Come Cold River
Quattro Books Inc., 2013
When Come Cold River opens with the image of a poem as “another goddamn pervert/whetting his steel blade/against granite,” (13) I know this collection is going to slice open truths and expose painful landscapes. While many of the themes are dark, chilling even, Come Cold River is beautiful in its raw honesty.
Come Cold River takes its readers on a journey through old haunts, in and out of shadows. These poems show us dark alleys, barren roads, and broken homes, where women are diminished, grown skeletal, even reduced to a knuckle bone underfoot. I’ll admit, in her first section, Home for Good, some poems are so unsettling that Connelly had to tug me along by the hand. But her skillful revealing of these landscapes drew me in, and soon I longed to run my fingers through the cold river water with her.
In her poignant poem, “Enough,” Connelly unburies the women murdered by Pickton, not as skeletal remains, but as 68 fleshy women: mothers and daughters. She lifts them to the light of the page and honours their names. The poem captures the horror of the delayed investigation/slow news reveal in juxtaposition to the women’s first and last names. We feel the injustice of “how quickly/a woman disappears/under wet hooves/under police reports/lost/misfiled/and ignored.” (55) After finishing this poem, my thoughts echoed back to the final line of the poem “Home for Good:”
Oh Canada, what do you really mean?
How can I sing you
This question resonates through the entire collection.
The poem that stayed with me the longest was from Awake, the second, quieter and more sensual section of the book. The poem, “Children,” is a conversation between a woman and her not-yet-born children who are arguing to be born:
Nothing deters these ones:
not this great slaughterhouse
Earth, not the bad genetics,
not even sullen poverty.
These innocent souls still “regard the newspaper without fear” (71) and don’t understand the truth about the world they want to be born into. After everything Connelly has shown us in Come Cold River, we empathize with the woman when she insists that these children are better off with the starlight as sustenance.
In the final section of the book, The Last Shelter, the poems delve further into memory. Even when an old home has been demolished, and Connelly raises the question, “What is the use of a people’s history?” (96) the Bow River remains constant. As a strong symbol for family history, mythology, and loss, Connelly also shows the river as a catalyst for forgiveness.
On Connelly’s acknowledgements page, she wrote that when her book was initially rejected for publishing, someone commented, “Haven’t we all heard these stories before? What new emotion or perspective can we find here regarding the murder and abuse of these women and children?” Connelly responded that she will never stop thinking about these critical questions. And when you read her book, neither will you.
Connelly offers her readers nothing but new emotions and perspectives. We witness abuse from a conflicted child’s perspective, hear a woman’s howl as closed wounds are re-opened and cleaned, and feel the vibration of an abuser’s footsteps on the front steps as he returns home. After reading “Enough,” we hold all the women’s names in our arms. Some of these perspectives are hard to hold, to bear witness to, but they should never be left buried without a voice.
Esther Griffin teaches English Literature and Creative Writing at Georgian College in Barrie, Ontario. Her poetry and fiction have been published in various anthologies, and she is currently pursuing her Optional Residency MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia.