Rain Shadow

by Nicholas Bradley

University of Alberta Press, 2018. $19.95


ReviewED by Amy Clark

I lived in the Pacific Northwest for a couple of years in between academic pursuits, and though I am in love with the Northwoods of Minnesota that I now call home, I still miss those jaggedly rainy days where no thunder ever struck nor lightning threatened surrounding trees that could easily smash my Prius. So I feel lucky to revisit some of those landscapes in Rain Shadow, a poetry collection by Nicholas Bradley, who hails from the breathtaking coast of British Columbia. 

Told in four parts, the collection centers thematically around the way humans move through, connect to, and are ultimately alien from our surrounding landscapes. As in the first poem, “The Same Mountain Twice,” which ends with a compelling draw into the rest of the collection: 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . I’m neither

mountain nor monument. Your heart

traps mine as summits catch storms. Call

this calm the rain shadow. What will

remain? Zero moves through all things. 

The poet’s haunting voice floats through existential thoughts, alternating between the abstract and the visceral: such as scraping one’s skin wide open while climbing a sheer granite rock face. And mountains are the dominant landscape described - intimidating, yet beautiful - reminding the reader of our own mortality, which the author often ponders himself in "Late August, Nesakwatch Spires": 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . If this landscape

doesn’t get us, it’ll be the flu or

the bus when I forget to look both ways.

Shit, shit. The world hates us sublimely

and both desperado and homebody

should hear the creaking door, the ticking clock.

In a time when the effects of climate change ravage our natural landscapes and the disconnect between citizen and cosmos seems ever widening, the poems are prescient. Although the poems never deal with these issues directly, the final section comes close - and Bradley sketches scenes ever on the edge of disaster, where all life is precious and profound, and rests in the shadow where little rain falls and true growth is a struggle, not to be taken for granted.