Constantly I hear that we need to make time to ponder our reality and at least consider the state of the world we are in. But to find the time to sit and reflect is at a premium. Then something occurs in our lives that forces ourselves into a state of shock to dwell on ‘the meaning of life.’ Catherine Graham has been a writer I have enjoyed for years. And I knew for months on had that she had a work coming out with the imagery-rich title The Celery Forest. So I gleefully purchased my copy of her book when I saw it and raced over to meet her to get her to sign it for me. But when I walked away from that signing session and read the phrase on the back of book “this is the topsy-turvy world she found herself in after learning she had breast cancer,” I knew this was a volume that I needed to find time to carefully read with deep consideration. So I waited impatiently to enter Graham’s Celery Forest until I had the time to reflect on the sights and sounds I would witness there. And the journey in there was truly an enlightening one.
Interrogation in the Celery Forest (Page 1)
We shoulder it onto the slab.
It squirms. Water. Electric-white
Raindrops fast into absence.
No bridge as believable as all this.
Pliers were used. And absence.
A heart – skewered through skeins
of red nets and milk from some aimless
animal on the drowning cloth.
Now, intruder, bird`s-eye, pip,
you must answer.
Cancer seems to vaulting us into states of shock all the time. It afflicts friends and loved ones and we really never seem to be prepared to deal with it. And while there may be a technical definition to the disease, truly understanding what people go through when it hits them only really can be understood through the works of literature. Graham has given insight to her experience with cancer by creating this ‘forest’ and allowing us to witness the sights and sounds there. There is a hodgepodge of images and emotions which require careful reading (I admit to mouthing certain phrases to truly understanding their meanings) but by documenting her thoughts here, Graham has given us something to at least ‘get a grip’ when cancer throws us into a reflective state.
Owl in the Celery Forest (Page 24)
Owl, you never asked to be wise
or a companion to the witch.
Fly in for the scurry – vole, field mouse,
creatures with eyes scuttling through grass,
Then pluck the tumour out of my breast
with you sharp, curved talons –
let the only thing that spreads be your wings.
There is a collection of opposites in Graham’s forest. There is angst but there is joy. There is some darkness but there is some light. There is urgency but there are moments to enjoy nature. There is some ugliness but there is also much beauty. We adults may have matured beyond the understanding that our stories don’t close with a ‘happy-ever-after’ ending but Graham does show some enchantment of life with it’s continued existence.
Fireflies (Page 49)
Little green fires that do not burn,
yet blink and float
outside the cottage window
into Christmas trees.
When you returned
as a firefly, I heard
what happened –
your winking battery
broken because you merely
grew in size.
Jealous of Dad`s sighting,
not knowing you would appear
decades later as pure
waves the moment I broke
free from anaesthesia’s grip.
After reading Catherine Graham’s The Celery Forest, I realized my act of getting her to sign my copy of her book was not a flippant act, but one of my craving for a enlightened understanding of the human condition. Graham’s bold and detailed exploration of ‘the forest’ certainly enlightened me. And this book will hold a special place in my library.