|The Force of Illumination
by Mary Dalton
THE ONLY ANGELS THAT are mentioned in Everything Arrives at the Light flit by in an epigraph. Yet one senses angels invisible forces, powers moving between realms of spirit and the world of sensory phenomena -- everywhere in Loma Crozier's latest poetry collection. As in earlier work (especially Angels of Flesh, Angels of Silence and the Governor General's Award-winning Inventing the Hawk), Crozier celebrates moments of transformation: "Travelling at the speed of darkness, / everything arrives at the light." ("The Sea at the End of the World")
This new book is full of hard knowledge; the poems are suffused with an awareness of dissolution and death, and of the irretrievably lost past. One comes away harrowed, for the psychic territory of many of the poems is Michael Ondaatje's hour in which "we move small / in the last possibilities of light." ("The Hour of Cowdust") And one comes away exulting, for despite darkness, even through darkness, the brokenness of things, Crozier glimpses the mystery of Iight at the heart of being. She celebrates the "almost pure light" of the self's inner singing in the opening poem of Everything Arrives at the Light.
This is not to say that "the shine of flesh lit up from loving" is absent. But the focus now is not the "liquid heat" of her collection The Weather, the sensual lovers' light, but the transformed, transforming perception, as when Noah's wife sees "[her] husband's penis / as a snail's silver horn." She is one of several women, isolated or abandoned, who transcend their suffering by seeing in an altered light. Stripped of everything, Noah's wife finds comfort in the snails: "... Each / came aboard with its house intact, / its room devoid of altars, of reminiscence .... ("Noah's Wife") Martha, left behind while her sister "[rises] toward a cloud," grinds corn to "golden dust" and takes solace in the milling:
Even now as the sky darkened
over the houses of the village
was she not blessed? The millstone
turning one thing into another
before her eyes.
("At the Millstone")
The swan girl ponders her rape by a swan-god, recognizing only the mystery of that union:
Who'd believe it was a swan?
No different in appearance
from the wild ones
floating on the take.
Like lanterns made of feathers
they lit the water and the water changed
as she was changed by something
more than them and less.
("The Swan Girl")
The inner light of animals is one of Crozier's preoccupations. She imagines a kind of reverse metamorphosis:
That's what those bright ones are,
those people we glimpse with a glow
an ecstasy. The souls of animals
crossing from one country to another,
pausing for a moment among us
only to rise in glory,
("The Souls of Animals")
Crozier's world is "alive and numinous" as "the strange letter x":
... the x
glows like the eyes of an animal
when it looks out of darkness
toward any kind of light
Each of the book's four sections has its beauty. But in terms of Crozier's development of her craft, Section III, "If I Call Stones Blue (Ghazal Variations for the Spring Equinox)," is of the most interest. This sequence exhibits her characteristic strengths -- sculptured lines, limpid diction, resonant images -- but, as well, the ghazal form, with its apparent dis- junctions, frees her from narrative and allows for richly suggestive ellipsis and layerings of texture. In their allusive shiftings and slyly humorous implications, these couplets call to mind that prince of quicksilver, Northern Ireland's Paul Muldoon.
Much more to be said. The book has a lovely architecture, as carefully shaped as the individual poems. Crozier repeats various motifs; one is an oblique commentary on the making of poems. The poet creates light: "If I call stones blue // Flaubert writes, / that's exactly what they are." ("If I Call Stones Blue") Another strand is a sense of displacement from the big sky, the yellow Prairie light, to the new watery beauty of the West Coast:
What an address!
Whale road, eel path, coral crescent.
You can reach me
at Half-Moon Bay when the moon is full.
In that other place
it's the sky that's on the move.
("If I Call Stones Blue")
Other addresses: the glistening white planet that presides over Section IV. And in the same section, but a universe away, there's "The Travelling Poet" poem in which all the pick-ups of a philandering poet are distilled into one voice: "I'm the one you've fucked / across the continent......But go get the book and read it yourself. You'll be harrowed - and exalted.