Domanski, Don Rusu
DOMANSKI, Don Rusu
Nationality: Canadian. Born: Sydney, Nova Scotia, 29 April 1950. Family: Married Mary M. Meidell in 1969. Awards: Canadian Literary award, 1999.
The Cape Breton Book of the Dead. Toronto, House of Anansi Press, 1975.
Heaven. Toronto, House of Anansi Press, 1978.
War in an Empty House. Toronto, House of Anansi Press, 1982.
Hammerstroke. Toronto, House of Anansi Press, 1986.
Wolf-Ladder. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1991.
Stations of the Left Hand. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1994.
Parish of the Physic Moon. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1998.* * *
Uniquely among Canadian poets, Don Domanski puts surrealism at the service of meditation. His poems typically dwell in the midst of dream, sleep, night, and shadow, and they are marked by spare punctuation, smooth cadences, and quietly aphoristic endings. The effect is that of some mystical vade mecum or atlas of the spirit.
The devices and imagistic apparatus remain traditional. Domanski is especially fond, for example, of insects and spiders. In "A Spider Standing Nude before a Mirror," from Hammerstroke, the feminine subject
… was made in the shape of Rome
that city of spiders and the gods of spiders
and the spidery light of dead things
drifting down to paradise
Indebted to surrealism as it is, Domanski's work does not display the wild scribblings of the unconscious, even though at times he is guilty of overreaching, as in "Necropolis" from his first collection, The Cape Breton Book of the Dead: "the rat's stomach is opened to the stars / a nebula placed in its bowel." Usually, however, his poems are descriptively apposite, and they are sometimes anchored to actual places. In "A Town of Weights," from Hammerstroke, he writes of Wolfville, Nova Scotia:
last night the souls of the dead
were thrown back into their bodies
and allowed to fly one more time
around the town
their eyes rouged with roses
their feet painted with ale
Moreover, Domanski's version of surrealism is inflected with implied moral values. In "The Farm at Four A.M."
in the barn there are
two hogs hanging
from black ropes in the air
they are the old weights
the old judgments against us
Likewise, in "Flies," from The Cape Breton Book of the Dead, he observes that
they arrive with a talent like men
for carrying their purpose to its extreme
Domanski's style and preoccupations have altered little since his first book. In it are found the flashes of wit that recur in subsequent collections. In "Old Women" he notes that
only the wedding ring or the coffin
bring them together like this
to share a darkening room
Only these two objects
flush them out of the tall grass
where they hide (drowned sparrows)
from the rock and the tom cat
Domanski often concerns himself with dystopias, utopias, deities, and visible and invisible cities. In "Bat Song," from Heaven, he says that "among the emplacement of stars / heaven dreams its amorous skin." Always present are the timeless processes of transformation, often seen through the vehicle of dreams. In "Dreamtime," from War in an Empty House, he says that
in sleep there are many diners
where Cathars drink the coffee your mother
made for you twenty years before
In "Close of Day," from Hammerstroke, he describes how a woman
… turns a square knob
on the radio
and instantly the apples
darken in their bowl
Domanski's poems are never explicitly autobiographical, and Parish of the Physic Moon, his 1998 collection, exhibits not his personal, individual self as a universal Self that encompasses everyone. When the poet uses the first person, it is the mystical "I," at once everyone and no one. A consequence is that his poems often have great beauty but a certain interchangeability, even monotony, although this is relieved at moments by marvelously right images, as in "Writing," the book's opening poem:
in vacant office towers
across town elevators are stables where horses and hay
are lowered slowly to the Underworld
cables surrounded by a pause in this poem
allow for their descent.
Domanski puts strong emotions—grief, anger, joy—in his work, but they are woven into a cosmological tapestry of life, death, and eternity. The following lines are from "Sleep's Ova":
I was born because millions of years ago communities
grew out of ponds because ponds need a way to
because I'm always saying goodbye and so are you
In "Child of the Earth," the book's last poem, Domanski sums up his vision of the self, first noting that
so many selves make up the nightly routine so many
fall with the snow upon, drown in the wintry sea
but concluding that the wind will
blow your particles into empty space
O empty space this is the selfall worlds the single place.