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Infinite Gradation

Review by Linda Rogers

Infinite Gradation
Anne Michaels
Exile Editions
2018, paper, 81p

Every holy moment deserves a liturgy, words on the page that capture fugitive moments. The pages in Anne Michaels’ Infinite Gradation are steps on a ladder, possibly crystal stairs, and the facets of transformation as body becomes spirit and present moment turns into memory.
Recognizing the infinite possibility of metaphor, the book cover is cuneiform: mother, tombstone, grave, a portal, the door that opens both ways in Chinese proverb to an order of service every grieving person deserves.

Grief is the absolute, memory the evidence as we seize the moments in art. Ultimately it is about about loss, but loss is never absolute. As the Beatles sang, “…lalalalalala life goes on.”

“We belong,” she writes, “where love finds us,” and that can be at any point in the line that defines a life without end, never too soon or too late. We are mostly water, and, just as the ocean adjusts and makes room for the arc of every intruder, as do we, for love, pain and loss, and, as certainly as space is occupied, so does it disappear when the moment passes and the swimmers, phenomenal and/or invisible, move on.

If you could take in that
unending movement, that light, the
moment water is replaced by water.
You knew there was an answer there.
In that infinite gradation.

Infinite gradation is diversity, change, transformation, the possibility in all matter and Michael’s poetic discourse allows the magic to occur in accessible language. This is plainsong, and it speaks to the mind and the heart without affectation, transcending the matrix of prosody, philosophy or aesthetics, becoming the rainbow.

What language can we have for the
Unknowable? What words for a mystery
Distinct from thought?

Ultimately, that leads us to silence, a moment that follows astonishing beauty, the pause at the end when the reader, the viewer and the listener experience a little death, where there is no listening, no act, just pure being, revelation, intimate knowledge.

For Michaels, art is illumination, one mystery after another revealed in paint or words or notes. Art transcends belief systems, the mind itself and becomes the higher reality. She chooses three creators: Etty Hillseum, for whom war became the crucible of conflicted meditation, Jack Chambers and Claire Wilks, painters seeking to transcend fugitive pigment, to demonstrate the valour and ultimate futility of art, each seeking to define the indefinable shadows on their walls, every struggle painful and sublime, all shadows are elusive as we dance with the paradigms.

Morality is muscle memory. Though the heart is a muscle that fails itself, we persevere because, like ants, we are programmed to carry the moral load and exhaust the possibility of enduring love, capturing the moments when water becomes light.

What we make of death, what art
Makes of death: love’s defiance

Love’s defiance is the game of mirrors as we bounce images off water. This is all about reflection, the way we meditate on archetypes that, although interpreted through the mutability of body and mind, remain fixed. “Love does not alter when it alteration finds.”

We are fortunate when writers, painters and composers demonstrate for us the semiotic variations, art for life’s sake, because in the end it is always about the chakra that rebukes aspiration and rewards goodness. Anne Michaels reminds us, through example and parable, of the meaning of life.

Linda Rogers’ recent book, Crow Jazz, Mother Tongue Publishing, is passerine elegies. The birds know.

This review first appeared in Pacific Rim Review of Books #24