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Contest

Readers’ Choice 2015 VOTE CLOSED

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We’d like to thank everyone who voted — and look for the winner in the next issue of Arc!

 
 

Here they are — the 24 poems that made our edi­tors’ short list for 2015 Poem of The Year.

 

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From this short­list, we are ask­ing you, the read­ers, to pick your favourite and vote on a poem to receive the Read­ers’ Choice Award. The poem with the most votes will appear in Arc Poetry Mag­a­zine along­side the $5000 grand prize win­ner of Arc’s Poem Of The Year con­test.

After you’ve read the short list, be sure to cast your vote here. Vot­ing closes March 30th, 2015. Arc reserves the right to dis­qual­ify results that appear to have been obtained by sus­pi­cious vot­ing prac­tices.

Enjoy!

A Good Knife (Dou­glas Wal­bourne-Gough)
Alfama (Shel­ley Leedahl)
Black with a Vengeance (Ange­line Schel­len­berg)
by the time he hit the floor (Amber Home­niuk)
Fin­lan­dia (Ellie Sawatzky)
Flyin’ Coun­try (Andrea Perry)
For­eign Sub­stance (Dilys Leman)
Here, Where the Days are Even (Larissa Anas­ta­sia)
Hes­ti­tat­ing Once to Feel Glory (Maleea Acker)
How Like a Golden Marsh­mal­low is My Love (Kieran O’Brien)
how to steal a canoe (Leanne Simp­son)
Lament of a Bleed­ing Heart (Rod Ped­er­son)
Lavinia (Ruth Daniell)
Mid­dle Pool (Anna Swan­son)
Mis­takes We Have Made (Julie Paul)
Occa­sional Poem for a Birth­day (Al Rem­pel)
PHL to YOW (Nancy Pement)
RCMP Bar­racks (Lau­rie Gra­ham)
Res­cue (Adri­enne Gru­ber)
Ses­tina for the Los­ing (Mal­lory Tater)
The Art of Weav­ing (Harold Rhenisch)
The Assini­boine (Andrea MacPher­son)
Turing’s Time Machine (Kevin Shaw)
Vision (Eleonore Schon­maier)

 

A Good Knife

 

Folded, slick. Its weight a small com­fort

against Wi-Fi, infomer­cials, mod­ern use­less­ness.

Unfold the blade, rel­ish its click, slight recoil.

Repeat until the motion becomes famil­iar as a kiss,

harm­less as Love’s ini­tials carved into a desk.

 

Wooden han­dle, worn to near-ebony patina

from decades of sweat’s affec­tions, laughs off

plas­tic cut­lery and office-soft retire­ment par­ties.

Its steel is stain­less, non-descript but for one long,

wise eye, thinnest of thin-lipped grins.

 

Tongue so sharp it screamed heads clean off

in France, cursed and spat paths through brush

and jun­gle, coaxed scalps from skulls to win

the West. A good knife is cousin Shrap­nel refined,

bru­tal accent honed to focus, one step closer

to the sil­ver-tongued niece, Scalpel.

 

More than obsidian’s stone-aged stabs

at evo­lu­tion, a good knife can pry, per­suade,

define. Found at the end of every rev­o­lu­tion rifle,

cut­ting March in half between Caesar’s ribs,

right at home in the steady palm of Bru­tus.

 

A good knife assisted earth’s first mur­der,

cleav­ing brother from brother, invent­ing Evil

just to fuck with Good. When a blade trem­bles

in your hand it trem­bles because it remem­bers

the last beat and twitch of Abel,

 

that first real­iza­tion of Man’s poten­tial.

 

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Alfama

 

The Moors left cob­bled snake trails

and all day you weather them. You are tricked

by bread and olives, by the leg­end of Barce­los

and decanters of cheap white wine.

 

White-washed apart­ments gleam like but­tons

in the all-day sun, as if boast­ing—

the earth­quake did not claim us.

Pas­tries burst into feath­ers on your tongue.

 

You eat stand­ing in the street, alone,

and it is almost Africa. There are almonds.

Tin-roofed shanties beneath train tracks

and one folded gypsy in cathe­dral-shad­ows.

 

Your blouses and under-things sur­ren­der out the win­dow

unlike angels; black panties but­ter­fly

to the bal­cony below.

This means you won’t get back here.

 

Night shakes its cape and sud­denly

lanes choke with grilled fish and drunks

glow amber. Patrons crowd entries

to base­ment Fado clubs and laments smoke

into the lanes. You think of hun­gry, wide-winged birds.

Port-coloured stains. Keep your back to the wall.

 

Wrong again.

Lis­bon is not your legacy, but as wind slings

and strung lights sway above din­ers

in unlikely places, you feel a kind of home

beneath the clothes­lines and red petals

whisked from win­dow boxes, then crushed

beneath san­dals and stilet­tos in the cho­rus

of long-throated lanes.

 

Later night, and coal-eyed chil­dren

wob­ble over stones on rust-pocked bikes.

You imag­ine learn­ing to walk here.

You imag­ine falling into the spell

of blue-green tiles and beach-light.

 

The waiter brings a blan­ket for bare shoul­ders.

 

I could see you, he says, shiv­er­ing.

 

Haven’t seen the moon since you arrived.

