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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.

 

Back to Top

 


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

Back to Top

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.

 

Back to Top

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.

 

Back to Top

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.

 

Back to Top

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

 

Back to Top

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

 

Back to Top

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.

 

Back to Top

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.

 

Back to Top

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.

 

Back to Top

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/

 

Back to Top


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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