When most of us think of death we think of pain, loss and separation from the people we love. For us there is a huge chasm between death and life, a gulf that cannot be bridged. Rachel Manley has invited us to share her perception of death in her book of poems A Light Left On. Throughout her poems she alludes to the edge that exists between death and life. ‘I am here at the nerve’s edge/where old testaments roll in like waves and break.’ She speaks of death as if it were an integral part of nature and life. Death is personified in: ‘Don’t turn back at the garden gate;/It’s late, the afternoon is tired and waits to take you home’. Throughout the book, death is described variously as ‘sleep’, ‘the last line of the page’, ‘men in dark coats’ who ‘stand masterly at the edge of the forest’.

Those who have experienced the loss of a loved one will find comfort from the soothing and gentle language she uses. Her writing exudes the oneness she experiences with nature: ‘The hills stretch olympic across the sky:/ the wind is the will who bends the elbows of the trees;/beats my soul into peace.’ There is no distinction between man and nature, death and life. At times her thoughts are expressed in seemingly abstract language: ‘An ancient supplication hurled against the sky,/a mountain unarranged;/urged by the subterranean murmur of its soul.’ Her thoughts are complex and intricate and yet her message comes through loud and clear. She wants to tell us that we should not mourn death for ‘parting is only the marking of a book’s page to which you will return: the gate remains shut but not locked at the edge of memory.’

The collection contains poems dedicated to her grandmother, Edna Manley, Gabriel Marquez and Bob Marley among others. She pays tribute to those she has loved and lost.

Rachel Manley has published two previous collections of poetry: Prisms (1972) and Poems Two (1981). She grew up in Jamaica and now lives in Canada.

Dawn Osborne-Baker
Sunday Gleaner