LorraineGane poet, writer, teacher, editor, writing/creativity coach


BC BookWorld, SPRING 2021

Arc of Light by Lorraine Gane (Raven Chapbooks $20)

“They say I don’t have long to live,” Lorraine Gane’s mother tells her in the poem Death Dream about the start of a long conversation her mother, Mary begins near the end of her life.

“What can you say to the voice of death,” Gane wonders, which is answered with “I love you and a hug,” before her mother “sits down to cereal, milk, and her seven morning pills.”

Gane’s collection of poems, Arc of Light, an elegy to her mother, is bound together in an exquisitely produced chapbook by Salt Spring Island-based Raven Chapbooks. At times emotive, Gane’s writing is elegantly minimal and brutally honest.

We learn that Gane’s mother came to Canada as a poor emigre from Eastern Europe in The Girl from Poland. “Despite the strangeness of it all, you were happy,” writes Gane. When her mother comes of age, she marries at 23 and hides the “little girl” inside her heart along with “all her hopes that blossomed and withered there.”

Inevitably, end-of-life stories include bad health — in this case a stroke. While visiting her mother in the hospital, Gane is alarmed when Mary points at the window and says, “Look at that reindeer.” At first Gane doesn’t see the reindeer. Then, Gane bends down so that her face is next to her mother’s and sees etched in the glass, “a small figure with antlers flying into the light blue sky.” Her mother is relieved that Gane can also see the figure. “I’m glad, you say. I didn’t want you to think I was seeing things,” writes Gane of her mother’s response.

Back and forth between home and the hospital, Gane engages with her mother. Some of these moments are set against metaphors of animals as in The White Heron in which Gane watches a heron and its hatchling “lift off together” and “vanish into the blue air.”

Gane describes her mother’s last breath: “a final wisp of air that disappears into the silence she becomes.”

The final poem, which gives the book its title, is about a photo of her dead mother’s body in a bed over which Gane sees a white arc floating above. “Yesterday I looked at the photo again five years after her death,” writes Gane. “The arc was still floating above her — all softness and light.”


Arc of Light

Review by Wendy Donawa

In this loving and light-filled elegy to her mother, Saltspring Island poet Lorraine Gane evokes a painful stage that mid-life children of ailing parents will recognize.  It is a complex grief, letting go of parents as protectors, moving into acceptance of inevitable loss, and of their own place, parentless, now on the front lines of mortality.

The first few poems sketch the early life of Gane’s mother. Coming from Poland as a five-year-old, she settles into a working class life of hard work and an early marriage with “hopes that blossomed and withered”. But she is also energetic, no-nonsense, and a good protector of her children in a wild storm that thunders and floods as she cranks up the solar radio: “here we are safe in the dark”.  Unsentimental and with wry humour, years later the poet recalls bringing her mother home after a seven-course wedding dinner, which she throws up, in the bushes, in a kitchen pail, in the bathroom, until after midnight.

The remaining poems chart the mother’s decline, and the narrator’s difficult acceptance of that journey.  The mother’s dreams fill with omens; the daughter wonders, “What can you say to the voice of death?” The evanescent beauty of a heron blazing into the sun vanishes; mother and daughter speak of death as the day “unfolds into /the deep hues of evenings, our breath/ taking us there”. A crescendo of unfortunate events follows: falls and injuries, a stroke.

Yet the beauty of the natural world is ever present; doubtless Saltspring’s stunning landscapes assist Gane’s braiding of light and dark, life and death. Waiting for daybreak to leave for the hospital, she watches winter sun “lift its bright head over/the edge of trees and snow-covered houses/flooding the ravine and its dark water /below with golden light.” Finally leaving the hospital, the indomitable mother finds “the dazzling world once again/full of possibility.”

But her journey ends as it must; her last breaths “the wings of small birds/fluttering in the depths of her heart/as though seeking their release.” The grieving daughter is left with memories, souvenirs, cabbage roll recipes, and the scent of long-dead bedside roses.  Painful separation for the bereaved, “half in this world, half in the other.” She finds and buries a dead bird, with a blessing “as a familiar ache in my heart opens”, but days later, birdsong “rings through the forest, the song clear and boundless.” She finds a fawn’s body, drowned in a pool, and “the black blossom of another death opened through/my body”, but then sees “the water’s dark glass” reflecting a sky “lit with iridescent blues”.

The final poem finds her tranquil and accepting, comforted by the image of a luminous white arc floating over her mother’s body, “all softness and light.”

Wendy Donawa is the author of Thin Air of the Knowable


Beauty and Beyond: Songs of Small Mercies, reviewed by Tanya Lester in Prairie Fire, February, 2013


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