Sapphire and the Hollow Bone: Poems by Diana Hayes packs a variety of forms, moods, and themes between its covers. The collection includes ghazals, prose poems, free verse, a pantoum, and a haiku sequence.
Sapphire and the Hollow Bone is divided into four sections. The first, “The Language of Light,” deals with loss, and coping with loss. A number of the poems are set at a hospice, and although the pain being dealt with is personal Hayes also speaks to shared experience. “Come to the Table” begins “Sharing bread and barley soup / in the hospice dining hall,” and goes on to note that not all of the patients are able to join the meal. One in particular is lost in dreams
one foot slow-walking between covers
the other not reaching the floor
soft eyes focused on faraway gardens
Near the end, the poem speaks of “pouring one more cup of mercy / for the long night ahead.”
“Vigil at Cottage Hospice” portrays a shared moment:
We both startled at the same moment—
a black-sleeved arm reached over to tap
my mother’s shoulder, then indicate the sky.
Keeping vigil, letting go, sensing the presence of those we have lost in the here-and-now, and the mysteries of life and death are hinted at in the poems in this section, which plumb the depths of grief but at the same time offer hope. “Sapphire and the Hollow Bone” alludes to
the light that weaves
and the weight of tears
“Amongst Imperishable Stars” expresses the yearning “ . . . to paint the years / by memory, not loss.”
Section II, titled “The Wild Absence of Time,” carries on with some of the same themes, but broadens into others. In this section, there are numerous references to the natural world, including herons, geese, mountains, flowers, and playful ravens. Once again, though some of the poems allude to personal losses, many of the phrases allow readers to make their own connections. “Speak to the Earth” advises:
will help you find
your way back
to the forest.
Speak to the earth.
“Twelve Haiku for the Great Blue Heron” includes the section:
all those years ago
she told me to wait, I watched
our twin silhouettes
“Planting Bulbs in Autumn” notes,
Today I plant Darwin hybrids
trowel deep in late autumn soil
easy with rain, tucked in for rest
the long sleep without dream.
“Swimming with Susan” is a powerful poem about an experience in the therapy pool with a child with “missing limbs / thalidomide stealing / them all away.” There are poems alluding to the pandemic also, including “Pandemic’s Pantoum” and “The Wild Absence of Time,” which begins
Down by the tawny marshlands
a day like all the others lost
unseasonable and overcast
a third summer of pandemic’s gloom
Part 3, “Equine Elegies,” takes on a different tone. This section contains seven prose poems that serve as elegies for horses. The poems depict, often in short, matter-of-fact sentences or almost dreamlike sequences, events (often tragic) “based on true narratives and on horses that were part of [the author’s] immediate or extended equine family.” Scenes are depicted with detail yet economy, as in this passage from “Amethyst”: “None of us spoke the way down. We arrived at the farm by dusk. Amy’s silver hide shone with sweat and the labour of our last mile taken at a lope.” Despite the starkness of some of the circumstances, there is subtle humor and irony here and there, as in the lines in “Allegra and Lewis,” “To say that the scene could not get worse would be misleading.”
Part IV, “Twenty-Two Ghazals for Phyllis Webb,” comes as advertised, offering 22 ghazals which include references to Phyllis Webb’s artwork. These poems have hymnal, almost chant-like quality. Though there are many evocative lines in this section, below are some of my favourites:
From “IX”: “Headstone pitted from ceaseless rain, his name erased. / November skies flood the fields with memory traps.”
How winter prepares us at the fire’s cenotaph.
Silent prayers, one branch at a time.
. . .
Time waits, not for the ragged, winter and all.
My sixtieth year, chimney smoke lingers down in the meadow’s arc.
From “XII”: “Love is perennial and will breed again. Mourn well. / Grief bathes the lungs. Broken hearts repair between beats.”
Just over 110 pages in length, Sapphire and the Hollow Bone provides plenty of reading pleasure, as well as a wide variety in tone and subject matter. Hayes’ poems left me ruminating about nature, loss, and life’s mysteries long after I’d put the book down.
Sapphire and the Hollow Bone, Diana Hayes
Ekstasis Editions, September 2023
ISBN: 978-1-77171-510-2 $23.95
Lisa Timpf is a retired HR and communications professional who lives in Simcoe, Ontario. Her writing has appeared in New Myths, Star*Line, The Future Fire, Triangulation: Habitats, and other venues. Lisa’s speculative haibun collection, In Days to Come, is available from Hiraeth Publishing. You can find out more about Lisa’s writing at http://lisatimpf.blogspot.com/.