“This is What Happens” from Arc’s 2019 Shortlist

This is What Happens

The indigo lens flare says
the photographing friend was behind a windshield,

was less invested in the decapitation, waited,
closing the door against dry twigs trifling as raffia,

while this guy held the deer head in that way,
dangling from his glove, large ears and nose together

forming something trefoil: a sad, suede trillium.
This is what happens when you bastards

fuck up my car. He means dying against it like that,
a saltate body on a spree, spending itself

all in one place and on his polymers.

Sidewinder Road (was that your name?), I give you up,

especially in memory, under a bus; I can’t have you.
Round communal sink, smelling like Galapagos goannas, goodbye.

Post office raffle, fluoride treatment, school assembly piano acoustic blur,
St. Lawrence filmstrip, maple tree spigot, Swedish dodgeball, no more.

Banner from Ontario’s centennial, I reject you a hundredfold.
Resource room kisser: no. Goodbye, hotly-contested school morning prayer.

This is a scene I didn’t see. But he captioned it, said he stoked
a roadside barbecue in the dead of night, might as well make dog food.

No more union suit, the crotch a sagging hammock slung from knee to knee,
no soggy graveyard field trip, no boy who walked down the hallway

peeing in every lined-up boot. This was a boy with both “rose” and “heart”
in his name; I renounce even my original semantic shock.

Canada Fitness flexed arm hang, I let you go. Substitute teacher
browbeating the garlanded child who spoke no English

for tracking mud into the gym, goodbye. And goodbye, child who cried
the way a rabbit cries. This guy sat beside me then, and then and then.

We were children together. We learned in woods like these or woods
unlike these, for this is not a space. You know,

I only came here to see if he had flourished,
didn’t expect this flash in boreal darkness, mutilation,

sear of reflective matter on his coat,
a photo already six years old

and all the charge of it extinguished.

Frances Boyle on Medrie Purdham’s “This is What Happens”

The power of this poem arises as much from the tensions Purdham creates as from arresting images (the deer’s decapitated head like “something trefoil: a sad suede trillium”). Placement on the page and an initial view from “behind a windshield” parallel the speaker’s distancing of a shared history. Escalating statements of renunciation—“I reject you a hundredfold”—suggest complicity denied.

Medrie Purdham lives in Regina, SK. She has been published in journals across the country, anthologized three times in Tightrope Press’s Best Canadian Poetry series, and broadcast on the former CBC radio program Sound Xchange.

Skip to content