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Black with a vengeance

 

A per­fect back­drop to starry eyes and orphaned morn­ings, from the ambi­gu­ity of rub­ber boots to the per­sua­sive­ness of that lit­tle dress, black trav­els well. It’s the line between suc­cess and obscu­rity, a rebel­lious streak of pig­ment, the priest­hood of all that’s swanky, sol­vent, under­ground. Any depressed type­writer key, the raised flag of punk and piracy. Like the last licorice twist, black screams: I’m in con­trol. It’s the sheen of vinyl records as they spin, plung­ing vel­vet backs onto sup­ple leather. Raven or phan­tom, black is the absence of light behind your eyes, an entire spec­trum danc­ing on the head of a pin. Pitch: what the pot’s calls sound like to the whistling ket­tle. It’s the names of sheep who don’t count, cats who’ve crossed over. Apoc­a­lyp­tic horse of hunger, the ever-ready bat­tery of hi-tech dis­com­forts, the death that fol­lows thanks­giv­ing. Sym­bol of grief, the black widow spi­der con­sumes what she can­not love.

 

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By the time he hit the floor

 

and his cig­a­rette still burn­ing on the strip­room table

beside a can of worms.

 

He would’ve been lean­ing there that morn­ing

in the barn, near the radio, after plough­ing the fields, before

head­ing for Cale­do­nia to fish on the Grand

 

had three-four good years after his first heart attack, see

but he’d taken it up again, lost all that nice pink from his face,

turned grey.

 

 

Vin­cent Church was vis­it­ing from Water­ford

—oh, they liked to talk about swap, and fix­ing things, you know

Vince found him, and never recov­ered from the sight, our neigh­bour

 

Koslowski called the ambu­lance, took him straight to the funeral home

and went to tell Mother and Mar­garet at St. Bernard’s.

 

I was in Nia­gara with my girl after Ray Rutherford’s wed­ding,

we drove down there from Meaford, it was early May

our last blos­som days

 

 

the start of tough slog­ging,

a hard sum­mer with all that had to be done, you know

dur­ing tobacco har­vest.

 

I’d kept six hives of bees but they swarmed

late in the sea­son because I hadn’t got the supers on

and I felt so bad about that, they wouldn’t likely sur­vive.

 

You remem­ber the rhyme, a swarm in May is worth a load of hay

in June a sil­ver spoon, but a swarm in July’s not worth a fly.

 

 

It was August already, I was dri­ving boat

bring­ing loads of tobacco from the field, dream­ing of Regina

 

when the sky went dim, a black veil, my bees

and I couldn’t stop to tend them.

 

That’s when I knew I couldn’t do every­thing, I’d failed, see

it was all blow-sand knolls and wet spots

and watch­ing my bees fly away.

 

 

Tobacco still ripen­ing in the fields when it came time

to leave for school in Toronto, Mother made me a bread pud­ding

 

and a pact that I’d not come home ’til Thanks­giv­ing.

Some­how she’d get the crops in, and she sat at the table

weep­ing, sweet steam bead­ing the plate, the tears

 

filled my throat like lit sumac and hon­ey­comb, beekeeper’s smoke.

She’d made my favourite dessert, and you know

I couldn’t touch it.

 

 

—as told by my father

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FINLANDIA

 

Two shots of Patrón as I leave

for Lisa’s Mor­mon fam­ily

Christ­mas party. In her pink

 

kitchen, I drink root beer,

eat Amish fruit­cake, and meet

her new hus­band,

 

a mis­sion­ary. Mar­ried

over the sum­mer

in Joseph Smith’s white

 

phal­lus. I’ve been scared

to see her since the wed­ding,

afraid to find her pious,

 

wifely. But she’s still the same

sweet girl in granny glasses.

A fam­ily friend leans across

 

the gran­ite coun­ter­top,

tells me his opin­ion of

the homo­sex­ual sit­u­a­tion.”

 

My hot palms, tequila-scented

sweat. Lisa, in the cor­ner,

opens the black cas­ket

 

of our friend­ship. The sad,

sour smell of mildewed velour,

neglected brass, musk

 

of a high school music room,

those days we watched our faces thin

and fat­ten in our trom­bones’

 

yel­low metal, play­ing “Take Five”

and “Fly Me to the Moon.”

Now, “Fin­lan­dia,”

 

a song from an old work­book.

It’s really a hymn,”

her dad says, “Be Still My Soul.”

 

Fin­lan­dia,” Lisa says, and we play

slowly, badly, dumb­ing

down to the same

 

off-key. We’ve always found

this neu­tral ground, never

speak­ing of God. Col­lect­ing

 

Freckle Pelt and Treeflute lichen

for fairies, a stick and a rock

for a uni­corn skull. We both believed

 

in tulip bulbs, guer­rilla

gar­den­ing on our high school’s

front lawn. And trom­bone –

 

its poten­tial to weep

or bel­low. When the song

ends, we pull back,

 

smil­ing, touch­ing

our swollen mouths. Shy,

as if we’d been kiss­ing.

 

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Flyin’ Coun­try

 

Didn’t want to come to this hole,

but did want to see you again,

in boots, happy.

 

This long, long week­end goes

slow when it’s just you and I

and thirty thou­sand plaid backs

 

bob­bin’ and stompin’, singing,

stew­ing the grass into mud

kicked up our faded blue calves.

