In his book, You Were Here, André Narbonne deftly tracks his past. His memory process is reliable without being overly, and boringly, explanatory. It skilfully cuts around, rather than trudges through, images and events from his former years spent in Southwestern Ontario. At times, Narbonne recounts in indefinite terms. He recalls holding an older sister’s hand and receiving vague advice from his father who urges him to remember plain “sounds” like, perhaps, the songs he and his sister left “on the road behind.” It’s on this road, which begins during the first poem, “Our Tintern,” that Narbonne nimbly passes through memories of his childhood and adulthood, avoiding temptations to poke and prod along the way.
The road motif is subtle and not repetitive; Narbonne commands it. He runs it through You Were Here without having it wander all over the pages. In “Red Brick,” the road is “so, so quiet,” is not something pronounced, and so can disappear, reappear, and take many forms. At times, the road’s a street beside which a broken barn “held secrets,” and, at other times, it appears as a shoreline along which Narbonne and his siblings scour sand to help their mother find her car keys. In the poem, “The Time the Lighting Went Down Mountain Street,” the road is “the ghost path crossing the cemetery.” This gothic scene foreshadows the somewhat ominous and macabre images in the rest of the book. At one point along Narbonne’s road, for example, he ran under “dark and dangerous clouds” to the carport to wait for his sister, who had the house key; at another point, his sister motions to “the street where / a dead man lay” whose “foot was twisted the wrong way / As though he was born to walk backwards.” Although the road is an abstract thing, Narbonne is still able to locate some of the concrete memories that live along it.
Like the motif, poetic form in You Were Here varies. Early in the book, Narbonne uses short verse saturated with metaphor. “First Day of Kindergarten” is surprisingly indulgent; it’s fat with candles and ogres used to reimagine the preliminary, primitive start to a child’s formal education. Narbonne’s choice of fairy-tale imagery to depict his first day of school is fitting but clichéd. To his credit, though, the short poem succinctly mimics memory’s associative nature.
Later in the book, Narbonne writes in poetic prose. “Detroit Waterfront as Seen from the Windsor Shore” is prose composed from recent memory, and its direct, mature tone indicates the speaker is now older. Rather than simply remember, he reflects: “Reclaimed by paint and / the language of graffiti / the gnarled I-am-here / of the dispossessed.” It is during this reflection, near the end of the road, that Narbonne realizes he is akin to the evicted Detroiters: he, too, is a vagrant dispossessed of his past.
Luke J Frenette is a music journalist from Windsor, Ontario, Canada. He took his MA in English literature from the University of Windsor and has taught writing as a part of the Student Success Centre on the university’s campus. Luke is currently working on a collection of poems and seeks future publication.
TAKE AN ARC ON YOUR ROAD