Home > Reviews > Poetry > “Bite Down Little Whisper” by Don Domanski: “quiet observances of the nonhuman world”

Bite-Down-Little-WhisperBy Catherine J. Stewart

Bite Down Little Whisper
Don Domanski
Brick Books, 2013

The poems in Bite Down Little Whisper meditate on the meaning of the human journey. They are quiet observances of the nonhuman world and how we fit or don’t fit therein. Domanski explores his philosophy with these beautiful and insightful poems that question the very essence of human existence.

The language in this book is rich, often incorporating words that we seldom encounter in the modern world, words that are always exactly right. Domanski uses spaces instead of punctuation because punctuation “bruises and injures syntactic skin” (7). These spaces create pauses, time for the reader to reflect and intuit connections, to see what he is motioning towards.

The book is replete with references to language and what it has meant to the way humans live. We expect it to open us up to understanding: “burnishing our words we hold them up expecting miracles / radiance at the darkest moment of the night” (88).  But Domanski continually suggests that language doesn’t provide knowledge of the world, “writing things there we’ll never understand / with our eyes opened or closed” (31).  In fact, its attempt to define and explain has failed us by obscuring the deeper meaning of things, for “whatever is named / is unnamed as soon as we turn away” (39).

The lifestyle we choose is destructive:

the 21st century growing like bright apples on dark branches
coddled with meaning polished    and red    cardio red
each carrying cyanide in their seeds    little pills for the voyage.

(17)

This occurs because we have stepped outside of our place in the world. We don’t accept that we are “nothing more than brushwork and pillowtalk / living beside the stone’s perpetual ascension… we’d like to be a new parable” (40). Instead of cohabiting with nature we act as if we are separate from and above it:

we live in the world of the long cloth    of the blindfold wrapped loosely
around landscape and sinew    no surprise that days and nights remain out
of reach… that we’re unfaithful to the cosmogenic laze of protoplasm

(20)

Consequently the mind, “with a Faustian regard for knowledge” (64), is a hindrance to a deeper understanding of the world and ourselves:

we all live beside a dark river    bodies
soaked in the backwash of our cognitive functions
canonized to a point behind our eyes
the saintly pull into nothingness

(35)

Our journey has taken us away from life as other creatures live it. With their careful observances of the natural world these poems ache with loss, “the suffering that falls through belief’s chasm” (3) and resonate with a longing for reconnection to the animalistic essence of being: “I’d love to have the wolf’s edgeless sense of self” (83).

Ultimately we lose a deeper understanding of ourselves by living so separate and sheltered from the natural world. And Domanski is waiting for a shift in the way we perceive ourselves. He is waiting for “eternity’s beautiful dog / that comes to wash the humanity from our blood / just for a moment or two / in the hope that we can see the further reaches of our being” (87). Bite Down Little Whisper is a testament to this hope. Like its final poem, it cries out for “a dark drop of genesis for the soul’s shudder and climb” (91).

Catherine J. Stewart is an MFA student at UBC. She is currently working on her first book of poetry.