Here they are — the 24 poems that made our editors’ short list for 2015 Poem of The Year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
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.”
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,
our swollen mouths. Shy,
as if we’d been kissing.
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.
‘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
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.
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.
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,
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.
How Like a Golden Marshmallow is My Love
and me too for him melting
brown skinned, golden brown
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
melting inside the open mouth
and dotting the hot fingertips
like finished whip cream in a frosted bowl
too perfect a shape is he
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
he came to me
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
I am wet in the mouth
how to steal a canoe
kwe is barefoot on the cement floor
singing to a warehouse
of stolen canoes
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,
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
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
kwe sings the song
and She sings back
akiwenzie means old man, zhaganash are white people, kwe means woman in Anishinaabemowin or Ojibwe
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.
after William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus
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,
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
the quiet blue vines of my blood
growing warm with light,
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,
From In the Words Of the River
All words except title transcribed from garbage pulled out of the swimming hole in
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
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.
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.
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
/but I can’t/
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
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.
You come to rest in a swell of Plumose.
Lungs are a tricky business.
Before this, you surfaced
thrash of boots and blur of hand
fingertips outstretched albino starfish
his gold wedding band glints in
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
when they find her at the edge.
Deeper, then deeper still.
Deeper than the water knew a body could go,
the submission of sinking.
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.
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.
I walk through
the garden of
the body. Did
I am made of glass
or, if possible,
In the garden
garden, I stand
inside the fever
and built from
I float a feather
and Latin words
on water mirrors
for you: Difficilia
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.