What Your Hands Have Done looks at how life spent in a close-knit fishing family in rural Prince Edward Island marks a person. The book is rooted in PEI but moves from there to Toronto where the malaise of life proves to be unbound to the sameness of small-town days spent hauling gear on the Atlantic or toiling in rust-red potato fields.
Bailey examines the world around him from the inside, observing the minute to account for the vast. These poems are laid bare and free of ornament, revealing the hard-won wisdom just below the surface:
She was there, cooked for you. Helped clean
the mess you’d become from decades
spent on your father’s ocean hauling lobsters
from its depths, gulping down the sea air.
Even when the booze was too much,
she knew you were more than the vomit
caked to your shirt. Less than confessions
made beneath the red summer moon.
Fifty years after Alistair MacLeod honoured and elegized that world in “The Boat,” Bailey summons the reality of that life in the twenty-first century, in language both visceral and eloquent. This is no quaint voice from the Land of Anne. Suffused with our era’s geist and angst, which have penetrated to the rural periphery, Bailey is a sharp-eyed, clarion-voiced witness in his crow’s nest. This book is a spy-glass you’ll want to glue your eye to.
Chris Bailey canvasses easily—adroitly—that difficult, East Coast world of hardscrabble, hard-luck ports and hard-living, hard-drinking fishers, the epicureans of cynicism and the aesthetes of brutalism. This dominion’s one where funerals are festive and the clear-eyed must enjoy adultery and the clear-headed must tolerate suicide. Think E.J. Pratt meets Charles Bukowski.
Bailey’s work explores questions of identity: family and roots—mostly working class—character portraits and poems of romance. There’s much to admire in these short, clean stanzas and the landscape that shines through behind them—its pine trees and cold rain, its lobster and herring gear, its dark sky and restless ocean.