Pascale’s first collection uses startling imagery to journey through Venezuelan Amazon rainforests and the icy realms of Tibet. Transforming memories of childhood and marriage, she encounters a man changed into a butterfly, a bride who is a frozen waterfall. At the core of this book are two prize-winning longer poems: Eisriesenwelt, the ice mother, and Kanaima, the forest father – parents recreated as geology and Amerindian demons, in a landscape of orchids, jaguars, and talking waterfalls.
As If I Were Winter Itself
When I enter the hospital where my mother is lying I will bring a flask of water collected from Lethe and a flask from the Mnemosyne. I will sip from each. This will feel like swallowing shafts of sunlight. I’ll take deep breaths, hungry for canyon air. A porter will rub fox-fire on my face for the ride in the luminous lift. Corridor walls will be translucent, I’ll see the trees imprisoned inside – blue branches with old wounds as leaves, red trees with raptor-roots. Are you ready for the truth? Ward Sister will ask, releasing lemon-yellow and saffron butterflies. They are the first flurry of winter I’ll reply, addressing Mother’s forgetting eye and her remembering eye. Then I’ll say everything I always wanted to say to her. The butterflies will mass on her bed, rays streaming through the window will wash us both. Her hands will shake but that won’t stop me. Featured in 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem by Ruth Padel (Vintage edition, 2004)
To enter the forest with leaves falling like rain, wear a veil of many webs, some so musty you are invisible. You must smell of mould. Dress in a patchwork of petals or butterfly scales. Remove the soles from your store-bought shoes, replace them with skin from a sloth so you can hang upside-down from the ghost-branches, crawl slowly backwards through time. Or paint your palms with beetle-blood, bore to the heartwood through cracks crooked as lightning. There is nowhere left to go but into yourself. You recognise organs like landmarks, scars between the years. You are learning to touch the curves of immense rings, entering the age when leaves converted air to light, the forest glowing in the dark like an X-ray of a lung. Rest against the buttress of a tree with its crown in the house of thunder. Remember rooms lined with pollen and the down of nestlings, the nursery where children tore leaves along their veins, the fragments kept for birthdays, games with the magnifying-glass. To quench your thirst, drink the mirrored clouds from the rivers. Then a silence will fall like soft dust from the stars.
Trans Amazon Highway
After the cloudburst, everything is silver, flashes under our four-wheel-drive. I've counted seven corpses of dogs, one anteater, a jaguar and a boa threshing across the road, its head run over by a truck while we are crushing its lower spine, as if a cloud-snake had fallen from heaven.
Poems copyright: Pascale Petit 1998
Review from Kirkus Associates
Petit, born in France and raised in Britain (where she now resides), makes good use of the overtones of geography in her work, which ranges widely from France to Venezuela to Californian locale and tends to fix its perceptions upon particular places rather than actions or objects. This is not travel verse per se, but it does display an air of expectant surprise that is frequently the mark of the explorer, especially in ‘Kanaima’, a long poem that portrays a visit to southeastern Venezuela almost as a dream sequence or a hallucination (Marooned on the sky-island of my bed / I called to the past and future / for a strong young guide). The history that haunts Petit’s verse is not the history of specific events so much as of specific places, the genii loci the author can sense but doesn’t understand or feel entirely comfortable with. The ice caves of Eisriesenwelt, in the Austrian Alps, come to stand as a reminder of this unease in the poem ‘Eisriesenwelt’ (When I left home / I sculpted my parents in ice / but they kept melting), which is also informed by the author’s visual sense and experience as a sculptor. The longing for a rooted, organic life runs through nearly all the works like the cord of a necklace (What she wanted was to return / to the original rainforest) and imparts a fine melancholy sense to the volume. — Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.