True North by Jody Aliesan

Review by Tom KappelTrue North by Jody Aliesan

by Jody Aliesan

Blue Begonia Press
225 South 15th Avenue
Yakima, WA 98902
ISBN: 10: 0-911287-58-2
186 pp, 2007 $18.00

The President of Blue Begonia Press, Inc, Jim Bodeen, in a letter included with the review copy of True North: Nord Vrai, by Jody Aliesan, opened with a first line that was a centered and bolded pull-quote from the book’s “Preambule: to synchronize our watching,” which states, “We don’t have a choice in the matter. The dark matter.” The next sentence is as follows: “Taking the next step in a lifetime of activism, poet Jody Aliesan left the United States for Canada after the invasion of Iraq. ‘Love it or leave it,’ they said, ‘so I did.'”
He describes the book further on in the letter with this: “The result is a multi-genre memoir, a narrative collage about pathological liars, psychopaths, cruelty, hypocrisy, denial, pretension, concealment, orientation, maps, finding the truth.”
My problems with this book, frankly, began here. Spending hours of my life reading a book that is a narrative collage about pathological liars, psychopaths, cruelty, hypocrisy, denial, pretension, and concealment isn’t tops on my list. Following that up by the author being a lifetime activist who abandoned the battlefield and her country did not present to me a likeable individual that I wanted to spend a lot more time getting to know.
Still, intellectual curiosity, understanding the human condition, and the obligation I felt to the commitment to write this review did have me read the book. And, sadly, my first opinion didn’t change by the end of it. I did not like or enjoy this book. Unfortunately, Mr. Bodeen’s description was entirely accurate.
Ms. Aliesan, I’m sorry to say, experienced a lot of dark energy, dark matter, and horror in her life. This book carries us along with her experiences, her feelings, her perceptions, her thoughts, her decisions, and her discovery of her own truth.
She invites us to begin our journey through the book with a poem following her Preambula:

        looking our bright windows
                the room is your skull
                        the brightness your eyesockets
                you are safely hidden
        curtains and treeboughs protect you
from anyone looking in
        when you are ready
                move as slowly as you want
                        up to the curtains to a small slit
                see through the branches
        a sheet on a rope between trees
its hem in the grass
        on its surface move shadows
                of people behind it
                        they are hiding something from you
        you know what it is
                when you have seen enough
        step away from the curtains
turn back to the dark
        in this room is a table
                when you find it you will notice
                        it is covered with a cloth
                there is something beneath the cloth
        it is what you hide from yourself
you know what it is
                it is time to uncover it

The rest of the 174 or so text pages of this memoir-journal-diary are sprinkled with poems, images of childhood drawings and sheet music, notes, dictionary descriptions, pull quotes, essays, letters, and lists.
We start the journey in the 1940’s with some images of childhood drawings and progress through pages of her memoirs until around page 18, where we are given lists, definitions, and descriptions of Psychopathy, Key Symptoms of Psychopathy, Aggressive Narcissism, and an experience of alcoholism. We continue sharing her life experiences through relationships, rape, and court and personal trials, to the truths she discovered beneath the table cloth and on to the end of the book where she declares her personal new independence day. She crossed into Canada on July 28, 2004. She shares with us her feelings in her final written paragraph in the book.

On this, my new personal independence day, I followed the Drinking Gourd and crossed into Canada. I haven’t gone back, and I have no desire or intention to do so. They could close the border and I’d be stuck down there, eh? As a citizen of the world, I continue to oppose the deep psychology of the United States and will do what I can to defend Canada from old and ongoing schemes of conquest and annexation, in their many forms. But that’s a new story. What you’ve read on these pages is about a former life, in another country.

They say you really don’t know a person unless you’ve walked a distance in their shoes. Jody Aliesan–we do know her by the end–completes her book with two poems. The first is called, before you leave the country, and the last is titled, Taking Possession. Since our journey through the book started with a poem, it is appropriate to end it and this review with a poem as well, so here is her last:

        Where I begin is all one to me.
        Wherever I begin I will return again.
                –Parmenides, Fragment V

slide your finger into the lock
keyhole pushes your flesh back
so only the bone enters
you are coming into your own
Clear beads in your palm
how to string them together
fuse them into a long line
to carry this current
floating on the thermals
spiraling up for a look around
so much effort to get here
so little to maintain
Throw ballast overboard to stay aloft
all that’s left to toss out is yourself
jump to save your craft
or crash land with it
but we’re out of our depth here
we’re much too shallow
ripple chop makes all surface
keep still so we can go down
let anything settle
it’ll rise to the top
push your finger into the mouth
of this cold white bottle
milk erupting over your hand
thick creamy plug around your knuckle
raise it to your lips now
suck it roll it on your tongue
this is truth sweet truth
living under a shadow
our eyes get sharper we get
better night vision
in the kind of silence that makes you shout
to prove you haven’t gone deaf
a moth flutters in the dark
and on the other side of black windows
wind pushes trees against the glass
how do we go to our hearts’ slaughter
fight every inch of the way or submit
whatever we do we will question
life goes on the stars wheel
we stand outside listening to night creatures
starlight falls gently or blows with fury
we are soaked and shaken bent low
under the downpour of revelation
fingers in your ears cosmic echo
ringing in your blood
recite the name of every thing
you’ve learned to live without
it’s stronger than prayer
Vancouver , 2006

I was not uplifted by this book. I shared in another person’s dark troubled life and, although I came away more knowledgeable, I can’t say I came away a better person for the experience or the time spent. I wish Jody a long, fulfilling, happy life in her new country and I hope her love of Canada lasts for a long time.


Tom Kappel is an Arizona based freelance writer. His articles and short fiction have appeared in over 20 publications including, The Best of FaithWriter’s, The Redbridge Review, Emporium Gazette, Psychic Quest, Albuquerque Monthly, Land of Enchantment Romance Writer’s Guide (LERA), and many others.


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