White cover with delicate central striped picture and faint letteringGrace Notes, Fred D’Aguiar

Fair Acre Press, 2021   £7.50

A tune is made up of single notes

Set in the period of mourning after the death of a partner, at their heart the poems in ‘Grace Notes’ are about the overwhelming need to feel the presence of one not present.

They appear as a numbered sequence. Grace is the name of the lost partner. The first poem re-creates her love of playing the piano and her favourite composer Janáček:

to keep up carrying on
with each note of Janáček
strung on your behalf
along keys of our spines
strings of our nerves,
chambers of our hearts

The imagery generated by the piano seems neatly fitting. The concept of ‘notes’ is developed as a central image. In poem number 5 a cloud of parakeets above the city:

              move in a symphony.
They pin the morning to the trees

But perhaps the most poignant use of this image is in poem number 10, again referring to Janáček:

                          we follow his notes
             as they touch us          so we feel you
as we hear him               so we have you

I realised as I read the poems that the word ‘notes’ has yet more to give. It can mean ‘touches’, ‘hints’, ‘colours’ and in this way D’Aguiar capitalises on his most excellent choice of title. In other poems we catch glimpses of Grace in family pets, the laughter of a grandchild, even the political situation in America and in poem number 7:

               you have become

your last big gift to us — a lamp
on a tall stand with a vine of green glass
for a shade and two bulbs

There is that touch of the absurd and humour in these poems. As they progress a clear picture of Grace emerges: her love of music, her passion to see a different person in the White House, her generosity and kindness, and her ‘mouth-wide, eyes-tight belly-laugh’.

Anne Bailey