Helen Robinson’s The Cold Moon Watching

First published in the Tanka Society of America Newsletter 5:1, March 2004, page 7.

 

The Cold Moon Watching by Helen Robinson. Privately published, 2002. 40 pages. Available from the author at Flat 4, 4 Sunnyside, Princes Park, Liverpool, L8 3TD, England (inquire about price).

 

The Cold Moon Watching by Helen Robinson, one of Britain’s top tanka poets, is a small, handmade, hand-tied chapbook of well-crafted confessional tanka. Nearly every one of the book’s eighteen poems contains the word “you.” Readers immediately wonder who the “you” is, and soon learn that it seems to be the poet’s estranged son:

 

holding at last

a photograph

of my son’s child:

a still morning,

summer rain

 

The understatedness of “at last” carries a great deal of weight, and we feel more and more of that weight as the book unfolds. The poems churn with darkness, angst, alienation, loss, departure, loneliness, coldness, maternal desire, and nostalgia. The book’s second poem speaks of unfulfilled hope (“I thought I saw you / walking along Hope Street”), and the penultimate poem suggests reconciliation (“watching you / walk towards me / how can I say / the tenderness I feel / or why it is”), but the last verse ends with loss—and indeed, loss and the difficulty of dealing with it is the book’s prevailing thrust. No wonder the author prefaces the poems by saying they were “born out of the highs and lows of [her] experience in 2001.” It is hard to find the highs in this book’s stirring sadness, except in the desire for reconciliation. Even if you do not directly identify with the poet’s situation, you are likely to be moved by the story’s telling—a story that is wisely only hinted at, obliquely, so we feel the loss without needing to know too many painful details. Helen Robinson’s The Cold Moon Watching is a recommended book, an understated collection that grows in power with each careful reading. Here are three sample poems:

 

soon I shall be wrapping

seasonal gifts:

this year, none for you.

the cold moon that watches me

watches you, in London, somewhere

 

a stranger’s clothes

recall for me

that beige pullover

you bought in spring:

first fall of leaves

 

after they’ve gone

finishing the wine

then missing you more

even than when

I was sober