We’d like to thank everyone who voted! Look for the winner–online soon!
Here they are — the 10 poems that made our editors’ shortlist for the Poem of The Year!
From this shortlist, we are asking you, the readers, to pick your favourite and vote for one poem to be the Readers’ Choice Award winner. The poem with the most votes will receive the $250 Readers’ Choice Award.
After you’ve read the short list, be sure to cast your vote here[NOW CLOSED]. Voting closes April 30, 2018. Arc reserves the right to disqualify results that appear to have been obtained by suspicious voting practices.
Deforestation (Alessandra Naccarato)
The Purity Detector (Alex Leslie)
Otters (Ashley Hynd)
Fuji, Baby (Laura Matwichuk)
Couple Flying Over Village (Leah Horlick)
You Are My Hiding Place (Leah Horlick)
SHINE (Lynne Burnett)
Women’s work (Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang)
How Soon, How Likely, How Severe (Shaun Robinson)
side track (Su Croll)
Coast Salish Territory
It is winter when we decide
to live in the red house by the small lake.
Every time we go to the emergency room
they suggest the mountain, where men
have built a monastery.
Blood is fine, blood is thin
I have a prodigious imagination, endless.
In the red house, you cook fish.
A woman strips by the road and breaks
the ice of the lake to swim.
Summer, a red barn where children
are resting, their knees
the size of moons. Everything is circular: tick-rash,
their small pink mouths, temporary paralysis.
Doctors say their blood is fine,
and many children continue in bed. They cannot say
acorn, kettle. Can’t name their town, soon to be famous
for the vector. Mothers pray
over red cough syrup and the children swell,
pink and dumb, they sleep.
Illinois Mountain Park
Post-war housing, cheap and red. Martha’s backyard
built into the national park, just like
two hundred neighbors. Destroy the forest,
and the apex predators vanish
leaving the disease producers and spreaders free reign.
Contractors ignore ecologists;
ecologists go bankrupt, ad infinitum. Martha’s backyard,
her naked ankles at the foot of one hundred maples.
A dead fox den, white-footed mice and deer ticks.
We may not have created it,
but we sure as hell facilitated the spread.
30,000 new cases a year,
if the disease exists. If it’s not just in her head,
like the CDC suggests. Aseptic meningitis, Martha’s swollen brain
of unknown origin, uninsurable.
Long Point, Lake Erie
It begins on the sandbank, in the red morning
a girl laughing from her tent to swim
with her mother. Begins on Mississauga land,
on vacation, in a girl’s virgin calf.
In this heat, what insect can sleep?
Vector carried north on a warm winter breeze.
Doctors says her blood is fine, just thin,
as she grows into a theory of sick woman.
The re-abled know climate change is within us:
the zoonotic future, bacterial now.
All glaciers melt with mysteries inside.
Coast Salish Territory
It is winter when I watch
my blood pearl into test tubes, in a complex disease office.
My blood will fly to Germany on packs of ice.
This is the last time I will ask a doctor to believe me.
I have driven past the blue-cut fields of this province,
watched deer nudge split ravens, ravenous.
What happened to my body is a quiet acre of sod.
Deforestation. At dawn,
a woman strips by the road to swim.
I watch the ice on the lake give way to her hand.
The Purity Detector
The Anti-Defamation League added a new symbol this week to its database of prominent white supremacist imagery. It’s called the “echo,” and it is used online to call attention to Jewish names in the news. [It places] three sets of parentheses around a Jewish name, like (((Cohen))) or (((Goldberg))). The parentheses later turned up in a Chrome browser extension called “Coincidence Detector,” which found Jewish names in text and automatically trapped them in the echo.
–The New York Times, June 10 2016
the name others know you by
the name you call yourself
the name that came before you
Inside the names: asides, breaths, thousands of
miles between brackets, sloped hands and edges of continents
yawning away from each other, three backs turned
inward, three steps away from words
What is your secret name?
I will tell you. Come in close.