 

Gui­tars drift along drum­beats

over our heads, drag­ging the first lyrics

you sent me, before it all hap­pened

 

as it hap­pened.

We’re exposed in sliv­ers

in the crowd, as Blake Shelton’s

 

trollin’ for souls. Tebey’s trollin’

for Toby, Rut­tan, Rhett and whisky.

Whit­ney Rose, Autumn Hill,

 

Under­wood, Hicks, Kicks and

Brooks, Farr gone along Emer­son

Drive. Johnny Cash walks the Florida–

 

Geor­gia Line, Smith’s in Dal­las,

Stel­las, and Kira Isabella. Kacey,

Macken­zie, Paul, and Porter.

 

Pretty Girl, I say, take me to Church

and let me see you shake it for Jason

Aldean, Flatts, Ford, Bent­ley and Lam­bert,

 

Luke Bryan, Lee Brice, Brett, Blaine, Brant,

Bradley, and Brad­bury, while Bam­ford

begs for One More Girl to end them all.

 

You wanted Sam Hunt, but Hunter

Hayes takes rain in the form of ice

to the eye, and I’m so grate­ful

 

it sends us to our tent

to pocket out the storm,

side by side in sleep­ing bags.

 

We play crib with­out the baby

and our hearts split as they

mend. Here comes the sun,

 

scorched again, shoul­der to shoul­der

we lis­ten to our lives hummed out

on stage, and you won’t go on

 

the Fer­ris Wheel, I assume,

because it’s too roman­tic

and we’re just friends now.

 

Still look at us! Will­ing to do

the real love that comes after

we’ve let each other go.

 

This work is delib­er­ate.

No trav­esty of chance

has laid us out.

 

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For­eign Sub­stance

 

Wild chil­dren with a red lip­stick play with God’

Fac­ing Bud­dha, Diana Breb­ner

 

 

I ask the chil­dren to draw God

with a red lip­stick. No think­ing.

Quick strokes. No lift­ing the hand

until done.

 

First child says she sees noth­ing, just white.

But her palm seems to be burn­ing. She allows

the small­est red dot, but even that car­ries

risk, smear of the too-late mighty thumb.

 

The sec­ond child turns the page into a grid,

hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal lines of absolute.

He is anx­ious about pos­si­bil­ity, cre­ation

twist­ing on the sharp error of one degree.

 

The white-eye­lashed child fills the page

cor­ner to cor­ner, wor­ries her fin­gers through

the paper’s weave, down to the cel­lu­lar level.

No white allowed. No apple flesh for worm.

 

The fourth orga­nizes a lineup of puck­ered lips,

where on white to smack their painted gobs.

This requires com­pro­mise. (How much white

space is really nec­es­sary? Who gets the last kiss?)

 

To calm them­selves, they cut their papers

into quar­ters to store for the next cen­tury

of artists (re-assem­bly instruc­tions included).

But the white-eye­lashed child is trem­bling –

 

she sees the flaw. When viewed from a dis­tance,

an under­tone of fuschia, infes­ta­tion in every sheet.

She gath­ers them up, holds them to her chest.

Her thin limbs pinken. Blood rises to her cuti­cles.

 

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Here, Where the Days Are Even

 

We watch the day break on the ride to Kam­pala,

the road­side ban­ners of painted alu­minum:

Buy for­tune, build Uganda!

 

At Owino mar­ket the Marabou storks perch along the water­way

and bas­kets of avo­ca­dos, cas­sava and beans bal­ance on women’s heads

as the men call down their bar­gains from the rafters.

 

Tables are piled with tea leaves, the maize laid out to dry

and the butch­ers hang goat meat from the door­ways.

I see the posho in buck­ets and remem­ber how we made it,

grind­ing the brit­tle corn all day. Munu, you are learn­ing!

 

Face flushed with fever; the blood, the skin, the sun.

 

I pack my pock­ets with sim­sim.

I mark the path between the stalls with cane sugar.

 

And later, when you sleep.

I marry thirst and dust.

 

I dream of drown­ing,

of mon­soon rains to soak my hair.

I wake dry and con­tained like a mud brick.

My lips crack under mos­quito net­ting.

 

We head to the clinic to draw your blood,

walk­ing behind, I run my idle engine

as boda bodas race past stir­ring up dirt and stones.

 

Pres­ence of typhoid. A bot­tle of pills.

 

I squint into the sun.

The earth stains my feet in rust and crim­sons.

Here the day is split in equal halves, light

and a dark so deep the stars sink toward us.

New con­stel­la­tions appear above the out­lines of aca­cia trees.

 

I make my bed in the room with­out win­dows.

I smell of exhaust and mango blos­som.

You leave early, before light or birds or the door­man

has taken his post.

 

You didn’t drag your feet.

 

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Hes­i­tat­ing Once to Feel Glory

 

Some­times I think we can see

the world before it began,

and that’s what makes us

so sad. Before the world began

 

there were swal­lows fly­ing

across a lake­side field

as the sun allowed the trees to shade it.

There were leaves fallen

 

dur­ing dry sea­sons that made

a golden road. And there was

sil­ver and stone and clover,

and a man on horse­back

 

with a dog with no tail

that loped across the field

in a lazy semi-cres­cent as though

draw­ing the orbit of a small moon.

