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“Lesbos / lesbos” by Annick MacAskill, from Arc’s 2021 Shortlist

“Lesbos / lesbos” by Annick MacAskill


 

Lesbos / lesbos

Lesbos / lesbos is a poem that is visually arranged in two columns, with the one on the left left justified, and the right side right justified. In the first column, the text reads: On a shining Greek island skimmed by turquoise waters a woman Sappho loved	so brightly all the girls wanted her she wrote so sublimely of	their love when rediscovered millennia later the grey Renaissance men mistranslated her	Ode on the Beloved altered the pronouns so she would sing the yearning for a man and not a woman and the French turned her into a lesson on female friendship the Victorians a prim schoolmarm yet some would know a girl loving a girl	is just another possibility a different phase of the moon these clear-sighted readers would trace with their slim fingers the lines of the Archaic Greek squiggles recreating	the green passion  never lost hidden	in the liner notes of Longinus out of medieval sight but still	eternal. The second column is one line longer, and it reads: In high school the boys would laugh about an island ancient populated by girls girls who loved girls for want of men as if out of turquoise desperation they were lesbos they said an entire island of them Lesbos my face grew hot it was French class I squawked it seemed a stupid fucking joke but the one girl in our school who was out said it was true I thought of my best friend the way my tongue turned to cement before her my eyes shocked my ears blocked as if with the sticky pink barbe à papa we ate at the Western Fair where every humid September we were just that much closer the ground giving out sinking us into a great ocean no island in	sight.

 


 

Mia Morgan on “Lesbos / lesbos”

In a parallel style that balances fragments and phrases, this poem deftly weaves the ancient with the contemporary. With wordplay and themes of mistranslation, the poem explores the ways queer feminine subjects resist how their experiences are written by society.

 


 

Annick MacAskill is the author of two poetry collections, No Meeting Without Body (Gaspereau Press, 2018), which was longlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and shortlisted for the JM Abraham Award, and Murmurations (Gaspereau Press, 2020). A settler of French and Scottish ancestry, she lives and writes in Kjipuktuk (Halifax) on the traditional and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq.