"I See My Love More Clearly From a Distance"
Once pioneering, books about the rural Great Plains told from a woman’s perspective have lately become so numerous as to seem commonplace, almost forming a genre of their own. But Nora Gould’s collection of poetry, "I See My Love More Clearly From A Distance," proves that there are still new insights to be explored in these works.
An Alberta rancher, veterinarian and wildlife rehabilitator, Gould’s approach is both scientific and intimate. The book is filled with delicately drawn images of the natural world as well as vocabulary more often encountered in medical textbooks. Here are northern lights, wildflowers and “brockle cows” as well as “fetopelvic disproportion,” psoriasis and an “avulsed” “brachial plexus.”
What makes it work is that Gould equates her body and her place, using language that is apt, if startling:
I wander through the headlands
... where I find a Rock
Dove who nests in my buccal cavity — her squab will fledge
from my tongue.
As most women describe it, ranching is far from easy, but the connection that Gould illuminates between a woman’s body and the prairie transcends mere hardship in its sensuality. Consider these lines:
Winter sun would lift my face.
Ribbons of sandhill cranes would bind me
The land encompasses both its nonhuman inhabitants and the people who work hard to keep it well-ordered. It is even a party to the marriage that anchors the book. In a kind of ménage à trois, the poet speaker, her husband Charl, and ranch life interact physically and sometimes violently:
I have no arms. His weight
on my inner thigh turns my femur to a crow
bar, opens me — my latch unsought.
Such occasional bitterness transforms to understanding when the poet speaker acknowledges that Charl’s affections, though directed outward, are profound:
Your love has never nested in my body.
Come summer I’ll travel to the Neutral Hills,
your Northern Harrier kiss lives there.
"I See My Love More Clearly From a Distance" is primarily about family. But “family” here includes parents, children, dogs, red-tailed hawks, “palmate lupines,” and cattle. Whether human or nonhuman, deaths to be mourned and births to be celebrated are earthy and intimate.
With all its complexity, Gould’s poetry benefits from a second or third reading. Named but otherwise initially unidentified family members appear in such numbers throughout the collection’s many narrative offerings that annoyance often interferes with the joy of exploration. But once the relationships among the characters resolve into focus, the life of the ranch takes on an engaging immediacy.
On a second reading, too, the juxtaposition of poetic sentiment and clinical terminology becomes insightful rather than odd:
Growth arrest lines
cross the epiphyses of the long bones of our marriage.”
A richly crafted work informed by both specialized knowledge and aesthetic sensitivity, "I See My Love More Clearly From a Distance" by Nora Gould is one of this year’s three finalists for poetry in the High Plains Book Awards and makes a unique contribution to women’s ranch literature.