Mother’s death spurs poetic memoir

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Red River Métis-Icelandic poet Jónína Kirton, now living in B.C., opens her third book, Standing in a River of Time (Talonbooks, 224 pages, $20), with a description of the moment she discovered her mother was dying: “I am afraid to spit you out/ welcome the feel of grit in my teeth/ defend my need for you/ not interested in letting go.”

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Red River Métis-Icelandic poet Jónína Kirton, now living in B.C., opens her third book, Standing in a River of Time (Talonbooks, 224 pages, $20), with a description of the moment she discovered her mother was dying: “I am afraid to spit you out/ welcome the feel of grit in my teeth/ defend my need for you/ not interested in letting go.”

Beginning with this death, Kirton travels backward and forward in her life, weaving poetry and lyric prose into a formally taut, spiritually expansive memoir of trauma, loss and survival.

Kirton turns frequently to the question of belonging, threads that knot in the death of her mother and brothers as well as the abuses and precarity she endures. “Never sure of my place and suspicious of the need to always agree, I never fully entered any room. I always kept a part of myself outside and did not feel like I belonged anywhere.”

From the moment she promises her younger self to protect her going forward to the connections she traces in All My Relations, all of these moments of coming home are hard-won: “at my centre a galaxy/ in my skin kin worlds/ painful memories swirling/ next to an ocean of joy/ … ./ she is gone but still with me/ all the Ancestors are gone but still with me.”

Melanie Brannagan Fredericksen is a Winnipeg writer and critic.

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