 

There was a burro

on a ten foot length of rope

stomp­ing a dust patch in the earth.

And there were pel­i­cans

 

with injured wings handfed

by a waiter and so many wil­lows –

so many! grow­ing by the water’s edge.

There was the clink of bot­tles

 

before the world began

and so its sound still

makes us melan­choly

the way ice can, boom­ing

 

on a river in spring

or till­ing a glass in a woman’s hand.

Stones, too, uncov­ered from earth

pock­marked with clam houses,

 

 

and also clams. And pianos, there were

pianos, their cas­cade made us

rest­less – they could not offer

nuance greater than the half note.

 

Things kept com­ing

before the world began, and stacked

and tum­bled over them­selves

in drifts like snow,

 

insen­si­ble. The world

before the world was anno­tated,

expan­sive, all the stones

the boys could throw

 

never hes­i­tat­ing once to feel

glory, to feel jeal­ousy,

bore­dom, and the nos­tal­gia

the grass feels as it clam­bers

 

above itself, and loses

its for­mer lives in the clean,

dis­in­te­grat­ing thatch

and dust and clay.

 

The sad­ness of the alter­nate

armed rower, who walked his boat

to shore! The sad­ness of the far shore

and the thud of a foot against a ball,

 

the bent hook of wire hang­ing

from a tree’s lost branch stub,

the ques­tion in the ibis’ voice,

the sud­den flash of a red bird

 

like a com­pass of ink in the brush.

Before the world began

there were bells that never

rang the cor­rect time, and wings

 

and spheres of sad eggs in water.

The bur­row walked in his cir­cle

and the car­pen­ter never saw

his chil­dren fur­ther

 

 

than 6th grade. He never

painted his room yel­low or cooked

on any­thing but a burner

on a board. And the neigh­bour,

 

after the party, she never

gave the plate back though

she said she would,

she always said she would.

 

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How Like a Golden Marsh­mal­low is My Love

 

and me too for him melt­ing

us each

brown skinned, golden brown

him blacker

me unevenly cooked mot­tled pow­dered white

like a sugar fawn

melt­ing and smok­ing

two thin mulat­tos fuck­ing

like twigs rub­bing together

for match­less fire

 

hot molten sugar

reek­ing bon­fire smoke

sour white pep­per

in the nose­ful

and in those pock­ets under the eyes

that don’t feel empty until they are full

 

and melt­ing

melt­ing inside the open mouth

and dot­ting the hot fin­ger­tips

stick­ing hard

and peak­ing

like fin­ished whip cream in a frosted bowl

 

too per­fect a shape is he

engi­neered immac­u­late

foam­ing out of machine tips

into holy bleach white cubes

of horse hooves

and corn juice

a God’s geom­e­try his sweet sym­me­try

my belly aches

 

yes, like a golden marsh­mal­low

pricked and cooked

held long over the coals

which is one way of say­ing a hard life

still, beau­ti­ful soft inside

and melt­ing

he came to me

deli­cious

 

he came over

a camp­fire smok­ing

split­ting wood front mounted

red embers hot cen­ter

out in the wild dark

the green dark

under the easy con­stel­la­tions of early sum­mer

my lit face pink-cheeked and lisp­ing

a treat laboured for

tip uncharred

and blaz­ing

 

hot treat

I am wet in the mouth

 

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how to steal a canoe

 

 

kwe is bare­foot on the cement floor

singing to a ware­house

of stolen canoes

 

bruised bod­ies

dry skin

hurt ribs

dehy­drated rage

 

aki­wen­zie says, “it’s canoe jail”

 

the white skin of a tree is for slic­ing and feel­ing

and peel­ing and rolling and cut­ting and sewing

and pitch­ing and float­ing and trav­el­ling

 

aki­wen­zie says “oh you’re so proud of your col­lec­tion

of ndns. good job zha­ganash,

good job”

 

kwe is pray­ing to those old ones by dip­ping her fin­gers

into a plas­tic bot­tle of water

and rub­bing the drops on the spine of each canoe

 

soft words

wet fin­gers

wet backs

 

aki­wen­zie and kwe are look­ing each canoe in the eye

one whis­pers back, “take the young one and run”

kwe looks at aki­wen­zie

 

aki­wen­zie takes the sage over to the

secu­rity guard and teaches him how to

smudge the canoe bod­ies. fake cop is bask­ing in guilt free impor­tance.

 

kwe takes the young one off the rack,

and onto her shoul­ders

she puts Her in the

flat bed and dri­ves to Chemong

 

 

she pulls Her out into the mid­dle of the lake

sinks her with 7 stones

just enough to

fill Her with lake and

sus­pended Her in wet

 

kwe sings the song

and She sings back

 

bruised bod­ies

dry skin

hurt ribs

dehy­drated rage

 

kwe sings the song

and She sings back

 

 

 

aki­wen­zie means old man, zha­ganash are white peo­ple, kwe means woman in Anishi­naabe­mowin or Ojibwe

 

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Lament of a Bleed­ing Heart

 

I demand that the nine­teenth cen­tury apol­o­gize.

I insist that outer space explain its inner work­ings.

