by Tony King
by Bob Stallworthy
Frontenac House Poetry (2020)
Imagine life interrupted. Your whole world upended in an afternoon. The future is not just derailed, but in question.
November 19, 2013 Marilyn Stallworthy collapsed in a Calgary parking lot. A pulmonary embolism nearly ended her life. It did end life as she and husband Bob knew it.
Impact Statement is a veritable diary of the almost nine months that followed.
The intimate collection chronicles that gestation of a new way of life–from the disbelief to the despair of uncertainty, from the fear and rage, to hope and endearment. The poems progress from what if to what now.
This journey no-one would willingly undertake is visceral and tender, questioning and accepting. In the poem that gives its title to the book, Stallworthy writes
I could tell you I want it back…
all of it.
He keeps the thought to himself. It’s not a burden he wants Marilyn to shoulder.
Throughout, each new day is a small victory, the latest normal. That Afternoon, That Conversation, though, is reminder of the ever-present threat.
you said this is so hard…
I was begging you
not to change your mind
not to decide
with the undamaged part of your brain
that you had had enough
Some of the poems are spare, taut. Taken out of context they might even seem slight and inconsequential. Piled page-upon-page, they create a heart-breaking, heart-lifting meditation on what it means to be alive and share a life. Like Learning to Walk Again, it’s a long journey of tiny steps measuring “the days square by square across the floor.”
This emotional odyssey is no up-and-down rollercoaster, it’s a succession of hairpins with potential tragedy at every turn. There is no miracle cure, only the determination of two people to get through, together. Stallworthy places the reader on the phone with the hospital, alone with his thoughts, waiting for a Christmas miracle, dreading the hospital intercom, situations where mere words fail.
the hardest worries…are the ones in the shape of a heart
Edited by Governor General’s Award winner Richard Harrison (On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood), the phrasing is laser-precise. A cursory glance might suggest Impact Statement is too slim, too light. To paraphrase jazz great Miles Davis, it’s not the words that are written, it’s the spaces between–spaces where words and ideas breathe, resonate and focus. Echoing in those spaces is the precarious and precious nature of life itself.
Stallworthy’s poetry always seeks the universal in the highly personal. Of his five collections, Impact Statement is the most instensely personal and the most encompassingly universal.
Tony King is a Calgary writer and broadcaster.