It is passed on in the letters like
a virus. The letters are
pictures. The name has lived before
If you interfere and wrap the name in three layers
of silence, it will last longer, pickled
If you place a name inside an echo, the name
will learn how to be an excellent listener
Three shells, three walls, three thin skins. Three tongues
nested one inside the other. Hebrew, Yiddish,
English. At the centre of the parentheses,
silence, only the name, its own hearing
Wrapped in three thick coats, the name
is warm. It travelled a long way, survived raids,
killings, a long ocean crossing, to live this new, warm
life, so lovingly wrapped, so perfectly disfigured,
humming waiting breathing for three
The name returned in three nightmares,
one inside the other. A cup, a leg, a name,
ranging. The name was not happy to be unmoored
Three rounded dishes to fill
houses turned on their sides,
spilling breath hot as fire
Jew get out
Outlines of a practice target before the real name reveals
itself, detected by coincidence, winking pixels
from its eyes, ducking algorithm survivor writhing
from the math, amused by all of this
Three alternate titles of one story. Three voices speaking
at once. Distraction. The name nestled in the waves
Multiplying, one springs outward,
metastasizes its bent code
Three generations, a genocide tucked in
among the folds
To receive you must ask
the question three times
The name said once is a human, said twice
is repetition, said three times is a story
Echo effect. The Jewish question
Pseudonym for birth, one for the water bill, one for the next
trick minor mirror sentence eclipse ingrown pulse fluttering
A name held apart from other names
is never just a name
Shadow lines around names that never faded,
rings on a playground
Three grooves around old eyes three parentheses around pupils
hazel irises I’ll tell you how
I named your dad
A flame, blinding in its pith, only the outer layers visible:
yellow white black
In the census one year, surprise new names
yet another way to name a wall of protection
The inner ear, crepuscular markings shell lies. Your grandmother
sits in a panic room in the middle of the alphabet
This is how I named the others, a code to decipher
yourself by. I erased my name so you would have more
echoes than you know what to do with
A bounty of echoes
Riches of silence
Wrapped in quiet, the name feels safe
exile, extermination, forgetting
praying, fleeing, returning
Written three times
at a border, in a prayer book, on a grave
A name inside walls of removal
only gets stronger
To receive an answer
you must ask
the question three times
(what is your name)
(what is your name)
(what is your name)
gizhe-manidoo carved a river
of tears and summer storms
for us to glide along—taught us nibwaakaawin
to breathe in and out together
open our eyes to see each-other zaagi’idiwin
told us otters must hold hands
while sleeping or drift apart minaadendimowin
said we must learn to swim
with the current—taught us dabaadendiziwin
to care for this land qwayakwaadziwin
said we are responsible
for seven generations.
gichi-mookomaan thundered debwewin
down the rapids—left us
wading water. aakwa’ode’ewin
said seven fires will burn
before we see the end of dabaadendiziwin
birch bark canoes breaking
against the shore.
As the HR MacMillan Space Centre’s sky
theatre goes dim, my thoughts flip back
like a page to Honshu Island,
tourists ascending eroded, trash-
laden paths under cover of darkness
to glimpse milky morning light
from Fuji’s summit. Recently,
I watched a video of the sun rising
to calm myself. Then clicked on
a weird time-lapse GIF depicting
how a mother’s internal organs
move out of the way as her baby
grows. When I tried to find it again
to show you, I couldn’t get
the search term right. I can’t forget
how the sonographer paused,
transducer in hand, to say “Let’s double-
check that,” her words a fault line
in my heart cracking open.
After the appointment, I took a taxi
to meet you for the concert,
frantically Googling normal bi-parietal
diameter en route, too petrified to read
the results it generated. You said
the musician was hosting a workshop,
“Laugh with Laraaji,” to help people
get in touch with their inner child. I
couldn’t tell if you were
confessing your desire to attend,
mentioning it for my sake, or as
a joke. Sure, I’ve been under some
stress lately. Moving slow as a parade
float drenched in tinsel. Because
my heart hurts. Doubled blood volume
roiling like lava through four red
chambers. Each day, up with the sunrise
because my inner child is a metaphor
and a literal tiny child who kicks
me awake. Myself and someone
else, two me’s. When he flipped
into breach, I spent a week doing
inversions on the carpet. You shone
an incandescent flashlight
at my belly, placed foam headphones
around it. On the advice of
the acupuncturist, burned moxa
by my pinkie toes, hoping the heat
would transmit a message to our son:
go easy on me. Everyone in the sky
theatre is 23 and high and not
pregnant. They smell like sweat
and spearmint gum. I don’t care
anymore. Laraaji is banging a gong
and cackling into a microphone
as galaxies slide on curved screens
above his head. He wears robes
the colour of the scorching sun.
