Many Skies Have Fallen, Maggie Sawkins
Wild Mouse Press, 2018 £7.00
Writing the unknown
‘Remains’ — a word with a depth of meaning. It’s the title of a poem that’s at the heart of this collection responding to the life of Janusz Jasicki (the partner of Maggie Sawkins’ daughter) who drowned in 2017.
Is this what happens? The soul,
after leaving the body, wanders down
alleyways searching for something solid
to inhabit, even the heart of a howling dog
in a ruined city, even a leaf, might do.
The question tells us the poet has no answers, even while the poem is asking the question. It’s doing what poetry does best, reaching out into emotions that have no name, beyond the edge of certainty. It probes grief, that unresolvable emptiness, in the same way that the soul is imagined ‘searching for something solid.’
The dog and the leaf in the quotation above are equal; they are ‘something solid’, still in our world. To imagine the dead still connected in some way to a concrete, tangible thing might be a sort of comfort to those who are grieving. Note those conditionals: the only answer to the opening question is what ‘might do’. The lack of an answer allows no relief.
The final quatrain of ‘Remains’, opening with a gentle ‘perhaps’, can suggest only a tentative link, but there’s a feeling of something like comfort in the delicacy of ‘traces’ and the following simile, over three lines long:
Perhaps it just leaves traces, like notes
in the margins of a book that’s found
its way into the hands of someone
blessed with the task of translating.
Compare this with the earlier ‘howling dog / in a ruined city’. There’s a possibility of peace here for the unnamed ‘someone / blessed with the task of translating.’
Translating is what this poem is doing — very softly. It’s giving words to the hollowness of loss, calling upon the image of a translator’s hands to embody the abstract, shaping the question of what might happen to the one who has died. It’s personal and universal, and painfully honest. No one knows the answer to that question. Like the poet, we can search for ways of staying in touch with our dead.
D A Prince