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Reviews | Reviews | Anne Burke

The Goddess in The Garden, review by Anne Burke, The League of Canadian Poets,

     Zonailo lives in Montreal; she was born in Vancouver and obtained a Master of Arts from Simon Fraser University. This is her ninth book of poetry (not including her seven chapbooks). She draws on her study of mythology, astrology, and Jungian psychology, for a seemingly inexhaustible source of imagery. A frontispiece contains quotes about fairy tales from The Mountain Astrologer, by Dana Gerhardt and about the Great Mother, from Jung and Tarot: An Archetypal Journey, by Sallie Nichols. Zonailo focuses on fairy tales as that which, (in Gerhardt's words) "is missing at the beginning"; and this is significant because "it represents what needs to be developed." For Zonailo, as for Gerhardt, "In this case, it's a daughter," which signifies the feminine principle, replete with fertility, receptivity, intuition, sensitivity, and compassion. One would expect, then, to discover these qualities in the females who people the poems. However, this is not the whole picture. Zonailo creates tension with her alternate source on the Great Mother, who is also the Terrible Mother, devouring, smothering, eating her own children, cruel. Mother Nature, by day, appears to protect the flowers, but, by night, introduces the weeds.

     The collection is divided into three parts: "Divine Healing," "Angels At The Door," and "Life Studies: The Female Nudes / The Male Nudes." In these thirty-seven lyric poems, Zonailo explores the various roles of women: as wife, mother, sister, daughter, stepmother, in-law, and sex symbol. The poet reveals her own mother rejected her and she seeks role models elsewhere, especially in the community, who function as an alternate family. Childhood mistakes may be revisited in a partner's arms. She explores themes of appearance and reality, comparing the outer and inner spheres of experience. She uses the seasons to mark linear time, as well as cyclical nature. The theme of The Goddess in the Garden is also captured in the cover photograph, “Goddess of Notre Dame de Grace," as sculpture and fertility symbol. Overall, the condition of a garden depends on the goddess / gardener, or macrocosm / microcosm.

     In the opening poem, "Cinder / Ella," there are the trappings of the fairy tale: prince, slippers, carriage, and pumpkin coach, but to a new purpose. The daughter, who is telling the story, blames herself for being "weak," (in Darwinian terms), for being born female. Since she is a "born dreamer" (which sounds like a criticism leveled at her by her mother) she suffered from the lack of mother love. The mother-daughter relationship, although flawed, remains, but resulted in "a complex." She experienced her mother's jealousy and this created a situation of "mother-not," the absence of mothering, which, nevertheless, is part of the "mother-knot," an obvious pun. The poet uses the domestic images of thread, wool, or web, culminating in:

and still the knot
continues to ravel/
unravel/ knit up/
unwind/ bind us
                    (p. 12)

     In this manner, the poet interpolates the cruel step-mother, a wicked witch, with a fairy godmother, the result being:

mothers lost/ and mothers
found/ finally
to mother earth,
beginning at our end.
                    (p. 13)

Mother Earth, as it were, pulls us into her womb.

     In "Mother's Garden," the poet reflects on her parents, a mother playing Hera to the father as Zeus. The father is passive, asleep. The mother rejected her daughter at puberty and continues to be competitive about her "man." The mother, now in her seventies, still squanders her nurturing on flowers: these she has "seeded, watered/, nourished and grown." Although the poet has learned to mother herself, she mourns inwardly. She perceives that this garden is probably one of her mother's "last" ones.

     A companion poem is "Leaving My Father's House." From him, she also received "a complex." The poet recalls her many attempts to leave home: as a child, while in high school, after grade twelve, and when her first marriage ended. Each time she was welcomed, sheltered, by "his open and giving hand," the same hands which constructed a home. It is interesting that he has grown vegetables (nourishing her), unlike the flowers her mother tends. The poet admits she has "always" been leaving. She learns she must "build / my father's house / in my own heart", that, in effect, she is to "cradle / inside myself." There is the irony of her father associated with the secondary meaning of "pregnant," as in "pregnant with meaning."

