Carla Funk, Gloryland (Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 2016). Paperback, 128 pages, $17.00.
The cricket plays on.
The body, second fiddle to the song.
The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
–II Corinthians 3:6
In Gloryland, Carla Funk borrows the words of Keats, “The poetry of earth is never dead,” and confirms it again and again as she sings of thunder, robins, slugs, caterpillar nests, and familiar hayfields. The poet, in the opening Miltonic “Invocation,” invites a primal source to “blow [its] wind / across [her] mind,” “tune” thought, and “fill [her] skull” with the basics of life and language: quarks, cells, and syllables. The poems that follow concern themselves with origins and new beginnings of all kinds: religious, maternal, and locational.
Divided into four sections, whose epigraphs come together to form the concluding eponymous sonnet, Funk moves from childhood and familial memories to meditations on age, art, and loss. Haunting the poems are the ever-watchful eyes of God, an austere religious upbringing, the well-known perimeters of home, and a rough rural landscape populated by coyotes, stray dogs, and the sound of passing trains.
Funk’s description of home in “The First Kingdom” straddles lush nature and divinity, “two realms, the green and gold.” Here we have a dominion of the earth: the sounds of nature outside her girlhood bedroom—the yips of coyotes, the buzzing of mosquito wings—are woven into the “summer quilt” of fond memory. The speaker’s mother is also nestled in this space; the image of her being summoned is equally described in terms of flora and season:
When she stands in the doorway—
cotton flowers and a voice like a low radio.
When she waves her hand back and forth
above my head—a charm against the fallen,
against thorns and nettles, stingers and scars.
When she rests her cheek cool on my forehead,
the world breathes back to June.
“Iconography,” similarly, evokes the holy by means of a vibrant world of greenery and newborn impressions:
Even now when you dream,
you dream in poplars,
trees whose leaves shirr
like a green current,
your own northern sea.
They must have stood above you,
looking down into the crib
upon the creature they had made.
While the poems in the first section, aptly titled “Inheritance,” focus on origination, family, and history, the following sections signal a break as Funk tests the lines drawn out by religion, childhood, and a town that feels suddenly too small. There is a pressing desire here to escape the omniscient (“The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, / they told me”) as Funk explores the underside: “I’m smiles, sweet-tongued candy angel daughter / to a face, but deep in secret chambers, / I feel the murk, the stillness of the water.” Even the poem “Christmas Day in the Morning” turns away from the “holiday commercial” event and instead describes the disturbingly calculated drowning of a caught rat.
But the angst depicted in poems such as “Future Tense,” in which the teenage speaker partakes in the clandestine acts of smoking and drinking, is not absent of reflection or contrition. As Funk writes in “The Carnival”:
I felt as far from home as the prodigal
who cashed in his inheritance for whores and hogs.
How did they do it—the kids who walked
the midway cussing, smoking, lipping off?
How did they not fear the thunderbolt and curse?
I saw God’s hand as a javelin thrower’s
elite, Olympic, trained on me, his bulls-eye.
Funk works between polarities as she sifts through nature, the sacred, the rural, and the past while giving way to the urgings of the profane, the urban, and the present. In a later poem, “Ode to Boredom,” she fancifully imagines a paradise regained: “Who says childhood / owns all this real estate?” She goes on to confess:
I’m tired of pretending the new world
is a city of delights, a grid
electrified by magic. I want
the old one back, whose freedom
was the buzz of crickets in tall grass
and not the wires strung above.
Though Gloryland digs into a personal past, it is not only the point of commencement on which Funk dwells. She shows us also the importance of return and, most of all, endurance. In “Genesis,” she writes:
Glassed and wired, in cinderblock and rubble,
we’re honey, spit, and dust injected by the sun,
and still intent on making. First urge, last rites.
We alpha in omega. Shake the dried vine’s
brittle bells until the seed pod splits,
the wind comes down to hook us, reel us back
to darkness where we burn to start again.
Funk meets the eyes of God in this collection. Each poem gives praise to the worlds around, before, and behind us. Moreover, Funk continually reminds us that it is the smallness of where we begin that moves us to write and create. In her words, “The earth in miniature / keeps yielding glory.” A blade of grass, dew, seeds, worm tunnels, and the eye of a wasp. Go small. You’ll make it.
Gillian Sze is the author of eight poetry collections, including Peeling Rambutan (Gaspereau Press, 2014), which was shortlisted for the QWF A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry. Her most recent book, Redrafting Winter (BuschekBooks, 2015), is a collection of rengas composed with Alison Strumberger over postal mail.