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Valerie Morton reviews Gaia Holmes – Where the Road Runs Out

GaiaWhere the Road Runs Out – Gaia Holmes
Comma Press, £9.99.

Gaia Holmes third collection in the main invites us to take the road to her father’s caravan, to share with her the time caring for him through his dying days.  Her conversational style demonstrates a powerful honesty and great underlying skill. A refreshingly accessible collection in a language which turns every day, every object, into something remarkable as is so deftly illustrated in the image of her father’s raincoat “hanging on the back of the cellar door/loud and kitsch as a Warhol tangerine” (Your Orange Raincoat).

The recurring theme running through the poems is the schisms left in our lives when suffering loss – the way they open up, like sinkholes, exposing our vulnerability, causing us to fear that we too might fall into the darkness left in a place once filled with light. In this collection the loss runs side by side with the environment in which it occurs – the island of Orkney – adding a strong sense of place and atmosphere, magic and myth:

I Belong Here

“I belong here in December
with you and your three white cats,
grinding your tablets
to powder at midnight,
as the Orkney gales rock the caravan.

I belong here
with your dying
and every dawn sky
seething
and blistered
with stars.”

The following lines from Feckless candidly express the strength of helplessness felt at trying but failing to get things right …… an already creeping sense of being out of her depth, needing to take control but not being allowed to because “sometimes it makes him angry, this dying/and I keep doing things wrong” :

“And I know that I’ve lost
my angel’s status
but I’m trying.
I’ve knackered my back
from trying to shift the moon,
angling it so it shines into his room.
I’ve worn out my songs
from trying to teach the seabirds
to sing something sweet.
I’ve used up my prayers
from trying to persuade
the wind to die down
and give us some peace.”

Despite the situation Gaia Holmes manages to add a sense of humour in Playing Alive through the way the nurses behave while her father is in hospital.

“They pretend he might be alright,
lay his freshly washed running socks
across his trainers on a chair
in case he feels like
taking a jog through the mizzle
down the hospital drive
in the middle of the night.
They hang his coat, ready to go,
on the back of the door.”

This collection takes us to the edge of everything and we teeter there trying to avoid the sinkhole of absence that threatens to overtake us. Holes appear everywhere – in the socks she tries to darn, in the letterbox she tries to plug up to stop the mist getting in, and all the cracks in the house she wants to seal with gaffer tape.  And the absence is no more strongly felt than in Thermals:

“When he was around
our breath was invisible.
The air had no angles.
He nudged the whole, cold world
to the liquid edge of melting
but if I wanted ice
he gave me ice.”

Although concentrating on the death of a loved one Gaia Holmes also takes us to other meanings of loss and absences – i.e. the loss of freedom (as with the miners in the San Jose mine in Chile (Remembering Light), and the reader is left with thoughts of the many ways in which chasms are opened throughout life due to illness, accidents, ageing, and so much more.

We walk beside the poet through all the heartbreaking stages of grief but it is comforting that we are finally left with Hope :

“Though it seems so dark
and the ceiling of the world’s a wound
and so many hours have been bruised,
and so many lives have been broken,
there are stars up there tonight
and we must name them,
we must love them ……..”

A highly recommended collection from a poet whose command of language and depth of spirit shine out from every page.
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Valerie Morton’s work has appeared in various magazines and anthologies in the UK and USA. She has two collections published by Indigo Dreams Publishing – Mango Tree (2013) and Handprints (2015).She has taught Creative Writing at a mental health charity and since 2016 has been Poet in Residence at the Clinton Baker Pinetum in Hertfordshire.

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