About the Jackman Foundation

The Walrus Poetry Prize is generously sponsored by the Hal Jackman ­Foundation

The Hal Jackman Foundation believes cultural activities are essential tools in fostering vibrant, livable communities. It is committed to the development and presentation of compelling artistic programs in the visual and performing arts. The foundation focuses on increasing access to and appreciation of arts and culture, as well as building the audiences of the future. In the last twenty years, it has awarded more than $14 million to over 200 arts and educational institutions, underlining the Hal Jackman Foundation’s civic commitment to Toronto.

If you enjoy this ebook, please support The Walrus magazine. To subscribe online, visit thewalrus.ca/subscribe. To donate, go to thewalrus.ca/donate.
“The Walrus is one of the best things that has happened in Canada. It’s very rare, an outfit like this, informed by integrity, vision, and dedication. Please help The Walrus survive. We need it.”
—LEONARD COHEN, poet, singer-songwriter, and author

Lynn Crosbie, “Liar”
Karen Solie, “Life Is a Carnival”
Jesse Patrick Ferguson, “For the Fighter Pilot Made Redundant by Unmanned Drones”
Jeramy Dodds, “Cottage Country”
Don McKay, “Song for the Song of the Loon”
Robyn Sarah, “Cast-offs”
Adam Dickinson, “Hearsay”
Michael Robbins, “Season in the Abyss”
Eric Ormsby, “Lunar Innuendos”
Linda Besner, “Dogwalker’s Law”
Vincent Colistro, “Leisure”
Billy Collins, “Lake Shore”
P. K. Page, “Each Mortal Thing”
Dani Couture, “Salvage”
Moez Surani, “After Arriving Home and Reading Your Letter from Port Said”
Damian Rogers, “Dream of the Last Shaker”
Barbara Nickel, “Onychomychosis”
Nicole Brossard, “Untitled”
Amanda Jernigan, “Encounter”
Elise Partridge, “Two Cowboys”
Evelyn Lau, “Dear Updike”
Helen Guri, “Water Conscious”
Sonnet L’Abbé, “Shh”
George Elliott Clarke, “Bluing Green”
Sheldon Zitner, “The Twentieth Time”
Jon Paul Fiorentino, “Dying in Winnipeg”
Nyla Matuk, “Return to Metcalf Street”
A. F. Moritz, “Bee in Aster”
Alison Pick, “History”
Bardia Sinaee, “Barnacle Goose Ballad”
Sara Peters, “I Understood Our Time Was Running Out”
Jason Guriel, “Poetry Is Barbarous”
Margaret Christakos, “Lease”
Julie Bruck, “The Trick”
Susan Holbrook, “Transit”
Méira Cook, “The Devil’s Advocate”
Jonathan Bennett, “Civil and Civic”
Jacob McArthur Mooney, “Sin of Omission”
Richard Green, “Waves”
David O’Meara, “That’s Where the American Helicopters Landed”
Steven Heighton, “Baffled in Ashdod, Blind in Gaza”
Shane Rhodes, “A Picture by Brueghel: Landscape with Icarus Falling”
George Murray, “Brushfires”
Adam Sol, “The Last Matador”
Brent Raycroft, “Scarecrow Maintenance”
Mathew Henderson, “You Ask Your Father What a Lease Is”
Suzannah Showler, “You and Your Rich Inner Life”
Matthew Tierney, “Trust Fund”
Jeff Latosik, “The Piñata”
Ken Babstock, “Caledonia”
Robert Kroetsch, “I’m Going to Read Three Poems”
Paul Muldoon, “The Sevendogs Psalter”
Leonard Cohen, “Different Sides”
Mary Jo Bang, “I as in Justice”
Kateri Lanthier, “The Coin under the Leftmost Sliding Cup”
Gabe Foreman, “When Will I Find Myself?”
Nick Thran, “Dopamine”
Troy Jollimore, “Charlie Brown”
Daryl Hine, “True Blood”
David McGimpsey, “What Was That Poem?”

