Emma's Dead


91 pages
ISBN 0-919897-31-2
DDC C811'.54





Reviewed by Chris Knight

Chris Knight is a copy editor at Canadian Press.


It is difficult enough to lose memory through the usual mechanisms of
time and distance; how much harder it must be to have memory dragged
from you by a disease such as Alzheimer’s.

Carol Malyon’s poignant volume explores this tragedy in a series of
connected poems about Emma and her daughter Karen. A chronological twist
lets the reader enter the book at Emma’s death, seen through Karen’s
eyes. As the brief, childlike poems roll past with the cadence of a
hopscotch chant, Emma grows younger and more whole, until Karen is not
even born.

The book continues back to Emma’s own birth, but loses something in
these later poems, which rely more on the narrator than on Karen for
observation. There is a personal tenderness when Karen speaks, as in one
poem (they are all untitled) that reads: “... listen momma / there is
something i can’t tell you / trees keep whispering your soft name /
momma / how could i tell you / inside my belly / a child is humming / is
calling to me / with your name / momma / momma.”

There are photographs in the poems—photographs lost, ripped up,
cherished, and sometimes forgotten. It is not the most unlikely symbol
of memory, but it is interwoven with images of food, scenes near water,
and meditations on what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a
grandmother. Except for some plodding poems of Emma’s class pictures
in various grades, a refreshing movement swirls the reader through each
of these themes and away again.

Ultimately, there could be a little more depth to the tale, if
necessary at the cost of some of the distance traveled past Karen’s
birth. But the human scale of loss of life and memory is carried well.
And the reversed structure shows that just as loss and death are a
necessary part of birth and growth, the reverse is also true.


Malyon, Carol., “Emma's Dead,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/13364.