by Geoffrey Nilson
2013, Brick Books, Canada
The future is elusive and uncertain. The past is exact, a known experience that marks like “road salt from the side of the car / sticks to your jacket, tells where you’ve been.” (49) Placeholder, the second book of poems from Charmaine Cadeau, takes residence in the moments between these opposing abstracts of time.
Cadeau’s placeholder seems both metaphor, as a marker or trigger to memory, and literal, like a pause button, a time out for reflection. The poems straddle the narrative and philosophical, and the ambiguity in the stream-of-consciousness verse lends itself to multiple readings. Structurally, the text reinforces this conception. The book uses a variety of forms—from couplet to prose poem to sprawling free verse that layers in stanza bunches like a textural moraine of image—and the lack of unity seemed symbolic of fragmentary remembrance. Memory is not static, but open to environmental stimulus, open to deterioration. The speaker’s frequent use of the ‘we’ pronoun suggests an attempt to democratize access to the placeholder itself. We seem to know that there is no use in burying the past, “as if anything could be safely / sealed away.” (19)
The poems are infused with anxiety and a careful control of diction leads the reader through runs of subtle sound play. From “Queen bee”:
her cell’s architecture is the same as steroids, cholesterol,
graphite lines ghosting up through watercolours, aspirin
loose in the desk drawer…
The workers hum and build like canary
girls in a munitions factory—skin yellowing from TNT. They
think about demolition,
what the last sound would be, the catch—
Cadeau’s is a line possessed of itself and its shifting auditory rhythms.
Seduced by memory and the past, an honest fear of what next? rises from the language, “flicking between when to hold out / when to let go.” (14) “Glasshouse” proceeds as a series of questions: what if, what then, what now? “How we reminisce” further elaborates this complicated comfort, describing reminiscence as both a scarred red pear and the sweet juice beneath its skin. There is an inescapable pull in memory that “swims in your blood. And it washes up, no matter how far the toss.” (41) And as captivated by memory as the speaker is, she is equally contemptuous of “tomorrow,” a “tease hiking up its skirt at today’s loneliness.” (21)
Near the end of the book the reader realizes something has changed. From “Overexposure”: “Our photographs came back white, or mostly / white like froth, traces of something else / pressing from the other side.” (40) Here the past doesn’t give the speaker what she wants, the easy access, the placeholder, what Aislinn Hunter has called the object as repository of memory. Looking forward with “compass at the ready,” the speaker is plagued with doubt and can’t help remind the reader “the hippo— / campus is your ticket home.” (57)
In the end, Placeholder faces up to what is approaching and describes “how kids chase / after the flashlight’s pool moving always slightly ahead,” (62) the book and these lines a powerful reminder that the future holds our understanding of the past.
Geoffrey Nilson is a writer and musician from New Westminster, BC. His poetry has appeared in a variety of publications across Canada including PRISM international, subTerrain, The Rusty Toque, Pulp, and rip/torn. In 2012, he was a finalist for The Malahat Review Far Horizons Award for Poetry. He studies Creative Writing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and is attending The Banff Centre‘s Wired Writing Studio in the fall of 2014. Find him at his website http://www.vcovcfvca.com or on Twitter @GeoffreyNilson.