The Beauty of the Cycles between Grief and Joy | Review of “Cantos From A Small Room” by Robert Hilles (1993) Wolsak and Wynn


Thank you to Wolsak and Wynn for making this book available to me at the 2014 Toronto Word on the Street festival

We tend to think of life as a linear construct. We laugh, we cry, we sleep, continue. But do we take the time to seriously look at the cycle that is life? One work of beautifully crafted poetry has me carefully considering life in general and that is Cantos From A Small Room by Robert Hilles.

Canto 7: There Are No Accidents Between Lovers (Excerpt -Page 26)

I turned away and did not speak but

listened to your voice waver as

your mother’s final breath passed.

We waited all day knowing that it would be

soon tomorrow or the day after but soon

and still it was too quick as if suddenly

a switch had been thrown somewhere.

Both of us wanted her to stand up to walk over

to where we were sitting and put her

arms around us as she has often done

in the past. But we knew that the past

is a fragrance that could not reach into her room.

Looking at her closed eyes I wondered if

where she dreamed there was

a bird singing outside her window.

After she died, I gripped your hand and

saw that in death even music falters.

There are some well-crafted thoughts here. Hilles has pondered some serious moments of his life and – in turn – listed some important elements of the human condition. It was a pleasure to read this and consider moments out of my own life.

Canto 10: Canto For The Dead (Except Page 36)

Does it matter that you are not strong that even

as a child you could not look at death without

being caught in its delicate stare? Does it matter

that your thighs sing in the morning and do not move

but rest beneath the covers?

Your fist is strong but shatters nothing lands

on your own knee. Crazy, you are listening to the world

hiss in the throat of a lover. Listen to the kindness

you have left behind its long dress hanging in a

window down the street. A bird laughs by your window,

as illogical and true as that may sound, you laugh too

walk across the street and tear a daffodil out of the ground.

Softly you begin to tear the skin from your eyes

begin to peel the scales from your tongue.

You are prepared to enter any graveyard and listen.

Death the act of hearing a bird laugh at your window

the blinds hiding its face a tanager or a swallow

it’s not important as you look at your hands and smile.

It is important to carefully read and re-read passages in this book. This is one of these works that needs to be pondered and considered. A quiet corner with a few hours to spare makes reading these words worthwhile.

Combs (Excerpt -page 60)

You comb your hair and

this dark room is filled

with splashes of static.

My body is shaped

by your hair and I listen

as you sigh into the mirror

and escape in it to another room

one larger than this where

the moonlight strips the sheets

from the bed and children whisper

their fears at the door.

My hands tremble as

they reach across to you

feeling your soft tongue moisten

them. Our bodies continue

to praise each other even as we

sleep our lives equipped with

different dreams and it is dangerous

to anticipate another’s plummet

into the world alone.

Cantos From A Small Room by Robert Hilles is a well-crafted work which gave me pause to reconsider the human condition.  His thoughts are profound and carefully considered. A pleasure to read and re-read.


Link to Robert Hilles WordPress site

Link to Wolsak and Wynn’s page for Cantos From A Small Room

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