I require that the future present itself imme­di­ately.

 

Or I will have to take steps;

 

I will despatch a thou­sand hos­tile origami cranes,

I will flat­ten all six tires of time and dark­ness,

I will bend the will of sev­eral gods into a horse­shoe,

 

You won’t have seen it com­ing.

 

I direct that the rules of the game be clear and bro­ken glass.

I com­mand that the root of two be exon­er­ated on grounds of insan­ity.

I order that Monarch but­ter­flies be taught to do the back­stroke.

 

Or regret will enter the equa­tion;

 

I will force La Niña and El Niño into a mis­ery of wed­lock,

I will repeal the fourth law of ther­mo­dy­nam­ics,

I will com­mit the inno­cent to lives of guilty secrets,

 

Then see­ing will be believ­ing.

 

I demand that the Higgs boson be hurled back into hid­ing.

I require Amelia Earhart’s exact posi­tion and veloc­ity, right now.

I direct that the rain grow wild from the seeds I’ve sown.

 

Or chaos will abound;

 

I will lock the night inside one shin­ing lamp,

I will lib­er­ate sor­row from its prison in Spain,

I will annul the dark and sunny day we met,

 

Yes, I will.

 

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Lavinia

 

after William Shakespeare’s Titus Andron­i­cus

 

I.

 

He caught my hand in my father’s gar­den—

closed flow­ers quiet in the earth,

dusk, the hori­zon blue

and yel­low together

with­out mix­ing into green.

I wanted that,

our edges touch­ing

with­out blend­ing into one thing.

 

When Bassianus lifted my face to his,

kissed me, I felt the cro­cuses grow

curi­ous. Later, the light

slipped out of the sky,

and though my father was gone

to war, the emperor buried,

I found I could lie awake with­out worry,

the famil­iar scent of earth

sud­denly a new mem­ory, a seed,

some­thing upturned.

 

 

II.

 

Betrothed: I

kept the word in my mouth, round

as an olive, and it ripened

with thought: green,

then pur­ple. My dark nip­ples

strange coins, my body trea­sured

and untouched—

the quiet blue vines of my blood

grow­ing warm with light,

imag­in­ing oth­er­wise.

 

 

III.

 

Like some­thing removed

from my heart, the drums

announced my father’s arrival.

I saw the sol­diers’ bur­den:

stretcher and stretcher of cov­ered bod­ies,

my broth­ers wrapped in grey,

cocooned and flight­less.

 

I rushed for­ward,

lifted my dress above my ankles.

And as I passed by

the tri­bunes and offi­cials,

Sat­urn­i­nus turned his head.

I felt his eyes fol­low me,

let my skirts drop to the ground.

The road’s dust shapeshifted

at my feet—first one thing,

then another.

 

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From In the Words Of the River

 

All words except title tran­scribed from garbage pulled out of the swim­ming hole in 

Fla­trock, New­found­land.

 

Mid­dle Pool, Where We Sub­merge Three Times Like the Mik­vah

 

Let’s go to the water and get clean.

That slow cold cur­rent,

just before it all falls into the sea.

There. Let’s tip for­ward

and go under.

 

First time for the body: that chill,

that sim­ple sport of return­ing to the skin.

 

Again for the mind.

You who decided to let your­self

be curious—let’s bypass think­ing.

Let’s quit the facts for a while.

Let’s risk our lead­ing brand sun­light,

our pas­teur­ized chances of hav­ing it all,

to tip, to turn, to twist open

under water.

 

One more time

for that which is wild in each of us,

the sim­ple par­ti­cles of being

removed from the pack­ag­ing

of thirst and hope.

 

After, you are clean as dishes.

Your skin sparkling cold.

 

Inside, what could be

a small win­dow open­ing. No,

less than that. Light comes in

as if through a straw.

And what is this?

This small I’m sorry

in one palm. And

it was not you 

in the other.

 

Say it to your­self. Say it

to your face, your throat—

 

I’m sorry—say it where it hurts.

Say it for your gen­tle hands

when you did not know

to be a fighter. For all the things

you could not say. Or,

cal­cu­lat­ing costs, did not.

Allez go! Get it in your eyes,

in your hair, on your all-pos­si­ble skin.

Know this, breathe it, if only for these wet sec­onds.

 

Go under and under and under;

return again and again and again.

Break the seal on the bril­liant verb of your body.

 

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MISTAKES WE HAVE MADE

 

We have not cried enough or bowed to the proper gods. We have ascribed our good for­tune to birth on the right land mass. We have lis­tened to jazz and/or pur­ple finches for whole after­noons, spilt ashes and/or salt too often, we have not been con­cise. We have made our chil­dren smile for the cam­era, we have mem­o­rized the dates of war and watched hor­ror for plea­sure. We have let sun­light per­fo­rate our vel­veted rooms and screamed for mercy in arm wres­tles. We have pranced in audi­to­ri­ums in tulle and lace and from under thin veils we have pro­fessed the begin­nings of a love never felt before. We have doo­dled, we have waded in oceans, we have been afraid of the wrong things, we have pleaded with a deity just slightly more pow­er­ful than Steve Jobs. We have wrapped our tongues around ten-syl­la­ble words like over­in­tel­lec­tu­al­iza­tion. We have read the papers and cleaned the ham­ster cage and drank from the wrong side of the cup to get rid of hic­cups, we have spun rings on thread and asked for the answer. We have received the answer. We have not accepted any­thing, because in the space—even poten­tial space—between ques­tion and response, that space as it is between eye­lashes, words, cloth­ing and skin, between each barb of a feather, between bad and worse, Japan and North Amer­ica, any­thing is pos­si­ble. We have turned our backs to the water and opened our arms to other arms. Torso to torso, we have gath­ered strength. We have hoped that hope is enough, that love is, that when we cast our lines into the sea we will reel in fish.

