Margo Wheaton’s poems in The Unlit Path Behind the House are clean, rich in lived experience, and grounded in sharp observations of both the natural world and the realm of human relationships. She avoids many of the mistakes made in a first book of poetry: muddied and laboured metaphors, showboating, self-absorption, and a paucity of content. Here are just a few of the lines that caught my eye:
Full moon, silent as bone. A hole
cut out of the twittering sky
shines like a missing earring
discovered in a boot-toe
Colours so profuse, they seem
close to parody. A half-
dozen paint cans kicked
over at once.
Lines like these make me want to read the rest of her book, and make me grateful for poetry.
Wheaton’s poems walk through the darkness that edges most homes at night. We’ve all been there in the literal sense: a bit fearful of stepping on a toad or a slug, skittish that some rodent or snake lurks in the shadows. We also know the metaphorical darkness that hangs around our homes or lives in our extended families: alcoholism, tragic accidents, divorce and loss. As Wheaton describes it in her opening poem: “This is just the pain / in living, impossible to bear / and bodies, bearing it.”
Many of the poems in Wheaton’s book are written in the second person, and here it becomes tricky for the reader to identify the narrator and the person being spoken to. For instance, in “What Begins with Endings,” the narrator is a male, speaking to a female, but in the very next poem, “Waiting,” it’s the reverse. The reader is partway into the poem before discovering who the “you” is in each, and is distanced from the poem in the process. In contrast, poems like “Seeing Me Home” and “Joyride” situate the reader very specifically with names and voices that are real and immediate. As well, Wheaton at times strays into the self-referential world of using poetic terms as metaphors, a usage that may not bother some readers but trips me up almost every time: “Seen like this, / through the window of a poem, / they could be a metaphor.” Where the “they” refers to a teenage boy carrying an unconscious girl, and are observed by the neighbours looking out of actual windows. Or this example from “Weekday Morning Songs”:
“The city // breaking down my door, impatient with / iambics.”
There are many poems, however, that are remarkable, that do the work of pulling the reader in and through to the very end, that rise in the middle as if lifting off. Both “Makers” and “Distance” did this for me, as well as Wheaton’s more personal poems.
Wheaton follows whatever light she can find through the darkness. In “Dimensions of Red”:
“The promise made / by the vagrant light that / nothing here // escapes redemption.” She also reminds us in the (nearly) titular poem, “The Path Behind the House,” of the hope that the darkness — and the anger that follows it around — may one day fall off like a coat from our shoulders. Wheaton’s book is well worth multiple reads, for both the poetry and for the glimmers of light she discovers there.
Al Rempel’s books of poetry are This Isn’t the Apocalypse We Hoped For and Understories. His poems have been published in a variety of journals and he has a recent chapbook called Four Neat Holes (Leaf Press, 2016). He can be found at http://alrempel.com
YOU WILL FIND SATISFACTION IN READING ARC‘S POETRY!