Sometimes laughter swims
through the body like a sound
wave traveling back to the probe
as an echo but there’s no GIF
depicting this. Cherry blossoms
fall like floral meteors into a pond
behind the planetarium at the same
rate of speed as at the base of Fuji.
A mother eagle assembles a sturdy
moss and feather loft for her newborns
in the highest tree in Vanier Park
because the view is nice. Perhaps
Japanese bird mothers do the same,
because who wouldn’t want
the very best for their children’s
eyeballs? Who wouldn’t want to
listen to the calming sounds of
Laraaji’s collaborator Brian Eno
during 39 hours of labour
followed by emergency C-section?
You place an iPod beside
the hospital bathtub and Apollo
drowns out my screams. I see stars.
Fly to Japan. Leave earth’s atmosphere
in a nitrous-fuelled rocket ship.
Beta blockers slow pyroclastic flows
in my heart through the worst of it.
Even in this altered state,
I’m only pretending I don’t know
what is happening to me. I know.
As they lift the tiny person over
the paper scaffolding and place him
on my chest like a warm island,
the sun rises over a mountain
of ash and snow, carving living pathways
through the maternity ward.
Couple Flying Over Village
“Do you want to go away from here with me? We’ll be together days and nights at a time. Your father won’t be there, nor your mother… Nobody’ll scold you… or beat you. . .We’ll be all by ourselves… For days at a time… We’ll be so happy. What do you say, Rifkele?”
–Manke to Rifkele, Act III, “God of Vengeance” by Sholem Asch
I mean, there must have been so many
daughters. All these women braiding
everything in sight while their husbands write
from Kiev, write from Lvov, or, you know—
never call, never write. Scores of
Sheyne-Sheyndels-in-waiting. I mean,
it must have been very dark, and very
quiet, at night. And with all the men
in a field, in the back room, or better yet—
studying ten hours a day. Someone sneaks
down into the brothel, into the cellar, goes out
into the rain in her nightgown. She’s just taking a bath.
She’s just washing her hair.
I mean, there’s no way
everyone had a dowry. And the rabbis mostly agreed—you could even
still marry a rabbi. Whither thou goest
and all that. Your people will be my people,
I swear, holding up a little light
behind the towns
like a lantern, drifting over all the tiny
houses—a red roof, a blue window, trying to
see what we must have missed.
You Are My Hiding Place
The hole in the floor is old, old, old country.
It lives under the kitchen table, yawns wide
while the family eats, wider still when they starve.
Cold above, so below. When the horses march up to the house,
the hole—it has teeth—they chatter. Grandma says the hole
is where the women go when the Russians come.
Paramutation of hoofbeats. Epigenetic fur hats.
A long tablecloth, white-knit lace
brushing the floor.
If a black boot peeks under the lace.
If a sharp woolen shoulder leans down, suspects
a wooden floor, a hidden circle. Or
a dirt floor, a carefully dirt-covered
lid. If anyone sneezes. If a leather glove
lifts the lace, folds up
into a tiny helix, leaves a switch
on a molecule, leaves
a bootprint in a bomb shelter
a gold button in the basement.
If a woman opens her hand decades later, reaches
for something, brushes away
webs of dust, stares
into the sudden dark circle
in her palm, says
hell is this
Weeks of maybe, before they sleep together
in his house, his bed—a clumsy affair
giving their bodies back forgotten parts
until their mouths simply open to the salt-
lick of skin, tongues carving initials
along spread limbs. Wherever it finds us,
rapture’s face nudges the deepest bulb
to claim its sky. A mending here—the clotted
heart on fire with beautiful, beautiful,
not thinking of the intense heat and light
it throws, the shadows sure to creep from dark
caves, intent on apprehending it. She wakes to
find him staring out the living room window.
