“Frank Slide” from Arc’s 2019 Shortlist

Frank Slide

I heard about it before I saw it—
the Crowsnest town buried by landslide—
kids in footsie pajamas, a dog by the fireplace,
the mother-in-law in a pine rocker, the transient
looking for work, the husband saved
by chopping wood somewhere
else that night, helping out a friend,
the one who came back to grief and debris;
young Lilian Clarke returning from a late shift
to the ruin of a town under rockpile. Pompeii,
I thought, just like Pompeii, with the spoon in the bowl
petrified, the hands turned to stone reaching at the door,
the dog curled into statue. A rumble resonating
all the way to Cochrane that night, and up my spine.
We sat in the truck, looking through the windshield like
we were at the ROM, gazing at fake models encased
in a glass box starting a plaster fire, the dog Anubis
somewhere else, scratching a calcified itch,
and rising from the dust and coal-smudge scene,
painted smoke and limestone shale. And I thought of
how the CPR migrants moved those stones
one by one—as in a tomb—its stone rolled away—
to make space for the resurrection of a new town
and a new line, and the few who were spared
praying seven times seven thanks under Turtle Mountain;
the way they blasted rock in a spiral right through
Kicking Horse Pass, and a man, Choquette, running three miles
to warn the train chugging towards buried tracks … Wait,
I thought, I never saw the rubble at all, just
heard the tale of baby Gladys’ survival in a bale of hay;
the laze and drone of truck-hum and bumblebee
put me to sleep as we drove that four day drive
to the Rockies. Wait, I thought, I am dreaming now of
the buried city, some treasury of memory
petrified like a bug in amber, horse bones in the tarsands,
and, look, here is the fossil dog rising from its curled epitaph
coming right out of the dream towards our truck—
that wolfish dog he rescued with one blue eye,
mountain dog, almost a wolfish Saint Bernard
with a small barrel of whisky
and meds under his saving slobbering chin—
the dog in my dreams digging deep in the rubble
for something still alive.

Kevin Matthews on Kate Marshall Flaherty’s “Frank Slide”

“Frank Slide” is not only about the disaster commemorated there, but also about the behaviour of the mind of the visitor. What to do when encountering catastrophe, absent the first-hand horror? We recoil, each according to our own shifting states of mind, in and out of the here and now, somehow at once both stuck in place and slipping out of control. All the while, the arbitrariness of calamity hovers, indistinct, indifferent, intimidating, all too intimate.

Kate Marshall Flaherty’s sixth book of poetry, Radiant, launched with Inanna Press on June 13th. She was shortlisted for Exile’s Gwendolyn MacEwen Poetry Prize 2019, and has been published in Vallum, Trinity Review and others. She guides StillPoint Writing Workshops in Toronto.

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