by Heidi Greco
Inanna Publications, 2018
Practical Anxiety is a book of wonders and dreams, questions and calls to action, meditation, eulogy and prayer, sometimes with all of these elements acting at once. The title offers multiple meanings: there are anxieties about the practicalities of the everyday — bills, traffic, Jell-O sticking to the wall of a fridge; then there are more looming fears that are arguably practical to carry, practical as in necessary, like fearing for the disappearance of caribou and salmon, clean waters and forests. From religion, politics, class injustice and climate change to gender and relationships, ageing and housework, Heidi Greco dives into anxieties of different kinds, all with breathtaking results — breathtakingly beautiful and breathtaking like a panic attack.
While panic pulses throughout the collection, Greco gives us glimmers of hope, as in “Beatitudes for the 21st century,” where the spirits of recyclers “shall dwell in trees,” where the “sweet-natured . . . shall come back as bees.” There is also plenty of humour — “Truthfully, he looked like a bit of a goof. But a nice one,” says the speaker in the most lovable depiction of God I’ve ever encountered. In another poem a woman is irked by a comment from her partner and channels her rage into washing dishes, takes “solace from cutlery . . . considers the / relative uses of knives, wielders of final pronouncements.” This piece is an anthem I intend to display by my kitchen sink!
There are just a couple of spots where I could’ve used smoother transitions, but for the most part this collection is impeccable. The language used to describe the natural world is the perfect language with which to describe the writing itself: each word and its placement is like the salmon laying her eggs “in the secrecy of gravel,” each “private stone” carefully selected. As a reader I’m pulled into the poems’ pounding current, so that I too am swimming in a dream, “thrusting my body upward / hurling myself, stretching, / to climb the watery structure, / falling back again, / again, / again.” Greco’s voice is the moon she writes of, its “pale light a beacon to be learned,” with a “tone long and clear / cool and blue.” Her poems are “trees that rise / high as guiding stars, sprawling constellations to point the way.”
Greco rescues the text from preachiness by incriminating herself in some of the poems. She mourns for murdered trees “mashed to pulp for paper” to be used for “nothing more substantial / than flimsy words like these, light enough / to float on wind, disappear in a whim of flame.” She is gifted an African violet she “will surely kill by June.” Driving past a male hitchhiker who “should have his own car, his own stink of fuel,” her thoughts turn to roses in snow, cold “against that white, pink as lonesome thumbs.”
Impressive is the author’s attention to anxiety at different ages. There are childhood fears of sinister sugar plum fairies, mean butchers and schoolkids, then there are adults who keep their pantries overstocked for disasters. There’s “the brown-haired girl, sitting / in the toilet stall, looking / at the red mistake / smeared on her underpants” as well as the adult with “[p]inkest strains of maybe-blood in yesterday morning’s pee.” There is the woman who must bid her mother goodbye and the one who studies older bodies in the pool’s change room, coming to recognize different surgical scars, copies the women’s careful movements, “these subtle choreographies.” Nightmares have no age limit, they continue in images of polar bears like fish, “swarming in a sea gone soupy warm,” “swirls of purple starfish / adorned with too many arms, crabs who run insane / as if their heads have been chopped off, / churning spirals of ever-tightening circles.” A nursery rhyme tails a salmon’s journey to estuary, “where river meets the sea / and ocean rises, rinsing itself, merging wet worlds.”
Practical or not, anxiety’s never looked so gorgeous. »From issue #83