     In "Sisters," there is the theme of a fairy tale, with a fair sister (who resembles her father) and a ravened-haired sister (who resembles her mother). For the younger sister, her mother is "her closest confidante," "her best friend," while the same mother is "my worst critic," according to the poet. "Lament & Melody" describes a mother as "a matron warrior," "with a helmet of hair," and "the girdle of war." This woman is a Harpy, devouring her own daughter, a Sibylline. Fortunately, the daughter has become a butterfly, instead of an ugly, abused creature. In "Marble Cake," the poet catalogues her mother's recipes and comes to a realization that "the giving and the taking" is a blended mixture. She discovers her mother's mandala, "a mix / of love and greed."

     The poet makes a conscious choice to turn to community, seeking the nurturing she lacks. In "The Archetypal Mother Of Us All," a neighbour "has endured," "as the women of my ancestry / endured," "so can I endure". In "Monkey Tree" it is a family tree of tribulation, not comfort. In "Going Into Dark Sleep," she escapes, by "letting go." In "The Comfort Of Mothers," all mothers are better than the poet's own. "Paula" is another neighbour, as Demeter. (Italics are the poet's).

          look, we begin again,
we are able to reseed,
          replant, renew,
replenish—as there is
          the dying, so is there
being born.

          (p. 35)

     The second Section, "Angels," contains imperfect, damaged men: a blind man, an amnesiac, a dying patient, a cadaver, from whom the poet learns lessons about the meaning of suffering. There are also: a pole-vaulter, a surfer, and the spectre of Death. In "The Zen of Surfing," an understanding of the One and the Many (each wave and the space between waves) leads to "life, for living, for all."

     The frontispiece to this section is "Mystical Marriage," which has been italicized and set apart from the rest of the text. It is a marriage within the self, the "I / You," like a mirror image, and instantly recognizable.

     The final section, "Life Studies: The Female Nudes / The Male Nudes," also deals with the Gods and Goddesses within us. Both are idealized beyond the everyday roles our genders assume. One line summarizes the woman as : "wife, mother, lover, daughter" but each of her apparitions is treated separately: "As Earth Goddess" (with a litany of tasks); "Lobotomized" (abandoned); "As Single Mother" (always poor); "As Diplomatic Wife" (italics are the poet's):

ready to serve, serve, serve
able to soothe, soothe, soothe
always to please, please, please


"As Sex Symbol": (half naked and in the south of France).

     The poet explores her relationships with men other than her father. Two artists capture her interest: David Jones, a visual artist, and Irving Layton, a poet. Layton's feminine principle (with the female, he is a god made flesh) is mocked; while the poet hopes to discover "the reckonings of our gendered selves," drinking red wine with Jones.

     In "Stephen, In The Garden," the poet poses her own man "naked in frontal view" for possible painting. He is transformed into a tree, "his sex, his lovely sex / like a beautiful blossom." In "The Tree of Life," Adam / man" has: trunk and stem, branch and limb. With Eve, their roots come together, as "one plant / two beings." "The Tree Of Knowledge" introduces the forbidden fruit. The male "sex" resembles "stem and round / fruit," as much as it bears resemblance to "the flower of his sex / stamen and soft bulb" (in "Drinking Wine With David Jones").

     Zonailo reworks images and metaphors to great effect throughout the collection. A fine example is: "A Summer Swim" and what could be a companion poem, "Like A River God," in the last section. "Like A River God" explores unconsciousness, at midnight, and watery dreams in the ocean. Some of the visual images are: "illuminate," "phosphorescence," "sparks," "tiny particles of light;" "moonlight," which shines through transparent river water. In "A Summer Swim," the children's bodies are described, it is a hot afternoon; they are "illuminated" with love, and the poet remembers the night.

     I will close with the poem, "The Garden of Eden," because it deals with bruised perfection in amorous human relationships. Although she is "no Eve" and he is "not the original / Adam," both are middle-aged; their bodies resemble pears ("globular," fleshy, "like fat buttocks"). They understand banishment, divorce, and failure. This is a postlapsarian and post-Paradise world. Their lovemaking, or metaphoric "eating," recreates a simulated Eden, a "taste of true love / or immortality." (Italics are poet's).

     I look forward to more writing by Zonailo, her forthcoming memoir, The Land of Motionless Childhood, and a journal collection, The Letter Z: On Women & Writing.

Copyright by Anne Burke:, 2004. | Reviews | Anne Burke
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