June 1, 2010
Track and Trace by Zachariah Wells
The one problem with having defined tastes and a bookish reputation is that nobody ever gives you books (and when they do, you usually don’t like them). So it was a wonderful surprise to receive Zachariah Wells’ collection Track & Trace as a gift from my mother, since it’s a book I’ve had my eye on for quite awhile. Just to receive such a thing was a kind of gift, but then the book itself was also an incredible package– small and beautiful, its cover embossed with footprints, with the “decorations” by Seth (which are plain and wonderful landscapes, horizons as broad as Wells’ poetry).
Reading this collection was a series of such unpackings. The poems themselves in general are about man’s relationship to the natural environment, the marks he leaves upon it, but each poem is also very distinct in how it relates to these ideas. Within each poem, the words fit together in surprising ways, with subtle rhyme, rhythm and alliteration. Within each word, the syllables, the vowels and consonants on and around my tongue. I read these poems aloud, lying on the carpet while my daughter threw blocks in the mornings, and the poems were a pleasure to put my mouth around, the starts and stops and open spaces.
Of particular interest to me were the poems about fatherhood (read “Going Forward” and “There Is Something Intractable In Me”). “Slugs” is as vulgar and wonderful as slugs themselves. Nature is not idealized here– from “Heron, False Creek”, “Heron, stand there/ in my shadow, stare/ up at the seawall/ skronk, and awkwardly/ flop up into the air”. In “Cormorant”, the bird is shot repeatedly– “It puked mustard stuff, guano/ streamed from its anus. Bile rose/ in my throat, I choked– and I swallowed”. I think my favourite line in the whole book, for its sheer beauty, is “Finicky fuckin thing that old silver Ford…”
The unpacking wasn’t finished with just one read, however. There are layers to these poems, unexpected things beneath the surface. A present I’ll have the pleasure of opening time and time again.