 

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Occa­sional Poem for a Birth­day

 

it’s on days like this, the plain

wak­ing up days, the just get it done

or don’t bother days, with pollen in the air,

and cot­ton­wood seed in a side­ways drift,

and soc­cer fields full of yel­low shirts,

and kids cal­cu­lat­ing their fourth favourite colour

in back seats of cars, that I real­ize

another year has come and gone,

seam­lessly as some stu­dent, some god,

idly spins a globe in an empty class­room;

if I wanted to do the math, I could:

how many heart­beats have kept me going,

how many times have I wiped the sleep

from the cor­ners of my morn­ing, made cof­fee,

looked out at the day, my day,

if I made it so

 

in the cof­fee shop, the man sit­ting next to me

has one arti­fi­cial arm, and two women on the other side

are whis­per­ing about can­cer, about cut­ting her hair

now, for a wig, for later

I’m not eaves­drop­ping; I’m try­ing to write a poem here,

but every­thing sneaks in: Leonard Cohen from above

singing about angels and redemp­tion, the river

I cross each day, so obvi­ous a metaphor

it slips under me

 

what I think is this: we can’t hold

all our love inside our hearts, some of it

always spills over

 

we could wish for a longer sum­mer, for less to do,

for days braided with sun­light and tad­poles on the lake,

for half-sub­merged logs cov­ered in moss and ferns,

for that spas­modic moment when the canoe

finds its own belly in the water

and we push off

 

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PHL to YOW

 

Wait­ing

 

/again/

 

air/

 

port

 

lounge

 

inter/

 

net

 

connect/

 

ion

 

connect/

 

ing

 

flight

 

you see

 

/but I can’t/

 

I’ve got/to

 

get home

 

my dad

 

is dying

 

/

 

my dad

 

is

 

/dying/

 

to tell

 

/me/

 

one/

 

last/

 

thing/

 

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RCMP Bar­racks

Regina, Saskatchewan

 

They haven’t marked the spot where he was hanged.

It might be in the park­ing lot where they keep the fleet vehi­cles. Nobody knows.

Maybe near the chapel, but you can’t go there.

You could try to leave the grounds, come at it from the other side,

but the guy tak­ing admis­sion in the museum is doubt­ful.

 

You can see where you want to go.

In your path, a series of secu­rity guards recit­ing their lines:

You need a chap­er­one. It’s a secure area.

You’ll have to come back for a tour.

 

A guard at a desk inside a condo called Fort Duf­ferin

says, You know what they say, eh. 

They say go out there and pick a tree and that’s where it hap­pened.

Then: You could walk over there alone, but you never know what might hap­pen.

Then: They got the rope here. I know the woman who’s restor­ing it.

 

Hanged implies blame and you’re afraid to say it

but you say hanged over and over to peo­ple with weapons tucked in their belts.

And you hus­tle through the museum, snap­ping pic­tures, scrib­bling down each theft,

the moc­casins behind glass, the bead­work, the Red River cart,

and a wide shot of the door­way to the lit­tle room with the thun­der­storm light­show,

the secu­rity cam­era above, watch­ing you enter and leave.

 

Retiree in a blazer encour­ag­ing you to take pic­tures

while you’re in the mid­dle of tak­ing a pic­ture,

try­ing to be friendly the way a cop tries to be friendly.

He reads you, and he’s rusty, and this might anger him.

He tells you to go into the lit­tle room with a cam­era above the door.

Press the Eng­lish but­ton. There’s going to be a thun­der­storm.

 

Hand­cuffs through the decades, Dick­ens’ son’s sword and Strange’s medals,

dozens of buck­les and but­tons, the buf­falo in the cen­tre of each badge,

drama­ti­za­tion of buf­falo star­ing, their Peabody sin­gle-shot rifles,

their hand­guns, their draw­ings of the can­nons they dragged across the prairie.

 

The spoils of war. The boots and guns.

Every­thing side by each. To qual­ify for the force,

recruits had to be able to ride a horse, 

and to read and write in either Eng­lish or French. 

 

They had to enlist for three years

and were paid sev­enty-five cents per day.

 

The North­west Cam­paign: Three Accounts.

No Big Bear or Pound­maker, trea­so­nous for express­ing need and hence omit­ted.

Beardy given voice: Here’s my Treaty medal. If you believe me, return it, and they never 

did.

Metis through the head­phones: We’ll fight if nec­es­sary.

The NWMP says noth­ing. The tape won’t play.

 

And you’re get­ting it now, just like they got it and put it on dis­play:

Riel’s Bible. His knife. His hol­ster. His cru­ci­fix.

The noose is in the back.

You met a guy who knows the woman who’s restor­ing it.

