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What I Remember from My Time on Earth

by Patricia Young

What I Remember From My Time on Earth follows four years after Patricia Young’s Governor General’s Award nomination for More Watery Still. In this new collection, the seventh from the Victoria writer, Young turns her poetic sensibilities to a sustained and intimate meditation on human history.

Here, in the closing stanza of “Pompeii,” she ponders the fossilized human remains from the ancient Italian city and recognizes the randomness with which life can be extinguished:

Our time on earth will end too soon.
This is why I have searched the buried city:
there are ways of being we have not
unearthed.


Young’s poems repeatedly force the reader to reflect upon the necessity of communication, and encourage us to affirm life’s quiet but essential moments.

Perhaps the finest poem in this collection is “In the Museum the Hominid Speaks to Her Lover.” This lyrical monologue chronicles what the various experts and museum visitors believe to be the hominids’ habits, and ends with this lovely stanza:

What they cannot know: our dreams by
firelight,
digging nuts together in the shadow of
Rusinga Island.
Memories like the slow vanishing of seeds and
berries.
What they cannot know is that you and I
walked onto those sun-drenched plains hand
in hand.
That we often stopped to lie together
in the boulevards of grass that wove between
the trees, our kisses long and deep and oh my
special friend
how I have missed you these millions of years.


Speculations on the evolution of love and the undeserved gift of daily life recur throughout. But some of the poems, in their too-slack free verse, fail to rise off the page. Others, such as “A Strange and Terrible Thing” and the title poem, use surrealist techniques unsuccessfully.

Overall, though, the book is lyrical and sensitive. With an equal mix of intelligence, humour, and compassion, the poet travels from Pompeii, to the 17th century, to a historical investigation into “The Origins of the Kiss,” to contemporary musings on familial love, to the fear of present-day catastrophes.

Young confidently documents life’s small epiphanies – tender acts, simple yet graceful depictions of love and longing. As her poems illustrate, life is an endless excavation, and her words inspire the reader to a deeper and more rewarding archeology.