Book*hug | 2018 | 108 Page | $18.00 | Purchase online
Reviewed by Jennifer Zilm
Reviewing the Shortlist is a weekly series in which poets shortlisted for our 2019 Book Awards review books written by their peers. Join us for this series until the award winners are announced on June 8, 2019! In this week’s installment, Jennifer Zilm, author of The Missing Field (Guernica Editions) – shortlisted for the 2019 Pat Lowther Memorial Award – reviews Ledi, written by Kim Trainor (Book*hug) – shortlisted for the 2019 Raymond Souster Award.
At the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 I worked nights at Vancouver’s safe injection site. Part of my shift was spent in the injection room (IR), a windowless space with 12 booths where injection drug users would sit in front of mirrors and inject. My job consisted of data entry (ie. Code Name of User/Booth Number/Substance Ingested), watching the mirrors for signs of overdose and– perhaps most importantly– to clean the booths between uses. Wearing black rubber gloves over thin pale latex blue ones I would approach the booths with a dustpan, a hand broom and a wet wipe soaked with CavaCide™–a miraculous substance that kills most blood borne viruses on contact. One evening, in one of these booths I found a small scrap of paper– a flap used to hold an injectable substance. Usually I disposed of these coke, smack and meth infused fragments without examining them but this one bore a text– tiny white serifed script centered on a black background:
Tall for her time at five
feet six, the woman, with
headdress, needed a
coffin nearly eight feet
long. We will likely never
know what killed her.
“Death shadowed every
step these people took,”
notes the author.
The fragment of paper bears the scars of folding, creases have broken through the black and particles of whatever substance the fragment held– a forensic analysis could confirm whether cocaine or heroin or methamphetamine– have seeped into these creases. The way the text is nearly perfectly centered suggested to me that the dealer had consciously excised the fragment from a magazine; that he was making a commentary on his clientele– shadowed by death, get it?– and I became convinced that there would be more found poems on flaps and for a while I checked each scrap of paper before I threw it out. This was the only one I saved.
This was my first interaction with Ledi, the main body haunting Kim Trainor’s second book. The second was in the spring of 2016 in the Banff Centre for the Arts when– upon my request– Kim placed a nearly completed manuscript in my mailbox during a six week residency. Each letter sized piece of recycled white paper bore a black tiny serifed text. Alone in my room I identified the woman described on the flap from 2013 as Kim’s Ledi– the Pazyryk horse-woman whose body slept intact for 2000 years before it was unearthed by Russian archaeologists and whose “decay began the moment her skin came into contact with human hands and sunlight.” Kim is a poet wise enough to wear sunscreen even when there is complete cloud cover, sunglasses in the middle of a rain slaughtered Vancouver February.
She appears on the page of my notebook like a temple rubbing
A review of Kim’s first book said something like “Kim Trainor is more interested in dead bodies than living ones.” She might resist this characterization of her work but what is true is that Kim is non-binary in her understanding of bodies, of life and death. She knows it’s continuum. I mean it’s heavy, right, and it’s something I couldn’t get away with saying but who doesn’t death shadow? It shadowed Ledi and the Pazyryks, it shadows the drug addict dumping powder from the flap, it shadows us all. We are all these people.
There are two other bodies in Ledi,the poet’s former lover– who commits suicide– and the poet’s own. And there is a vibrancy to Ledi and her spectacular decay that contrasts with the poet’s own attempts to entomb herself
When I lie on my side my knees scape, bone on bone. When it grows cool in the night, I wrap myself in a white sheet. How hard it is to emerge.
I am reminded of how there is a specific police record check required for employment in some sectors that screens whether an applicant is suitably prepared to work with “vulnerable adults” when the poet’s unnamed lover runs into oncoming traffic in his first suicide attempt, as the poet observes her own body’s aging and transformation (stretchmarks–the ‘tattoos’ of childbirth), when the Ledi’s body turns partially to broth and is lapped up by dogs.
The poet knows so much about Ledi’s body, about her burial, about the grave goods accompanying her into her coffin and yet next to nothing about her former lover’s grave site. Thus she has imagine one. While the Ledi’s excavators work backwards: from the unearthed body and the grave site to create a speculative identity of Ledi, the poet has to work in the opposite way with her dead lover: from her incomplete memories of him, which are frustratingly unaccompanied by any artifacts (“I have no letter written in your hand. No photograph”), in order to give him a proper burial. (“I place you here– in the Mojave. In this sere blue.”) What Ledi reminds us is that dead bodies shadow us in our lives and ultimately how little we know about our dead– even those with whom we were intimate.
Isn’t our skin like a photograph? It carries the trace of others. It develops in time. A scraped knee. A tiny scar below the lip. Fingers of a lover’s grasp smudged blue, then ochre.
I’ve checked the internet. The tallest women in the world are in Latvia where the average height is 5 foot 7 inches. Ledi would be tall in our time as well as in her own. She is perhaps timelessly tall.
Kim Trainor‘s first collection, Karyotype, was published by Brick Books in 2015. Ledi appeared with Book*hug in 2018. Her poetry has won the Gustafson Prize, the Great Blue Heron prize, and the Malahat
Review Long Poem Prize, and has appeared in the 2013 Global Poetry Anthology and The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2014. She lives in Vancouver.
Jennifer Zilm is the author of Waiting Room (Book*hug, 2016) and The Missing Field (Guernica, 2018). She lives in Vancouver and works in public libraries. She is a failed Bible scholar and still sometimes thinks about joining a cult. In 2014 her favourite words were fragment, soft, threshold, girl, room and turning.