From the Upper Room

First published in Frogpond 14:1, Spring 1991, pages 41–42. The poet passed away on 4 March 2003, so the address for ordering is no longer correct.
See also
ongoing song: the voice of anne mckay, and our linked verse together, one by one.

from the upper room by anne mckay. Fifty-nine distinctive, lyrical poems, one or two per page; 60 pages; 7 by 4¼ inches. $5.00 postpaid from the author at Studio 709, 1275 Haro Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6E 1G1.

Ever the one to share her lowercase dreams, anne mckay has distilled her current vision from reminiscence. She calls these the “nana poems.” And rightly so, for more than a third of them seem directly inspired by this mysterious woman, nana. She is mysterious not because she lurks in shadows, but because the author chooses only to paint her shadows, to share only fragments of the vision seen of the upper room. This is the upper room of childhood melancholy, the upper room where nana lives her last, where faint realities congeal into memory, rose-coloured—and the “upper room” of the mind itself. In the mind of the maker, nana is “still heard, though rarely seen,” a woman of substance still “polishing her days” with lemon scent.

As the author drifts along in the stream of her consciousness, she bumps into life and swirls into death:

caught in the nave her thin veinedhands

sparrow bathing the body

resting with our lady of sorrows binding the shroud

Along this way of peace she finds both light and dark:

. . . her scarlet skirt


to the fiddler’s tune

a mosaic

yellowochre russet and brown

leaves laid in ice

woods walking

in a time of trilliums

my hand in her hand

Not all of these poems are haiku, but anne herself does not label them as such. They are free of constraint. Yet in many poems the haiku moment sparks across the carefully created gaps of internal comparison, sometimes as dancing static, sometimes as flashes of lightning.

These highly personal poems, dedicated to Hannah Steen, spring forth from an unplumbed well. Swishing, flowing, resonating, they brush the feathery abstract, as in “green songs” and “rumours of snow.” They touch the edge of metaphor, as in “kettles of sorrows.” But through each wispy fragment, at times delightfully indirect, at times strikingly precise, these floating poems return to solidity, the Cummings-like “unmatchable now.”

. . . and she

kneeling beside the little death

unaware of snow falling

Here and there the poems flow together in a simple dance, each poem more expansive for the ones that precede and follow it. Conjunctions are not so much grammatical but conceptual, conjoining poems and events in space and time and mystery. Adjectives fall mute; the verbs and nouns ring . . .

at vespers

that rush of wings

from the belltower

A new book from anne mckay is good news. As with most of her previous books, this one is elegant and understated, pure white in paper, pure white in heart. Through it all shines nana, a constant once, but no longer. Only the eyes of a rockinghorse in that shadowed upper room continue to reflect her presence . . .

for one bright moment

the damselfly

impossibly blue