Some of Us Eat the Seeds by Morgan Bach.
Wellington: VUP (2015).
Pb, 95 pp.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Coleman.
The freshness of Morgan Bach’s first poetry collection, Some of Us Eat the Seeds, is evident from the first appearance of the book. The attractive fruity cover is clear, simple and stylish and the layout graces the poems inside with space and air. When read, the poems are light and recognisable, also deep and extraordinary. This is a book with a recurring theme of ‘edges’: the edge of understanding and self-development; of family and relationships; of loneliness and belonging; seasons and the natural world; ages and stages; geographical borders; comfort and discomfort; waking and dreaming, and memory and the edge of reaching peace.
Divided into three sections, the poems focus (in general), on childhood and memory, self-reliance and the natural world, and relationships.
In the title poem, “Some of us eat the seeds”, Bach writes:
… Memory makes its own myths.
When evening arrives and the mind pools
I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but
don’t be fooled
I’m not from that branch of the family. No – I’m the golden/bough
and theirs is a basic sadness, without violence.
Plain, a sadness of farmers, inherited with the land.
We learn about the poet’s father in poems which move nimbly from the personal and particular to the wider, historical, social world. “The Valleys” (for my father) begins:
It’s an accent you carried
across the world, then shed
when the ring of children
in the schoolyard
looked at you blankly.
The sunshine so bright
every eye in the family deteriorated.
Within months you all peered
through glass to the dry hills
and strange braiding rivers’.
We return to the Welsh countryside:
I went back to the valley…
At the top of the valley, the big pit…
Now I am deep in the dark,
and men with the accent
you’d long lost by my birth
ask me my name,
and I cannot pronounce it. …
“The Valleys” ends:
They show me the stables where ponies,
short and strong, lived underground
their whole lives. The men never took
them up to the surface
and light, the aching scent of grass.
Once they’d seen the bigger world,
who could bear to take them back?
It is an agile move from the father’s arrival in bright New Zealand with a soft Welsh accent, back to the dark and horrible lives of the mine ponies; it is lissom and unsentimental, matter-of-fact – if it weren’t so tragic. We are taken from gentleness through darkness and forward to the surfacing hope of the father’s new world before we know it.
“In pictures” transports us similarly. Bach starts in a humorous vein, recalling nightmares through childhood and into adulthood: ‘The first time my father died, I was four’. She continues to depict her father’s fantastical death, garnished by dramatic details:
… he put a meathook through a man’s throat
before he was taken out.
… he is set upon by flying beasts
and takes refuge in a ruin.
But when the creatures come, tall, with skin
like freshly healed burns, their old cat teeth,
the pinkish one that leads them spears my father/through the gut…
And the last nightmare begins:
When I am twenty-eight I get back from lunch
and my workmates say: did you feel that?
It dawns on us that we are now in post-earthquake Christchurch, the hazardously real world, anxiously awaiting news, alongside the poet.
In “Study in eyes” and “Night in the forest” we see and feel through a child’s eyes and mind the horror and wonder of the world. Life is not what it seems in biology class where the teacher leads the dissection of cows’ eyes:
I sit alone in the resource
cupboard, sole dissenter.
I stare hard at the map on the wall.
Our world in pinks and greens … (“Study in Eyes”)
Neither is it on a class trip to view the night sky:
It’s hard to picture infinity, but an edge
is just a beginning. We’re at the centre
of what we know. We’re brains
Nor the memory of times at the pool:
Those seconds between solid earth and transparent
water, you were ageless – a flash of stasis
in which you weren’t longing to grow up
Cycling home … reluctant
to go in for tea, to let the night
pile down and crush another day. (“The swimming pool”)
The book progresses to adulthood and the realisation that things change, as it says in “The plot flaw”: ‘I used to resent my thighs/ now I use them like weapons.’, but enigmatically: ‘I used to hate children/now I am one of them’.
We move to love affairs, unsatisfactory relationships too. The ending of the poem “[untitled]” states:
We do not advance.
He is the only person to ever lift me up,
If I could give up milk I can give up him
If I could leave the country/ I’d be gone.
I want to say, “Please don’t go”.
On the back cover, poet Bernadette Hall writes that this book is “ordinary and extraordinary. It’s the kind of arrival that delights me.” Me too – Some of Us Eat the Seeds is thoroughly gratifying.
Elizabeth Coleman lives in Waikanae and has a strong interest in the poetry scene on the Kapiti Coast. She has been published in journals and magazines such as 4th Floor, takahē; in anthologies including Dear to Me, Swings & Roundabouts; has participated in performance poetry entitled Eyes in the Skies, and has judged competition poetry.