Wade Kearley. Let me burn like this: Prayers from the ashes. -

Wade Kearley. Let me burn like this: Prayers from the ashes.

Janet Fraser
University of New Brunswick

St. John’s: Killick Press, 2006, ISBN 1897174020

1 SOLIPSISM: THE VIEW that the self is all that can be known. Existentialism: a theory which emphasizes the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining his or her own development through acts of the will. Baroque: highly ornate and extravagant in style.

2 I doublechecked these terms in the Oxford Dictionary in order to decide whether or not they are essential to an understanding of Wade Kearley’s second collection of poetry, Let me burn like this. I do. Certainly, if you don’t want to hear a solipsistic, willful poetic voice, and see/feel/taste a multitude of baroque images of Eros and lamentation, then this book is not for you. Asking Wade Kearley to quiet down and pare down would be like asking Dylan Thomas to write like Raymond Carver or Shakespeare to create a sequel to Waiting for Godot. It shouldn’t be done.

3 Having dispensed with this caveat, I would like to say that it’s refreshing to read Canadian poetry that speaks accessibly and authentically, with passion and compassion, about deep human experiences of longing, loss, rage, tenderness, fear, and aging. In its convictions this poetry harkens back to the moving and vigorously masculine poetry of Irving Layton, Milton Acorn, and Alden Nowlan, and in Newfoundland, Al Pittman and Percy Janes. Many of Kearley’s poems echo these poets particularly in the placement of humans in the wilderness. In "Alpha Male," a hunter at night feels his failures like "wind-fallen tree trunks,... antlered shadows." A couple of dream-like poems outline the travails of rock climbers and the strange falling death of a young man: "I remember someone whispering / strange jagged words, telling me / to let go. Maybe I fell then, / broken at the devil’s foot." Other poems revel in the confidence of a boy who lives in the natural world: "As a boy on this cape I defied rogue waves" ("Concert at Cape Spear"), and "I calculated the parabolas of flight, / mastered them on my swing set / until Grandpa plucked me / from the sky at suppertime" ("The Bell Island lightkeeper"). My favourite wilderness poem is the sexy fantasy "Seasonal Labourer":... I want to lick your unhaltered shoulder.
I want you to forget the foreman, forget
the empty baskets, forget our separate histories,
the drone of aeroplanes overhead. I want you
to take my hand, lead me to the small grove
of maples and crash there, among the savage ferns,
you hot as wreckage beneath me.

4 There are many erotic poems, some about a wife, and others about imagined adulterous lovers. The erotic poems are all tinged with sadness, some with the existential loneliness of a familiar yet alien spouse, "Strangers, brief shadows, / sliding obliquely / across each other’s lives" ("Lunar Lament"), and a marriage that is always shifting ground, as in "Photo of torso with mole," when a mole is removed from the wife’s belly ("I fling back the sheets to catch / the glow of your torso, / before the next cut and numb recovery"). Other poems explore adulterous love that is lost and/or unfulfilled. The poem "Explaining desire away" is especially moving:You’re no longer the first thought
on my mind when I wake,
or the last thought at night.
I’ve cut that barbed wire from my flesh.
I’m desperate to be grateful for that.

Kearley celebrates predatory lustiness, in poems such as "Shem at the Brothel" and "Pickpocket fantasies." Even while pitying and rejecting a teenage prostitute in "At the crosswalk," the narrator wishes that "we could have saved each other." But while "The women / he craves are somewhere between my wife / and my daughters," extra-marital lust loses out to marital commitment in "Everything I cannot surrender."

5 Domestic life dominates the first third of the collection. "Nurseryman" is a lovely poem about an aging father and his nearly grown-up daughter.In the mirror this morning
the scarred face staring back was a generation older,
couldn’t break the frown until
I spied the young man. He winked at me.

It’s like that with her at night. A strange child
lies sleeping in my daughter’s room,
but I recognize the warble.

Sometimes, in the heart of the night,
she carries the baby to me, slides her cold feet
into the puddle of warmth, and melts my fears.

6 Always paradox and contradiction in life/poetry. So too in death, as in the final poem, "Let me burn like this":Let me lie here. Let the fiddles
mourn with joy at my graveside.
Let these words be my pyre.
Torch them. Let them sizzle
like marrow.

Newfoundland and Labrador Studies. ISSN: 1715-1430