review by Kathy Tyler, Germination
Split Rock, by Carolyn
Zonailo, a B.C. poet born in 1947, is the subtle, profound exploration
of a universal theme, expressed by cohesive symbols, some archetypal,
some ingeniously invented by Zonailo. She is indelibly a West
Coast poet with her concern for roots and natural symbolism, which
she uses to delve deeply into the primal scream of history.
The long elegy, "False Passage"
for Eric Ivan Berg, opens the book. It illustrates Zonailo's deftness
as a mythmaker, and sets out the modus operandi of the
collection. Zonailo explores perhaps what is the deepest mystery
of all, the primal relationship between male and female. The succession
of poems that follow is an ever-deepening progression toward that
end, and, ultimately, offers a clue as to what the female's basic
"The Dreamkeeper," a
poem in ten parts (and the last poem in the book), best represents
Zonailo's concerns in Split Rock. The setting is a dry
garden, the kare sansui, where nothing grows. In her
preface to the poem, Zonailo says that its barrenness "enables
us to grasp the intrinsic meaning of nature, which might otherwise
be hidden from us."
In the first section I,
a wolf, symbolizing the male, appears. Its significance, however,
is ambiguous: who is predator, who prey?
The wolf tonight, because
I don't understand my own
bleeding, your nightly fear
the blood between us
might be yours….
Love's absence is the subject of
II. Zonailo cries out that too many women have loved
in a world where they are out of tune: "Even the destruction/
of war isn't mine." In III, she laments: "Our
stone longing/ to carve the timeless/ images earth has. Nature/
the only subject we share." V describes the archetypal
garden: "all gardens grow forever/ in this garden made of
In VII and VIII,
the wolf reappears and his nature as predator is revealed. The
female is now clearly as the nurturer, and the poet states the
object of her desert search:
If I meet the wolf in
daylight, I will recognize
the teats lining her underbelly,
black nipples pulled long
from nursing. Her mate
circles my night dreams.
Somewhere on the mountain
I can find the pool of blood,
the buried placenta
from the she-wolf's whelping.
The poem ends as it begins, ambiguously,
seeming to suggest an androgynous conception of self:
Here is the wolf's carcass:
I taste her milk, suck
blood from her nipples.
The snake I wanted to kill
begins to love me….
. . . . .
...When I descend
from the mountain, I walk
naked into a morning light
where there are no dreams.
If occasionally Zonailo seems to
stray from her preordained path (or onto a puzzling course) the
quest she describes in Split Rock demonstrates her considerable
gift for symbolic expression.
Copyright by Kathy Tyler: www.carolynzonailo.com,