GATHERED HERE together, I wonder if these poems seem out of place among one another. They are all poems, sure, but they are unaccustomed to the company of other poems. They feel much more comfortable snuggled into, say, the stopgap between an Edward Burtynsky photo essay and a Kaitlin Fontana piece on Justin Bieber — usually a strange place for a poem to find itself. But this is one of the many qualities the poems collected here in The Best of Walrus Poetry have in common: the shared experience of having been the odd one out on a comically large stage for a poem, of having been a kind of verbal curio between two pieces of reportage, a situation that at times has made even the magazine’s poetry editor ask, what is a poem doing here?
On tenth anniversary of The Walrus, this question is worth asking again. What exactly is the place of poetry in a magazine best known for its award-winning long-form journalism? The benefits to the poems are obvious: they gain access to the largest available audience for them in Canada, an audience of highly literate, intellectually curious readers from coast to coast to coast. Although The Walrus is known first and foremost for its journalism, it is also, strictly by the numbers, the largest publisher of poetry in Canada. But what’s in it for the reader who looks to the magazine for news of Canada and its place in the world? I’m tempted here to quote William Carlos Williams in a zealous moment: “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack // of what is found there.” What is found there is the direct line to another human being, the raw data of personality and sensibility articulated through the sort of aesthetic decisions that led Emerson to write, “Man is only half himself, the other half is his expression.” A key component of our education about the world, and our ability to live peacefully in it, is an intimacy with someone else’s linguistic decision making, our other half. Yet the poems collected here also constitute what Pound would call “news that stays news,” reports filed from the foreign bureaus of individual minds that, unlike pieces of journalism, will never grow old or obsolete, but will stay as true and urgent as the day they were conceived.
Nonetheless, it is a gamble, and maybe an impolite one, to appeal to readers’ humanity with the aim of encouraging them to read poetry. To shore up the odds, during my tenure as poetry editor I have followed a rule (which grew out of Pound’s injunction that poetry be at least as well written as prose) that the poems we run in The Walrus be at least as interesting as everything else in the magazine. They should be at least as good as Richard Poplak writing about sports, or Ron Graham writing about Michael Ignatieff; as nuanced and complicated and concise as Rachel Giese writing about bullying; as beautiful as Brian Morgan’s art direction. Even if it is belated and a bit unfashionable, there is still a sense in which Keats’ formulation of beauty equalling truth is relevant to a discussion of poetry’s place in a magazine like The Walrus (though I should add here that all of the poems we publish are fact checked, to the incredulous delight of poets published in our pages for the first time). At the very least, beauty is its own excuse, which is good enough for me, and I hope for our readers.
However, the sixty-five poems in this anthology are not only held together by their beauty, or by their having appeared first in our pages. They each represent, and contribute to, the sea change that has taken place in Canadian poetry over the past ten years or so, a time of rediscovery and experimentation that fortuitously overlaps with the existence of The Walrus. That period begins in 2004, “those inconceivable days before YouTube,” as Karen Solie calls them. She and Ken Babstock (represented here by his poem “Caledonia”) were then still ascending hypotheses, not quite yet the hard-and-fast dominant facts they are today. Such major talents as David McGimpsey, David O’Meara, and Elise Partridge were still niche tastes. Many of the poets doing the most to steer Canadian poetry today —  Linda Besner, Jeramy Dodds, Gabe Forman, Jason Guriel, Amanda Jernigan, Damian Rogers, Matthew Tierney, and others — had yet to make their mark. The emergence of these cohorts, who share a linguistic restlessness and a formal ambition, made possible both the new talents I hope we will one day take for granted — Mathew Henderson, Suzannah Showeler — and an appreciation of previously marginalized voices, such as Eric Ormsby, Daryl Hine, Robyn Sarah, and P. K. Page.
During this time, Canadian poetry finally gave up on all of those silly nationalist ideas from the ’60s and ’70s and began to look out fully at the wider world. Vocal registers, formal strategies, and lexical approaches that had previously been deemed foreign and colonial, and were subsequently scrubbed from our poetry, re-emerged in the voices of poets who didn’t like being told what’s good for them. We re-entered the English-speaking conversation, and the world travelled back into our throats. As a result, more of our poems began to travel abroad, catching the interest of foreign journals and publishing houses. In that infinite feedback loop called culture, The Walrus began publishing foreign poets about once a year in our pages. In the anthology you now hold, you will find poems by Mary Jo Bang, Billy Collins, Paul Muldoon, and Michael Robbins, not only because they are some of the poets with whom we are in conversation, but also because I hope to show that these Canadian poems can stand alongside those from any other English-language tradition (and not squirm any more than is our custom).
