Your teenaged self arrives at your door one morning. Like in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the boy has come to guide you on a journey through your past, yes, but this is somehow different. The boy is as amazed by the present as he is knowing of the past. It is the path the speaker travels with this, his younger self, that is the narrative of David Zieroth’s engaging long poem The Village of Sliding Time.
Zieroth, the former editor of Event Magazine, was raised in rural Manitoba, and currently resides in North Vancouver. It is within these two locales that Zieroth fixes his story, as they are the landscapes of his past and his present. Though a poem of sixty pages, the spacing of the poem, combined with Zieroth’s accessible language and enthusiastic pacing, make for a quick read. Fortunately, The Village of Sliding Time is a book that deserves to be read and savoured often.
Like any poem about the remembering of a life, the narrative of The Village of Sliding Timeis interlaced with allusions to life’s bookends of birth and death: feet like “the bent curved feet/ of the old, the small boneless / limbs of babies…” (18), a boy “called home / through the stony pasture” (28), a “wet sack / of kittens…” (32). The long poem that comprises almost the entirety of the book is, itself, bookended by two poems, “How I Came To Be” and “Had I Stayed on the Farm,” which explore the birth and (imagined) death of the author, and help to further situate The Village of Sliding Time at the delicate balancing point between creation and destruction.
Perhaps it is this awareness of the fragility of life that spurs the author to recount his childhood and youth at a dizzying pace. Using clear language, the poem truly does slide between lines and stanzas, each image spilling into the next. For these are true memories, often brief and incomplete, names and places piling on top of one another in what seems to be a tangled mess. But then come the moments of transcendence and clarity, those crisp moments of childhood: trips to the beach, train rides, snowstorms. Moments that stick in the mind and demand attention. At these places the speaker slows, the descriptions become more detailed and passionate. It is clear here that memory is no egalitarian — it picks favourites — and when its favourites are this pleasurable, this bold and rich, who can complain?
Near the end of the poem the author takes over the role of tour guide, leading his younger self through modern, cosmopolitan Vancouver, a world as chaotic and wondrous as the speaker’s own nest of memories. The poem, then, is projected into the present and, ultimately, the future. Through this, hints of what it means to be human, to remember and to create, emerge:
I can tell the boy has seen death
on his own, it is not death
that will separate him from me
when I die
will he die too
maybe a minute later
and becoming me
one last little
flowing back and forth…
As the poem closes, we, as readers, are left much like the boy at the opening of the poem: both knowing and amazed, ready for the journey.