With self-irony and dark humour, Micheline Maylor in The Bad Wife documents the disintegration of a marriage from the point of view of a flawed narrator. Willfully self-conscious, the speaker parodies her flirtatious wiles during a mutual attraction early in their relationship, but, as the poems continue, she speaks more satirically about her ex as characterized by the cartoon character Popeye’s stubborn “I yam what I yam” (“I should have paid attention to my own singing, my car karaoke wisdom”). Later in “Omen: Calla Lilies,” the speaker admits, “I suppose I would have been fine, staying,” but adds that “staying” is not “flourishing” (“Omen: Calla Lillies”). By turns, playful satire, raw honesty and lyrical confession strung together with linguistic play and stunning imagery make The Bad Wife a rich and beguiling and intellectually lively collection of poems that will draw the reader to look back at it.
Among patterns of imagery that run through the poems, the recurring crow poems in association with the speaker’s psyche grab our attention. In “The Crow Takes a Body” the tableau of the crow feeding on a robin that has flown into the window and been sacrificed to the crow by the (voyeuristic?) speaker who photographs its last moments entices us with a disturbing psychological power. While the speaker’s act seems cruel, it is also practical since the robin won’t live and the destructive act is turned into something holy in its being a sacrifice both to nature and art (the photograph taken by the speaker). In “The Crow Gives a Body” the mood of the speaker, however, approaches remorse for her act as her emotions continue to evolve, and the speaker in “Become” explicitly identifies with the crow as it “takes the songbird’s wing” in its beak. Marking a turn in the speaker’s heart and intellect, the climactic poem “Inclement Weather,” registers acceptance for what has happened and new insight into her former marriage:
Let’s not forget, none of it was a waste,
let’s not forget the mercury moodiness of weather over
the slim, sliced schist jammed sidelong into the continent.
Our marriage was here for the millennia of our lives.
It too has a drift, a motion told in geologic time, a fault line.
In acknowledging that her love for her ex was once real, that former marriage is once more blessed. She recalls her husband’s gift of lilies from Safeway’s “late on Mother’s Day” and “the sun-bleached Celtic glacial tint of [his] eyes,” signalling her first attraction before their relationship underwent a geological shift (“Inclement Weather”). In a closing plea, the speaker asks, “Tell your son, you loved me, keep ‘once’ inside,” though her previous “You will never be wrong in our son’s DNA” may be a bit more cryptic.
As one pieces the poems together, one discovers The Bad Wife is a multifaceted work while it reflects the speaker’s evolving moods and insights. By turns ornithological, scatological, geological, and meteorological imagery thread the poems together in a firsthand account of a midlife crisis, surreal and psychological, that fascinates with its psychic energy and playfulness.
A poet, editor, and reviewer, gillian harding-russell lives on Treaty 4 territory. Her most recent publications, In Another Air (Radiant Press, 2018) and Uninterrupted (Ekstasis Editions, 2020) were shortlisted for Saskatchewan Book Awards Also, The Alfred Gustav Press published a small chapbook Megrim (2021). [updated May 2023]