A Day’s Grace

By Bert Almon

A review of A Day's Grace by Robyn Sarah

Published on April 1, 2004

A Day’s Grace
Robyn Sarah

The Porcupine's Quill
$12.95
paper
77pp
0-88984-233-7

In a short work from A Day’s Grace called “Poems,” Robyn Sarah suggests that a poem is “a small machine to move the heart.” Susan Glickman’s grief for Bronwen Wallace and Jean Mallinson’s anger with an ex-husband are such machines. “The poem is a lever,” Robyn Sarah says. Like Glickman, she is interested in the personal, the domestic, what the American poet Randall Jarrell in his poem “Well Water” called “the dailiness of life.” Dailiness doesn’t have enormous leverage, but Sarah’s poems heft some weighty emotions all the same. Her frequent use of traditional forms like rhymed stanzas and sonnets is confident and give shape to the quotidian. She can find mystery in the everyday: in “The Face,” the speaker sees two halves of a plaster face being handed through a window to a man and woman who walk away “with the separate pieces of their charge.” The moment is where the epiphany is the knowledge that there will be no epiphany: the moment will remain a mystery.

Nothing is more fundamental than the notion of a day: it is the most obvious unit of time, and appears here in expressions like “a day’s grace,” “day by day,” “day visit,” a “new day,” “sunny days,” “prime of day,” “time to call it a day.” Sarah looks at all of these, aware of “each day’s most quiet need.” Oddly, the least interesting poems are the ones about a supposedly epochal day, the opening of the new millennium, which turned out to be a great anticlimax. Less familiar for most of us is Tisha B’av, a day marking the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem: one of Sarah’s best poems deals with marking that day during negotiations on the status of Jerusalem. The narrator’s emotions are expressed by the description of a migraine that lingers like the smell of smoke from a city sacked centuries before.

The book has a number of poems about family, and one of the most compelling is “To N, in absentia,” a poem about estrangement from a child. The exact day when the child drifted away cannot be remembered, but the speaker clings to a memory of a Montreal caleche heard trotting toward Mount Royal on “the day / you came out of my body into the world.” That remembered moment serves the narrator as a temple as the days go by. There are many days in this book, some desolate like “To N,” some joyful. One of the best poems, “Home,” celebrates lovers who draw the quilt over their heads and create a little tent where they can savour each other and make “the / good smell that we make together,” which is “like a bread that we bake / in the heat of each other.”

Such poems, disconsolate or joyful, are indeed little machines that move the heart. mRb

Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.

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