small flames

small flames

96 pages

Poetry

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About the book

small flames is, like its title poem, an arrangement of lambent coals which brighten their hot cores under the breath of the reader’s gaze. Quiet, contained poems flare up with the intensity of peak experience – in moments of childhood, womanhood, birth, death and the infinite in a cormorant’s flight or Chaucer’s tomb. Dina E. Cox has the extraordinary gift of having begun to write seriously only after her children had grown, and yet writing as though she were in her twenties – youthful energy, enthusiasm and passion seasoned already with mature wisdom. small flames is a story of beginnings, endings, and of new beginnings.
 
While small flames has not a single stand-alone haiku in it, the poet is schooled in the form and has published haiku as far away as Bulgaria. Even in the extended pieces, there’s hardly a formally Japanese poem here, but each, stanza by stanza in the longer ones, enacts the grace, precision and poignancies of highly disciplined verse. In the title poem, a sun-warmed field of lupins / burns as brightly, peppering / the transparent air with pungent /colour … In “The Gift,” where she’s present at the hospital when her father receives a diagnosis of the cancer which will end his life, After the doctor leaves / I search for something /  concrete to hold onto: / in silence I soap each /  of my father’s leathered soles, / awed by the intimacy /  of fingers and toes, /  and by his acceptance /  of this macabre dance. These are the poems of a woman who has known in her life most things we all know, but has seen further than many of us are given to see.

About the author

Cox, Dina E.

Dina E. Cox is a writer and musician, and now an empty nester, living with her husband, David, in a northern suburb of Toronto; several children, and a Biblical number of grandchildren, live near enough for frequent visits. Dina was born to parents of straitened means in postwar Saint John, N.B., but the family’s fortunes improved and she went on to the University of New Brunswick, then taught high school in the province before marrying. As a B.A. English (Hons.) and neophyte writer she devoted herself to her husband and children, not returning to her pen until they were all grown.

Dina Cox’s poems have appeared in periodicals as diverse as The Antigonish Review, tempslibre, The Cormorant, CV2, Room and Simply Haiku, and have been published in Canada, the U.S., Ireland, and Bulgaria. She has also won numerous awards, including the Betty Drevniok Award from Haiku Canada, the nation’s premier award for English language poetry in that form. small flames is her first book.

Excerpt

After a Funeral

the house where death has entered
                         is quiet
                         is noisy

too many voices
too many whispers
accusing
             not yet
comforting

the sweet smell
of wilting chrysanthemums
accosts…

                       what you did
                       what you did not do

handwritten cards hold
their studied distance
as sunlight tracks new dust
across unchanged mahogany

from the kitchen
where words are not spoken,
an odour of dinner turned low
and the silence
of a widow
still unsure
how to wear
her new clothes

 

His Felt Cap
 
Between monitor and keyboard it rests lightly
on my Oxford New Thesaurus for the 1990s,
wordless for all that, his felt camel-coloured cap.

Some might deem it shabby yet it musters
the shape of his head, how it crowned, tilted;
I remember that he wore it jauntily, askew.

Thus it sat on the head of such a man, my father —  
serious, worried, perfunctory, a man who gave
commands, expected results.
                                                  How many times
it warmed his head, taking shape from his particular
synthesis of bone, hair and grey matter… aged
in the swirl of cigarette smoke and a widower’s portion.

On his seventy-fifth birthday we went to Market
bought cheese, breathed deeply past stands of dulse
(quietly remembering
my mother’s love of it)
and freshly harvested seafood, swallowing
the old salt aroma of primal spawning grounds…

Finally we found the soft ice cream stand.
A peacock strutting, he made much of choosing
from 24 flavours, my father who never enjoyed shopping
now playing at it with his only daughter.

A benediction borrowed from ancient cathedrals,
light found his cap, settled on it, transformed it.
I remember how he came alive for me that day,
his felt cap drawing rays to itself
as the sun draws water.

 

In My Imagination 

I imagine your room,
the big window facing south,
the cold brightness
of winter opening up,
the bed you adjust yourself

I imagine friends
family and others
visiting you,
palliative care workers
keeping the background

This is the room
where you will die,
it is not home
but you are surrounded
by love; I imagine

your morphined mind
looking for a balance,
groggy, your mind
that was always exact,
your ready wit

I imagine you
in that homely room
become the paradox
as you always did — grateful,
still asking the questions

I cannot imagine
a world without you,
focus instead
on that window facing south,
imagine you asking someone

to open it

 

Kaddish

I
Once after she died
I stood at the edge
of her kitchen and

she moved me, made me
move my legs to cross it
one more time,

then my mother was gone
forever.
    I can still feel
my legs moving, not
of their own volition.



II
After my father died,
the warmth of his hand
in mine, I sat beside him
for a long while, just sat
there, and it was enough.

Orphaned, I shook
hands with the stranger
I had become, and so
prepared myself for
the rest of my life.



III
In the beginning the Word
became flesh.
Now only words remain.

I imagine their souls
as I search to name

the faces of memory,
to illumine
the language of my dead.

Reviews

Although Dina E. Cox’s work has appeared reg­u­larly in journ­als and antho­lo­gies, small flames is her first col­lec­tion. It’s high time that these accom­plished poems were brought together. Her work is mature, can­did and refresh­ingly straightforward—never shrill, never weighted with… >>

— Heather Spears Arc Poetry Magazine

A Maritimer by birth, Dina E. Cox has lived in Unionville for over thirty years. She and her husband David raised four children within walking distance of Toogood Pond, and are now grandparents to nine. Dina is a writer of… >>

Markham Arts Council


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