“Dwelling” from Arc’s 2019 Shortlist


Don McKay wants to know: What are you, empty or pregnant? I am growing smaller and larger at the same time.

My infant latched, and the door between my heart and his mouth flew open.

Garden, from the root gher “to grasp, enclose.” To mother may mean to give life or to smother.

A bur is a room, a hut, a vessel. A daughter is a prickly seed that clings.

The second week of our marriage, my husband told me he needed to be alone.

I have not mastered the sacred art of witnessing.

When my son was 10, he said, I’m glad I don’t have to think about girls yet. Except you, Mommy. I want to think about you.

It fascinated me, the way my mother’s clothesline fit perfectly in the pulley. When I turned 40, time began unwinding, the beginning growing closer.

I tried to give my daughter what I didn’t receive as a child, but she didn’t want it.

Jane Kenyon’s lover’s empty pillow was plump, cool, and allegorical. Sleepless, my husband has taken his with him to the sofa.

Between scared and sacred, a small sea churns.

I touch my arm with the hot clothes iron. The skin wrinkles.

On the pale underside of my son’s wrist, a birthmark that says eat.

We dust the house with snowfalls of skin, with feathers.

My daughter brings me bouquets of dandelions, petunias from strangers’ gardens.

When we cleave to each other, does it mean to cling or to sever? Kenyon’s and her lover’s night-clothes twine and untwine on the line.

I love the thoughtful way my son selects Mini-Wheats, lines them up in rows. He eats them in ascending order of sweetness.

We are collectors, McKay says, with our heads full of closets, our hearts full of ovens.

After 15 years, the smell of sour milk can still make my breast ache.

I am always looking for the third child I never had.

Marriage is a mirage, then a marinade.

I treat my family like dirt: waiting for what will grow.

A woman told me, in her language, the word for love and the mouth of a river are the same.

In a hymn to heaven, art is the verb to be.

Notes for “Dwelling”:

Don McKay’s quotes are from “Astonished” in Strike/Slip (McClelland & Stewart, 2006), and “Song for the Song of the Common Loon” in Paradoxides (McClelland & Stewart, 2012). “I have not mastered the sacred art of witnessing” is adapted from Jónína Kirton’s interview with Betsy Warland on roommagazine.com. References to Jane Kenyon are based on “Alone for a Week” in Collected Poems (Graywolf Press, 2005).

Sarah Tsiang on Angeline Schellenberg’s “Dwelling”

In beautiful, disjointed lines, “Dwelling” offers us a glimpse into the mind of a mother and writer. With careful attention to the possibilities and spaces in language, parenthood, and marriage, “Dwelling” offers us a glimpse of the sacred that is contained in the small, passing moments of our lives.

Angeline Schellenberg’s Tell Them It Was Mozart (Brick Books, 2016) won three Manitoba Book Awards. She launches chapbooks with Dancing Girl, Kalamalka, JackPine presses in 2019 and her second full-length collection, Fields of Light and Stone (University of Alberta Press), in 2020.

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