 

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Res­cue

 

 

You come to rest in a swell of Plumose.

Lungs are a tricky busi­ness.

Before this, you sur­faced

once, twice.

 

 

thrash of boots and blur of hand

fin­ger­tips out­stretched albino starfish

his gold wed­ding band glints in

the sun

 

 

The motor fran­tic over­head.

Corkscrew through the sinus cav­ity.

A jun­gle of nerves.

 

 

the air between screams pound­ing

echo of pulse shred­ded remains of

jel­ly­fish from a motor­boat and after

the gulls

 

 

Your brain grows dumber. Some­times shells

are just shells; their spi­rals

no longer a con­tin­uum. There’s prophecy

under this liq­uid ceil­ing.

 

 

sun­light streams through water

face a con­torted panic feral

growl ocean and spit

filled mouth

 

 

A gas leak. Your five-year-old’s miss­ing

tooth, a gap in his smile. Your eight-year-old

keeps three in the bat­tery com­part­ment

of her dig­i­tal cam­era. She rat­tles it to hear

the clink­ing of bat­tered and bro­ken teeth.

 

 

caviar pop of fluid mos­quito bites

chicken pocks nip­ples dipped into

hun­gry mouths bub­bles float lazily

from lips

 

 

The Plumose gar­dens aren’t as beau­ti­ful

as the last time. The vis­i­bil­ity is bad.

The cau­li­flower plants are grey and sickly.

You stroke the spaghetti-shaped ani­mal.

This is not good diver eti­quette.

It will be fif­teen min­utes before they find you.

 

 

grief thumbs his eyes blind

uncom­pro­mis­ing the stilted mea­sure

of good­ness blue sky and still­ness

mir­rors that stretch and elon­gate the

face her slip­pery hand through his

the sun shines the gulls are lazy

every­thing is the same

 

 

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Ses­tina for the Los­ing

Women in my fam­ily sleep

calm as blood-root—slowly curled, hands across chests.

In bleached-out dream when fever breeds

we feed our hair to the folds of fire, lose our humid heads

on sheets so black. Mum’s sheets black­est, yes Mum

allows her­self to stain, to fail,

 

shakes her pil­low, all thun­der and fail­ure

on eider­down, on bloody fleece. In sleep

when does my body shake like Mum.

Do our spines know the incense in our chests,

do our spines know of horses, wet win­dows, things that die in jars. Hot­headed,

we piss green tea, spew hon­eyed mucus, thick­ened bee bread,

 

and I lean over the toi­let, heave sour­dough bread.

The erup­tion, the flare-up, my head on porce­lain. I failed

my tired neck. I was done. Rest my head—

this will be all right. Flu-fever remem­bers long sleeps

when I was lucky, six­teen, flat-chested,

my head on porce­lain. My bile fist­fuls of autumn mums.

 

Skirts taken in at the waist, in at the waist, in and in, and Mum

left­over-moth­er­ing me. Mum a dying fire, embered,

fixed me con­stant pan­cakes, flour heavy in my chest

sour­ing like oregano oil on the backs of tongues. Mum wanted me to fail

at bulimia, the los­ing. I used to love the los­ing. I’d lose my throat to sleep,

cut my hair so no one knew it was falling. Heat rose from my thin­ning head,

 

there was every bit less of me. Our faucets, rust­ing cherub heads,

eyes unsplit, spilling. Mum does not doubt their death. Mum

soaps my arms, soap down the drain like sleep,

like bile, burns pores clean, freck­les thorned, rough and red.

We can never make sense of morn­ing. Morn­ing is light, the frail

skin of the boy who laid hands on my chest

 

in high school want­ing, the times I was rich­est

in all want­ing. A body will sleep and sweat, heads

back to a want­ing. If I mother myself quiet, I will fail

into rivers, I will river in sweat, these healthy stains, sap unfor­giv­ing as Mum—

she is all the times I wasn’t kind. The times I was no thought, all breath.

A body is reminded in sleep

 

how to fail a dream. Wak­ing stinks like stitches, the breath of Mum,

her mouth black thread on my chest, my hips. My head

can­not split, can­not breed clean thought, can­not stray from dia­mond-hard sleep.

 

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The Art of Weav­ing

Stekk­jarnes, Ice­land

 

There is weav­ing, and then there is sewing,

with sleeves, cuffs, col­lars, hems and pock­ets

with crosses in the cor­ner, that do not tear,

and there is darn­ing, which is done with an egg

of pol­ished birch wood as pale as dan­de­lion syrup.

These are the arts of mak­ing the world out of a string,

tying it off and cut­ting it. Sheep are its great­est arti­sans,

out in the heather and the rain,

out in the wan­der­ing and the lying in the sun,

and the com­ing in when the world van­ishes

and there is only snow and the milling in the barn.

There is knit­ting, which is done with two sticks

and used to be prac­ticed while walk­ing,

that is now done in kitchens, where con­ver­sa­tion weaves

back and forth and clat­ters and clacks

and pro­duces charms which men will wear

over their hearts soon enough. I promise,

they won’t refuse this yoke.

 

Out­side, swal­lows weave the light above the lake.

The poet remarked on it, high on an Ital­ian hill,

until the world’s anguish defeated him.

