Whispering secrets in bed-sheet forts, public transit proclamations, plucking wisdom from philosopher baristas and unruly uncles, Kayla Czaga’s poetry subverts the analytical brain to access a deeper insight using concrete language and endearing vulnerability. For Your Safety Please Hold On is a masterful debut from a Canadian poet that manages to be both frighteningly personal and painfully relatable.
For Your Safety is categorized into five sections, starting with the nostalgic Mother and Father, then moving on to The Family, For Play, and ending with the earnest For Your Safety Please Hold On, and the all-encompassing Many Metaphorical Birds. The themed sections never feel restrictive as each poem’s unique message reaches far beyond its context.
Czaga’s poems are soaked in an infectious zeal that makes every word vital and each page necessary. An easy wit permeates the book, a wit that blooms into a barely stifled rascal-glee in The Family poems such as “The Drunk Uncle”: “Late to your wedding in an alligator tuxedo,/ he staggers straight into the open bar. Resurfaces/ for his too-loud lecture on the hullabaloo/ of marriage. And he’d know from his three, all great ladies, mind you.”
Czaga doesn’t simply settle on humor, nor does she rely on her mastery of language or other entertainments (although her poetry is undoubtedly entertaining); she pushes deeper, past superficial wisdom and easy epiphanies, hounding the bone of each poem to crack it open and find its marrow. “In China, workers weave through fields/ pulling paintbrushes across crops/ for pollination, all the bees gone, fallen/ onto sidewalks, a billion yellow blossoms/ underfoot.”
Much of For Your Safety wrestles underlying themes of loss and time. It’s hard to say whether the book ever comes close to concluding or answering these persistent existential questions, but that should be expected, and Czaga makes no direct attempt at any explanations. Instead, she uses honesty and tactile sensory experiences to elicit a deep-rooted and primal understanding that is otherwise lost in translation.
“That time from a provincial park I stole / wild lilac with my mother and gardened it / into the backyard. Those times into her arms/ made of fabric softener I ran, my skirt / flapping in the breeze. The time we drove/ for sandwiches together to the next town / over with the radio and windows open. / The time she bought me a fairy journal / in Great Falls, Montana. The private time / we fled to the movies to escape family / reunion time. All that time before the time / she started dying, how there was less / of it and somehow more than enough. / Now there’s not enough and too much / sitting in doctors offices with expired / magazines. How hard it is to move through. / How over it my mother is crumbling. / Time’s a drag and with it drags the light, / the lilac blossoms into lilac dust. But how / lovely the lilac vanishing in the low dusk, / the petals deadlining all over the lawn.”
In this poem titled “Wild Lilac,” the theme of time is omnipotent. The word is repeated throughout, never letting us forget its weighty power, and it has an effect on the poems narrative as we witness the literal decay of her mother into dust, and one step further, time has an effect on the poems form and syntax as well. Notice the youthful blossom of language in the opening, “those times into her arms / made of fabric softener I ran,” the wilt of the centre, “all that time before the time / she started dying,” and the dust of the end, “time’s a drag and with it drags the light / the lilac blossoms and lilac dust.” The poem itself is bound, like a flower or all of existence, by the cycle of time.
The poem’s language-play suggests a malleability to time that we are aware of but cannot comprehend, “how there was less / of it and somehow more than enough. / Now there’s not enough and too much.” Time may be more viscous than rigid, but it will always continue flowing powerfully downstream.
“How hard it is to move through,” Czaga proclaims. This line illuminates the contest humanity plays to continue in a coordinated effort, to struggle, to strive for something that’s already disappearing, to flounder or flourish, according to your disposition, but to always fight towards no end other than dust, or the eventual dust of dust and blackness.
These difficult thoughts are always more apparent when someone we know and love is decaying before our eyes. “How over it my mother is crumbling.” Czaga intentionally keeps this sentence uninhibited by commas or line breaks, so we are left swallowing it whole and wondering whether her intention was for us to read it “How over it my mother is, crumbling,” or, “How over it, my mother is crumbling.” But the decision isn’t important, because now we’ve interpreted both and that’s the point.
Either way, the mother is still crumbling, just like us, but that’s okay. It’s a cycle, and like all cycles there is a beginning and an end. Like wild lilac we bloom from the dirt of so many crumpled flowers, inevitably sinking back to where we once came, but the sun felt good and the breeze smelt fine, like warm pine and pollen.
Kayla Czaga has created a book that is formed around this same cycle of time, with an early blossom in Mother And Father, growing throughout the remaining four sections from youth to adulthood, transitioning into a full arching bloom. For Your Safety Please Hold On is a poignant and profound book of poems that gets better with multiple reads, and Kayla Czaga is an exciting and impassioned new voice in Canadian poetry, reminding us that although life is uncertain and strange, we should hold on, if for nothing else than to read more poetry.
“[L]ilac blossoms into lilac dust. But how / lovely the lilac vanishing in the low dusk, / the petals deadlining all over the lawn.”