We are tiny beneath the light by Heidi North
A little warning to start. If you have just split from your partner, or are just about to, wait a while before you read these poems. They won’t make you feel any better. But from the vantage point of time and perspective, these poems are gems of feeling and emotion. Poems of few words, but rollercoasters of emotion.
‘We are tiny beneath the light’ has three sections, which are roughly like before, during and after. Seeing the storm on the horizon, being right in the middle of it, and then watching it pass away over the distant hills, still visible but no longer affecting you directly.
The first section, called ‘Dover Street songs’, is all about moving into a rented flat, happy together, when any difficulty can be faced and overcome as a couple. The landlord “…peddles cures in little plastic bottles her velvet trousers a lure in the supermarket.” It is a wonderful description that uses few words to conjure up a very detailed picture in the mind. The people in the flat above have arguments, call each other names and mope on the doorstep hoping to be let back inside the flat. It is a foreshadowing of what is to come. In the last poem of this section, ‘Spring’, a fist goes through the bedroom wall and finds “…nothing there except weeds and air. All this time nothing between us and the outside world. We never stood a chance.” The change of tone and emotion is set up.
The second section, ‘Bone to bone’, is full of pain and here are the gems of this collection. The line “Must you always argue like a writer?’ is one straight out of my own life. To the accusation ‘You’ll probably write about this’ the author throws back ‘Never’, but in the next line admits that she lied. The heart-wrenches follow. These lines are from the poem ‘Muscle memory’:
“I don’t know how to let you go
into a future where you don’t turn
as if by muscle memory, as if by heart
to take my hand.”
Then come my favourites, two of the longest poems in the book. ‘The chickens’ is all about a wife who doesn’t really like birds, but gives in the whim of the husband who wants to keep chickens. She buys the hen-house, the chicken wire from Bunnings and the birds from a rescue-chicken site. Feeding them with toddler on hip, only to discover one day that they are all gone, hen-house and all. “I never asked you where the chickens went You never said.”
This is followed by ‘Banana box’. We have all been there, the splitting of the accumulated possessions. But this is a heart-wrenching story of all those things being unwanted. Listen:
“On that last terrible night I trailed
after you from room to room
your fingers dusted through our possessions
idle as if we were in a junk shop
a stop on a road trip through a small town
briefly interesting, quickly forgotten
you filled a single cardboard banana box
all you wanted from 14 years”
Heidi goes on the catalogue the pain of objects unconsidered and left behind. Things once rich with memories.
The final section, called ‘Two suns’, has five little poems about children, links to the past on Piha beach, and moving into the future with two little daughters – the ‘two suns’. It is these two suns who have provided the illustrations for the book, the delightful childish scribbles that mean so much and are so clever in their own special way. A perfect counterpoint to all that adult emotion that stands so bravely and prominently on display.
Reviewer: Marcus Hobson
Published by The Cuba Press