With noth­ing else but woven thoughts he tried to stop

a war that came on him like a freight

train through the moun­tains. He was jailed

for that, and then locked up with Napoleon.

It is bet­ter just to see what the swal­lows are weav­ing.

They fly to such height that a woman watch­ing

sees the high­est one, then her vision clears

and she sees another, higher.

There is no end to swal­lows in a moun­tain sum­mer.

 

There is the devo­tional prac­tice called cross-stitch

and the one called “A thou­sand flow­ers,”

that are done with blue thread on white cloth, like porce­lain,

and then there is the mend­ing of nets,

which is what men work at in win­ter storms

when sheep breathe the barn’s dark,

which is not weav­ing but knot­ting,

and not tying off but catch­ing one

cord with another and join­ing them:

one spell for each fish in the sea.

 

It is done between bouts of drink­ing

a dis­til­la­tion of meadow flow­ers called Black Death.

In men’s glasses, it is absolutely clear.

 

Once there was the weav­ing that women strung

when their men waged bat­tle: each cross of weft and warp

mir­rored men the world. On their own,

the poor pups were blind to its song.

The maps they had only showed the path away.

They reached out into the dark, and there

women found them, and drew them near.

A woman and I used to lie abed in the morn­ings

exactly like that, while swal­lows knit­ted the room,

the bed, the sheets and our bod­ies with their shad­ows

as they wove the light, and the light wove us.

It is an under­state­ment, but in time a man learns

that’s what he breathes and what he is breath­ing for.

 

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The Assini­boine

for RH

The Assini­boine River is a trib­u­tary to the Red River

so you can see where this is going.

 

The water started in North Dakota,

but found itself here,

under the bridge, in down­town Win­nipeg,

to see her.

 

The water couldn’t see what they did to her,

at the river’s edge.

Muddy there, past the foot­path. Grasses tram­pled. Gravel.

The sound of her voice echo­ing.

 

But then they slid her into the water, as if she weighed noth­ing at all,

and her hair turned darker still,

weighted down with it,

deep, dark ropes against her body.

 

Bruises, blood, her body bat­tered,

now swept up in the water.

Under.

 

And down.

Down to where it’s silty, the water hold­ing the mem­ory

of North Dakota,

of ice at the lip and deeper,

to where the cold becomes cold

rather than an approx­i­ma­tion of it.

 

But then the sur­prise of her head break­ing

the sur­face of the water.

Her body leav­ing the water upstream, qui­etly,

into the dark of night

where the only sound is her shal­low breath­ing.

 

The water holds the form of her body,

knows the shape of her cupped hands

push­ing against the cur­rent.

But the water can­not see what they do to her

again

 

 

when they find her at the edge.

 

And down.

Deeper, then deeper still.

Deeper than the water knew a body could go,

the sub­mis­sion of sink­ing.

 

But yet.

 

She drags her­self again from the water in res­ig­na­tion,

as if already miss­ing the dark­ness of its depths,

know­ing what awaits her at the foot­path.

 

The sun rises and the water turns slightly less chilled

with the wan Novem­ber gold;

the cur­rent rushes.

 

The water can­not see the girl cov­ered

by strangers’ coats and taken away from the Assini­boine

and fur­ther into Win­nipeg.

 

The water does only what water does—

trick­les, or tum­bles, or trem­bles.

 

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Turing’s Time Machine

 

The ticker tapes have run out,

swal­low­ing ones and zeroes,

while from a per­fect and pink apo­ria

dan­gles the hell’s end of a cig­a­rette

that hisses good­bye, good­bye dear,

good­bye to all that in an ink blot.

 

I’m cross­ing old cir­cuits.

Secret and serendip­i­tous, but to the naked

eye, merely a site to hack a beery slash

in the navv hours… Sup­posed utopia

for­saken, the flip side

of a fast one—a fist, or life.

 

The graf­fiti curates obscen­ity

in water clos­ets. The toes tap

epis­tles in a whore’s code.

The liv­ing his­tory of silence

is counted in the vibra­tory instants

between chapel bells.

 

I’m held under sus­pen­sion

bridges, hold­ing breaths por­ten­tous

as gothic fog. I’m stand­ing aside-eyed

at love, hov­er­ing around the uri­nals,

attuned to the sig­nals: those fleet­ing gazes gone

to the eye-white nar­cissi of the neon—

 

And in a flash, I see men safe

in the palm of my hand,

and all our cause­ways come undone.

And in the bar, we text our mus­cled

appari­tions while our want is num­bered:

one more for the night, and then we swal­low

 

the zero hour.

 

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Vision

 

 

I walk through

the gar­den of

the body. Did

 

Eras­mus know

about Euphra­sia?

I am made of glass

 

or, if pos­si­ble,

some­thing even

more frag­ile

 

than glass.

In the gar­den

within the

 

gar­den, I stand

inside the fever

house: roof­less

 

and built from

eye­glass lenses.

Every­thing is

 

blurred until

I float a feather

and Latin words

 

on water mir­rors

for you: Dif­fi­cilia

Quae Pul­chra.

 

Flower-beds

shaped like leaves:

habi­tat of muses

 

the gar­den is our library

open to the sky:

Sidera Addere Caelo:

 

sleep: you awaken

to find pop­pies

on your pil­low­case.

 

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