Published in 2012 by Nightwood Editions, Wedding in Fire Country was a surprise hit for me. I picked it up for a friend’s birthday, and before giving it to him I read a couple of pieces. I was hooked. I gave it to him with a ringing endorsement. He claims it’s his favourite book I’ve given him, after George Murray’s Whiteout.
Wedding in Fire Country opens with Prometheus. We are challenged to reconsider what we think we know – perhaps the discovery of fire was an accident, he was there for something else, and made a mistake. The poem concludes with the line “like a dynamite wick / history’s cord was lit“ which I think is a fabulous was to set up a book. We have now a suspicion of the common knowledge, a reason to doubt what’s been told to us.
We move onto a series of poems called Letters to Milosz. Bifford pens nine poems, nine letters, to Czeslaw Milosz, asking him questions and looking to the past for some sort of wisdom. I’ve chosen my favourite line from each of the series.
What isn’t here for you Milosz? Either
we despair or we forget about it. Forget about it.
We’re either together like that, identical under
roaming stars and suns, or there’s that hole
and nothing, still that hole and nothing
Before this game of pretend turns to nightmare
let me at least remember a few things about horses.
Take my glasses I’ll go bold
and blind. Run all the days to come. Now move on,
I mutter. More? I take the rings from my fingers
I take my hands.
Let me count up the quantity of your refusals
and subtract from the sum of the things we share
under the bodies, under the bombed city
of Warsaw, worth resurrection?
I wonder about that night, whether he’s bored
under those stars, and the moon no metaphor
but charred rock.
Consider those fields
and rivers, you say. Listen. O what about them?
People are astonished. Everything around
them is rotting in front of their eyes. Rotten wood
Water is exchanged for rapids.
(and rapids for all things).
This series is a set of questions and possibilities and juxtapositions we remain ever unqualified to answer or solve. There is little room for grey area in these poems, the reader comes away desiring a stark answer, a clear way out. Czeslaw Milosz spent a life in exile, and Bifford examines exile, and greed, and the hunger of a mind able to survive that.
We move on to Crow Killer, “a beautiful girl once confessed / she killed a crow“. We pair beauty with murder here, as well as guilt and revenge. The crow’s mate follows the girl the rest of her life, always on the edge of things, waiting.
My favourite of the book’s offerings is a set of three poems exploring the romance of Dewey Dell (of As I Lay Dying) and Paul the apostle. This is the highlight of Wedding in Fire Country. Again I’ll share a few lines from each in the series.
Who’ll remember your hands, Saul?
Why don’t that rent me in two?
I’ll hear your horses & go dragged over rocks.
But when you slept sometimes a fever would shake
inside you like you held a great unrest of the sea
and your body seems a poor dam & broke
I watched you birth pools around me, flood
sudden forests, pines; glut the valley & small rivers
O what have I been to be here? What final
fate buttresses me from behind
shoves me like a bodycheck off roof
tops, over these high jagged rocks here?
I enjoy the voice in these poems, it’s very distinct, and pulls you into the narratives of these unfortunate lovers. I also liked the use of Paul’s previous name, Saul, as I think it added an intimacy to the relationship we witness.
Later, Nietzsche’s writings are dissected as well as his worship – “a boy playing / king of his own castle while the business / of the official world carries on around him.”
Summerland, as well as other pieces, tell of girls and horses and the complexity of loving both and neither at the same time.
Wedding in Fire Country is a book built on re-imaginings. From Prometheus to Paul the Apostle we explore the terrifying and mundane. In the quiet poems of My Family and Freedom of the Will we discover the simple joys and losses shared between two people. We contain multitudes, and Bifford rearranges us to be stranger or simpler than our assumptions.