The Broken Face: A Review by Marvelyn Rowe Bucky

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  • June 16, 2020

In award-winning Canadian poet Russell Thornton’s The Broken Face, he expertly intertwines themes of memory and place with the metaphysical and natural world, often through deeply personal portraits of his own family and experiences.  In “Sirens” the speaker’s tiny son is excited by the sound of a fire truck blaring below their apartment window: “wild attention in his eyes, / he points, utters his urgent not-yet words” while “firefighters jump to the curb / in their boots, helmets, goggles, hooks and ropes.”  

Yet this is not merely a description of what the small child sees, as Thornton simultaneously reveals the father’s silent panic, instantly knowing what these sounds signify:  “I am no brave, strong, wise Odysseus [. . . .] in the street is no alluring high song [. . . .] our building a roar of flames, no escape.” In this terrifying scene, Thornton poignantly demonstrates the father’s outer calm: “I hold my son so he will not fall” and “kiss him, breathe in the miracle smell of his hair, his skin.” 

At the end of the poem, Thornton furthers the allusion to Homer’s hero fighting the destructive mythical sirens, tying together a collage of images, which creates a tapestry with his words:

the sirens’ sounds
swirl closer, louder, louder now, terrible—
he and I act as a ship’s mast that holds
a sail that fills with wind and steadies us
on the sea waves winding around the world. [1]

In these lines, Thornton masterfully takes us from images of an innocent child enamored with the sounds of fire truck sirens, to the worry experienced by adults listening to the plaintive wailing, to the epic hero’s journey in the Odyssey.  Despite the father’s fear, he holds his son close and keeps him safe, as if steering a ship through rough waters in order to safely return home to his long-awaited loved ones.  

The craftsmanship of Thornton’s language is evident throughout The Broken Face.  The architecture of his words evokes moving moments of life growing up in North Vancouver, as well as his return as an adult with his own family, inviting readers to feel the searing power of human experience, profoundly linked through our past, present, future, making us feel more alive and connected with each other.

The Broken Face is available for purchase at Harbour Publishing


Notes
[1]  “Sirens”, p. 60