Mirror Lake, David Van-Cauter
Arenig Press, 2019 £5.99
Reflection on Loss
Mirror Lake is dedicated to the poet’s late wife, Julia, and variations on the theme of loss appear throughout his pamphlet, which delves deep into personal experience. Some poems address her in the present tense, as in ‘Living Room’:
This is your space now —
sofas shifted to accommodate a hospital bed,
tables thick with medication […]
The poet/speaker recollects their shared past, describes the present reality of terminal illness tenderly and contemplates ‘the space we have left’.
In ‘Elephant in the Room’, Van-Cauter begins with a past recollection of his wife, the fact that she loved elephant ornaments. From that image he picks up a common cliché and endows it with a personal meaning:
Now when I see your family,
you have become the elephant:
the silent link in the chain that once connected us:
so many of us, trunk to tail.
This is a message I often get from the poems in Mirror Lake: the deceased is in one sense gone but in another their absence is perceptible, sometimes even intruding unexpectedly into the present day.
Especially when travelling alone, the poet feels the absence or presence of his late wife. ‘Lost World’ recounts a risky experience of potholing abroad in quite a factual manner, but the poem repeatedly invokes the absent partner: ‘But you’re not here, and so I fall and clamber / for both of us.’ This poem may hint at the myth of Orpheus, who failed to bring his wife Eurydice back from the underworld, and hence at a sense of guilt.
The title poem, ‘Mirror Lake’, is more intense in its feeling. The poet/speaker revisits a holiday destination in Yosemite, USA, and keeps imagining that she is accompanying him again through the wilderness. But the lake is now dried up. ‘Were we here, or were we only passing through?’ Both aspects are true if one looks at life in different ways.
I am impressed by the way in which Van-Cauter can write about deep grief in a gentle voice. This is a philosophical perspective that might help many other people.