Rich Biodiversity in a Parallel Universe: Don Domanski’s Bite Down Little Whisper

Effortlessly linking opposites, the poems in Don Domanski’s Bite Down Little Whisper share rare secrets of a larger existence that is usually blocked out by the diurnal noise and distraction through which most of us fret and hurry. Quietude lets the marvels in: “Quietude is called returning to life Lau Tze says” in “Ars Magica.”

Throughout this book, Domanski converses easily with haiku masters and other figures from ancient culture, all mavens of the intimately universal moment. He uses space instead of punctuation, so that the poems breathe internally—and we along with them at the same, slowly revealing rate. To absorb the book quickly is to hyperventilate. Every phrase stops the reader, provokes thought, demands attention. Space and silence expand consciousness into all the other worlds these poems touch. And there are many of them.

The quest is one for the essence of “being itself… a vacancy frescoed / on emptiness nothing to puzzle out / to unwind to unbend” (“The Alchemical Lion is Green and Devours the Sun”). This search is all-encompassing and ever vigilant, requiring constant mindfulness, wanting to know the nature of existence in every form, the essence of being alive:

a heron’s footprints run line after line
like typographical errors in the glistening mud
above me moths chaperone the musculature
of stars and the Delphic shudder of a cloud
++++prophesying a bright green world (“Ursa Immaculate”)

Domanski re-invents language. He finds new words, exact words, forgotten words; and he deploys old words in new contexts. There are so many ways to talk or write ourselves into existence. New experiences also produce new ways of expressing:

I want to disremember as I walk through this field
through this first folio of the unwritten
each of my footprints having been its own alibi for being here
each eavesdropping on the one behind (“First Folio of the Unwritten”)

Domanski’s poems invoke and embrace the gift of close seeing with language that is perfectly placed and smoothly interwoven to take us ever deeper and further: “a doe standing still in the acquittal of light / each leg holding a presolar energy // and a mouthful of air” (“Bite Down Little Whisper”). With creative generosity, Domanski gives us new but timeless ways of seeing and being what we’ve ignored or missed, connections and observations as unexpected as they are familiar, their knotted obscurity as interesting as their flashes of clarity. In so doing, he recalls two earlier searchers and seekers: Leonard Cohen in his Book of Secrets courting the divine ‘other’ and Ted Hughes in his psychic dramas of the natural world. Each of these poets enters into alternative modes (available to us all) as a way of extending and understanding the full potential of the human condition and of accepting that we can’t always know where we fit along the continuum. For Domanski,

these paper birches are half remembered by yesterday’s rain
half understood by the sunlight I feel at home among them
peering through their windows caked with dust looking down
into the soil’s registry where all our names are written
the secret ones we’ve waited all of our lives to hear (“The Light of Unoccupied Memory”)

Patricia Keeney is the author of nine books of poetry and a picaresque novel. Her works have been translated into many languages including Hindi and Chinese. An award-winning theatre and literary critic, she publishes in Canadian and international journals. She is a professor of English and Creative Writing at York University in Toronto.


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