The Given

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2008-03-18
  • Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
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"You remember what is it you remember? / the feel of home, that moment of coming into your body. . . " So begins Daphne Marlatt's haunting and multi-layered long poem, which reads with all the urgency and depth of a novel. Set in present-day and 1950s Vancouver,The Givenbegins with the news of a mother's death, then opens up to become an intricate tapestry of lives, as Marlatt deftly interweaves the past with the present, replicating the arc of memory itself, while questing for and questioning the meaning of home and identity. Circling around the narrator's mother theatrical, troubled, imprisoned in the small existence of a 1950s housewife, and a persistent presence in the lives of others The Givenis a ceremony performed for her, and for all "those who have left, who go on burning in us." In luminous, deeply resonant fragments, Marlatt resoundingly answers the drive to live with deep attention in a now that is, for all of us, "tangled in the past." From the Trade Paperback edition.

Author Biography

Daphne Marlatt is known for her formally innovative and feminist books of poetry, including Steveston, Touch to My Tongue, Salvage, and, most recently, This Tremor Love Is. A Member of the Order of Canada, she is also the author of two acclaimed novels, Ana Historic and Taken. She lives in Vancouver.


you remember — what is it you remember?

The feel of home, that moment of coming into your body, its familiar ache and shift, its little cough of consciousness resuming (Monday claims). i’m awake. i can’t quite see your face assume its usual definition. your shoulder rises like a hill i climb getting out on my side of the bed to pad to the sunroom, lift the blind on a spectral world. one early dog racing across the park, its breath steaming up through pallid light, though it isn’t light, not yet. still in bed, you turn to rise like some revenant, asking what time is it?

in the still of the day we bring something to burn. the smells of home, not roasted barley flour but tea, tea and toast. these small ceremonies ribbon through the days we share. and share, continuous, with what is gone.

it was July, that radiant kind of morning when all of outside shines in, calling the body out to play, light pristine, rearisen, chickadee’s two-note shrill euphoric, here / i’m here
— this joyant pouring in with sun across a kitchen nook amist with memory smoke, his breakfast cigarette, my usual struggle with a five-year-old, eat your cereal, you can’t go out until you eat. while all three of us know, between sips of this and that, only two blocks away the waves are lapping tenderly at sand, at soon-to-be bare feet, a thrill of seaweed under the gulls’ dip and shriek.

how it was, that morning of liquid flight when my father’s call came: i can’t wake her up, his voice like a child’s, crushed, lost. i’ve tried, she won’t wake up.

and birds, in the corner of an eye as i stared unfocused at their skywriting: flap flap, soar. their Sanskrit.

why does the eye slide off? the mind refuse anything more than grabbing at keys, making quick arrangements, then tearing through the parkway across the bridge along the Upper Levels, thinking glorious glorious morning, everyone driving their usual cavalcade of must-do’s and if only’s, thinking how can this be? this sudden gap.
gape. a wound that is love and not love.

you can’t do that, she told me over the phone when we’d come back to the city and i wanted to paint what would be the baby’s room. you can’t paint when you’re pregnant. that limiting fear i bridled at. it’s latex, Mom. we painted together in a memory loop from my childhood, water instead of turps, a splotch of robin’s egg blue on the soft sag of her cheek, her perfection at cleaning brushes. paint moons at the roots of our nails, and her latest conspiracy theory about her doctor, her dentist.

A pleasant glow of sentiment was shed by a light rosily shaded and suffused.

that too. its pleated shade, its fluted glass stem a little tippy, casting a glow to read by. satin quilt pulled up to her chin, hands holding the well-used public library smell of plastic covering a queen’s unbent head, the bloody intrigue of courtiers and kings, while all the while steam rose from the rose-patterned teacup beside her, twisted and thinned to
nothing in the pinkpearl glow.

rapid overlay, one place-time on another, as if we’re actually in the movement between, memory cascading its lightdrenched moments and then suddenly that single jet of recognition, parallel perhaps, that allows us to see, paradoxically, this place we’re in the midst of . . .

incredible. conflicting with explanation.

underlay, as if
her body under the
lay of the city under
lies it

Excerpted from The Given by Daphne Marlatt
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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