five apparitions are building a moth in the dark
they are nailing wings to fog wings to white powder
they are mixing milk and sulphur in an iron bowl
for its heart they have made the sound of a carousel
coming to a full stop
for its lungs they have made the sound of a train
filling with snow
in one stone they’ve found enough language
in one shadow enough thought
they are building a small evil in the dark
a blood drop a flake of dry skin
a demon with a shawl of fine lace
sewn into its back
not the amount of evil a man has
but the evil contained in a blade of grass
a real evil
a moth flying out of a sparrow’s throat
and into the evening air
Don Domanski, “Devildom”
from “Hammerstroke”, 1986
To read Don Domanski’s poem, Devildom, about an evil as elusive as fog, an evil made of wings and white powder, stops us short. The poem takes on a topicality we don’t generally look for from Domanski, also the author of The Cape Breton Book of the Dead; he is more rooted in the metaphysical realm than in the daily news. Domanski examines evil here, as part of the fabric of the real, as the yin-yang dance partner of good.
In Devildom, evil is built into the world, not in a single moment of creation, but continuously, and on a modest scale.
Why a moth? Perhaps precisely because it’s so small and fragile. But there is also the imagery of the Death’s Head Moth, the “fine lace shawl” on its back revealing a skull. That a harmless creature should fly through the world tattooed like a bottle of poison may be Nature’s version of irony.
Don Domanski has been fortunate to be blessed with a few canny critics. He’s been called a seer and a necromancer of words, “a cross between Robert Bly, Ted Hughes, and the Brothers Grimm,” and the poems have been variously described as “earthy and astral, dark and buoyant,” “half fairytale and half flesh.” There is something consistent in these descriptions; they indicate the marriage of opposites stirring at the core of his poetry, what one critic has called “the struggle to bring the cosmos and its citizens to us whole”.
Domanski’s poetry, when read with attention and openness, traverses the ordinary and the extraordinary, illuminating both. He takes our daily objects and experiences, and by carefully relating them to each other, in unexpected contexts, transforms our entire version of reality. But this isn’t magic. It’s metaphor.
Rilke’s poem, The Reader, captures the uncanny way words on a page can create a world so rich and involving it’s like experiencing an alternate reality. Domanski’s work is intimate too; many of his poems arise from his observations while, say, walking by a river or driving through a downpour at night; everything from fireflies and bats to sea turtles and clouds engage his meditative curiosity.
Don Domanski was born and raised on Cape Breton Island and now lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has published eight books of poetry. Two of his books (Wolf Ladder, 1991, and Stations of the Left Hand, 1994) were short-listed for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry. In 1999 he won the Canadian Literary Award for Poetry.