The River Answers
March 30th, 2021
Bowen Island poet Jude Neale’s eighth collection of poems, The River Answers (Ekstasis $23.95) is “full of questions that make us lean closer in to answer,” says fellow poet Ursula Vaira. “They speak of love with a wisdom gathered from childhood through half-opened eyelids in the dusk. These poems are generous; they toss up the scenes of a life and offer them like food.”
Written during a pandemic, some of Neale’s recent writing speaks to the loneliness of social distancing, such as the excerpted poem below.
Neal was nominated for a Pat Lowther Award for her second poetry book, A Quiet Coming of Light: A Poetic Memoir (Leaf Press, 2014).
Dear man in the blue flannel shirt,
Thank you for raising your eyes and seeing me.
Our community is isolating and afraid of each other.
I flee from post office to car,
head down and watching my own feet.
I fell wrapped in cotton batting,
unable to touch your shoulder,
listening for a faint wheeze, suspicious.
But you looked me in the eye and
smiled across the parking lot.
Like a magic box of colours,
your recognition, painted the shadows
I had hidden in for weeks.
Your simple humanity is what I miss
the most in this global lockdown.
If I were to die today would I regret
losing the touch
of my dear daughter or the sweet kiss
from my son?
What would weigh heavier?
My safety or disconnection?
My life is wrapped inextricably round
the small screen of my phone,
where I devour graphs
and birth the hard rock of anxiety.
I want you to know I am strong.
I will survive this shrinking world and emerge
from the forge, a steel link
in the human chain. We have seen turtles
return to India to nest again. Dolphins in Venice.
Clear blue skies in LA.
Is there any doubt we’re just
one part of the whole?
So hello stranger, one day soon,
I’ll invite you to do the two step with me
to celebrate the regeneration of our spirits.
We will be reborn into the chastened world
and stories will be forever etched
upon our bruised hearts.
Be safe. Take care.