. Even the book’s title, A Map in my Blood, hints at the restlessness that currents beneath poems that celebrate the natural world and its creatures, family, food, the work of the land, childhood innocence, and rural living.
The opening poem, “Where Do I Begin,” sets the bar high. “Beginning” here can refer to the book itself or the spinning of a life’s tale. It’s also a phrase commonly used to express exasperation. I admire how the Big River poet begins with ordinary details-a broken ankle, helping fix a deck-then she takes an existential leap and asks: “how do we know where a moment begins?” This questioning ferries readers to a deeper level. A spark fires, we’re engaged, and committed to asking ourselves the same question about the details of our own lives. Making our own small worlds universally resonate is the key to successful poetry.
The poems swing between serenity and anxiousness, and at both extremes Braidek treats us to original images, ie: “anemones ghost the lane by the bridge\rain dapples stones until appaloosa blankets\rumple on hills beyond the pasture gate”. In “Fingers Like Wings,” she describes how work gloves that have fallen from pockets “trail on the path like bread crumbs marking, not the way back, but the place we fly forward from, fingers splayed into wind”. I love “a pot of daisies rises on the veranda\one small sun reluctant to let summer go,” and her gorgeous image honoring “a man who keeps the sun in his pocket”. He is a gardener and preserver whose “jars\glow on their shelves with the intensity\of a midsummer rainbow”. Easy to see this, and feel the quiet joy it transmits.
Braidek delivers glorious sensorial leaps, ie: “good wishes smell\faintly of oranges,” and a good deal of musicality, ie: “my neighbour’s corn is disappearing\ear by ear into the night”.
The restlessness is often indicated by hunger, ie: “one day I wake up ravenous,” and is voiced in lines like “she struggles with possibilities\flips pages in her mind,” and “a void wants to be filled”.
We all hunger, but what’s described in “The Rock,” a narrative told in one long paragraph, is as close to my idea of utopia as it comes: a day on one’s own property with time to sit on the deck and watch the children play, then move to the campfire where vegetables and “moose strips” are roasted. The “dogs skulk at the edge of the yard, half crazy with the smell of fresh meat,” and as evening arrives the guitars and fiddles comes out, and the children settle onto laps by the fire. If only that were the tune of “all our lives\being sung,” what a happier world this would be.
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