Stations of the Left Hand

by Don Domanski,
ISBN: 0889104611

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In the Deep Woods
by Sandra Nicholls

FOR THREE YEARS I LIVED near the Canso Causeway in Nova Scotia, and each time I crossed from Auld's Cove into Cape Breton, I felt I was making the passage to a darker, more secret world. It seems only fitting that Don Domanski was born and raised on Cape Breton, and that in Stations of the Left Hand, his sixth book of poetry, he leads us so naturally into a deep woods of the very small and manages to tell us everything he knows without ever disentangling, and thus spoiling, the mystery.

In this place of unnameable otherness, Domanski illuminates what he finds with a seer's all I -encompassing light:

an insect is the equal

of any god

because any god is simply givenness

brought to our attention

("Fiery Searcher")

He seems to change shape, taking on animal or insect form, and this metamorphosis makes him alert to everything, provoking such uncanny observations as:

a song came from the mite

hidden in the postmark

from the nail waking

in a steep of wood

("Through Dreamy Air and Jungle Charts")


a man sits on his back steps

and looks into the sky

like the King of Clubs

lying face up on the livingroom carpet

looks to the ceiling

as his spiritual home



As he moves between myth and the natural world, between his human and animal self, and between states of mystic vision and stark clarity, Domanski calls on words to unlock the primeval and thus restore wholeness:

I wanted the body to name

the pond beneath the mind

where the tadpole once slept

I wanted the body to digest its psalm

those bald words scratched on the back

of its skull.

("The Vertebrate Body")

Domanski's rich, odd metaphors, synaesthetic special effects, and hypnotic language will have you listening for "the cricket's blue telegram / among the weeds" ("To a Numinous Presence") and pulling "dragon-thoughts out of empty air" ("Firedrake: Part Two"). I like the way he assumes in the modern reader an intuitive knowledge of ancient symbols: spiders in the grass, roses, candles, the moon and the earth, bears, wolves. He moves into an archaic vision and makes it resonate for the contemporary reader, as if we were all dipping into the same unconscious pool. However, I find that Domanski's work is often most powerful when he pares back his language and describes a more familiar world in simpler terms. For example, this heartbreaking stanza about a sick child:

in the next room he can hear

his parents speaking softly

like chalk and brushes

across a blackboard

something is said

and immediately it's erased

("The Sickroom")

My only quibble is that I occasionally tired of lengthy image lists, or of having one thing described in so many metaphors I began to long for the original. But it's a small quibble, and an entrancing book.


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