It’s the first spring since his wife’s ashes
were scattered over the June-bright garden
and daffodils she’d planted nod across,
trumpeting the sun and the hour. Touch
his shoulder now—and suffer the blade
of a body stiffening, straightening,
as if last night’s shine had stuck
a suddenly dangerous foot in the door.
When my father died I wrote reams of eulogies,
paper houses, and nothing
for my mother, who paced our house
dismantling the hours
of care built with bloodied
hands over his years of cancer.
Every room was bricked
with pills, bottles of saline solution,
Ensure, measured and meted out with
precision, every hour accounted
for in journals with her
grade school teacher’s hand.
I never wanted to be a nurse she told me ruefully,
sorting the week’s pills,
it was nurse, secretary, or teacher
in those days—
I watch her dress her third husband,
order his pills in blister packs, every goddamn minute
of holding on to her husbands through vomiting and
shitting and gurgling water in their lungs.
—nurse, secretary, or teacher: it still is.
My mother-in-law survived
a husband too, though his heart attack was a different
horror. Now she attends to a man who can’t love her;
there can’t be three people in a relationship, he says, after
she expressed admiration for the man
who cared for her dying friend.
Widows line his street, he will pick one who can
devote herself to nursing his jealousies,
who can put balm to his fevered imagination and be
grateful for the chance. When my mother’s 2nd husband
was in the throes of cancer he lost himself,
my mother talked him through nights when he railed against her,
accused her of starving him as his stomach pump
whirred in the dark. Every three hours she cleaned it,
set it, and he would raise
his fist to her face,
demand to know why she wasn’t caring for him.
On visits he would wink at me, tell me she was crazy
and her face, I have never seen such a dark exhaustion.
It erases everything.
When my mother considered falling in love again,
I encouraged her, I said it’s a tribute to the love you had for my father
not thinking about the cost of tributes. I can do that, now,
with my husband, and kids, and busy busy job,
it’s easy to ignore the waver in her voice,
believe that caretaking is a job, the efficient accounting
and management of a body, believe that love is worth
all costs. And it is,
for men who don’t die alone. Those left
are women, it seems. Quietly sweeping
the rubble of work from their homes.
What remains within these tidy houses?
We are told that women, after a certain age,
become invisible. Surely, it is something within them;
and not us looking away.
How Soon, How Likely, How Severe
The first day, the fire climbed the slash
like a jungle gym and leapt to the canopy.
We dug out eight kilometers of hand line
where the slope was too steep for the Cat.
I snapped a Pulaski and ground
my palms to burger. Thank god we’re not
a dry camp. The next three days,
the pump rattled like a Datsun cresting
the Coquilhala. It sucked from the pond
until the shallows quivered with a jelly
of tadpoles. We drew a circle in two-inch hose
and bare soil and called the fire contained.
If anyone asks, Kamloops, the fire is contained.
We spend our overtime among the black spires
of burnt fir, sniffing for the socks-on-the-
camp-stove scent of smouldering duff.
I wake up pawing the motel carpet
for hot spots. A voice on the handheld asks
if I remember my old life. I remember
ground fire creeping from root to root,
approaching an interface with the unspoken.
A threat under the surface. Now, I could load
my duffel into a chopper and fly, nose down,
along the seam of the present tense.
Self-sufficient for twenty-four hours
with a birds-eye view of the point of ignition.
imagine a dementia dog pack imagine
the threat of such explosive animal proximity
the dogs are like a movie jumping back
cutting back to the beginning and dogs
dogs are coming again the jerky wooden
roller coaster motion of them repeating
the dogs going at it the dog pack
as a single entity so tightly packed
it becomes a coil of hot animal potential
repeating and compulsive and endless
on the inside of demented heads the side
tracked heads of the distracted
old held in the grasp
the gasp of these dogs memories
gone minds gone to the dogs