There are many perfectly reasonable ways of putting together an anthology: chronologically, regionally, alphabetically. I tried dressing The Best of Walrus Poetry those ways, but each felt like forcing the poor thing into a different Sunday best. So I opted for a different approach, something that felt more faithful to the spirit of the poems themselves, and to the period: I arranged them as a book, one in conversation with the next, so you could conceivably read it right through. This is not just for the reader’s enjoyment. It is to highlight a principle I believe the poets represented here have all internalized in their own way: that a poem is most like its truest self, most unique and idiosyncratic, when it is its most social. By that, I don’t necessarily mean accessible, in easy dialogue with the reader; I mean in conversation with the world in which the poem was made, with other poems, with other minds. This brings us to a paradox, one of the reasons poetry still has a place in a general interest magazine: even though writing poetry is a fundamentally solitary act, it is also a fundamentally conjunctive one, tethering one mind to another in a way no other medium can. I compiled the anthology in this way so you may discover and rediscover some of the best poems we have published over the past decade, but even more so that you find them in conversations they didn’t even realize they were having, with the other poems and with our increasingly interconnected world.
Some of those conversations are being held by poets who (to ape Auden elegizing Yeats) have become their poems. Daryl Hine, Robert Kroetsch, P. K. Page, and Sheldon Zitner have all passed away since their poems graced our pages. The first three names may be more familiar than the last. I must admit I had never heard of Zitner until I was making my way through our archives and found his jaw-dropping “The Twentieth Time,” which was published posthumously in our July/August 2005 issue, before I became poetry editor. The poem, with its mix of oracular diction and statistical jargon, struck me as the voice of a young person, some early Gabe Foreman or Linda Besner arriving a couple of years early to the scientific poetry game. As it turns out, it was written by an eighty-one-year old scholar best know for a critical introduction to All’s Well That Ends Well. Zitner seems to have anticipated a good deal of what our freshest young talents are on about.
I had a couple more rules. I did not include every poem we have ever published; it would have made for too big a book. Poetry collections should be small but potent — bourbon, not Bud Light. Poets who have published a number of poems in The Walrus only get one each in the collection. I wanted to include the winners of the Walrus Poetry Prize, now in its second year. Having the winners alongside the other auspicious poems that have appeared in the magazine proves that the blind selection process of the prize dovetails with my editorial policy: that to publish with us you don’t need to be famous, just good. Indeed, some famous poems got left out for that reason. For example, even though we published Karen Solie’s “Tractor,” from her Griffin-winning Pigeon, I included a newer poem, “Life Is a Carnival,” mostly because I think it’s better, but also because in it she calls Google Earth’s omniscient eye an “invisible pervert,” which I thought was important in and of itself.
I also didn’t publish myself, which would have been tacky. That is the only downside to being the poetry editor of The Walrus. It was my favourite place to see my poems appear in Canada, but I can’t publish my own poems in it anymore. I don’t remember every acceptance letter, but I remember then managing editor Jared Bland writing me to tell me he had accepted one of my poems. I was living in Montreal, working on what would become my first book. As the publication date neared, I would check in obsessively at my local magazine shop to see if the issue had arrived. Soon after it finally did, I received an email from Patrick Watson, the journalist and public intellectual behind those Canadian Heritage Minutes and a good deal more, who wrote me to say how much he liked my work. This is not to brag. It is to highlight that when you publish a poem in The Walrus, strange and incredible things can happen; people who are not poets read your work. That moment, which comes, like grace, so rarely and unearned, is the kind of unlikely congress that makes going to the trouble of writing poems feel less futile and hermetic.
— Michael Lista, Poetry Editor

Lynn CrosbieLiar

Today I raked the last of the leaves and apples,
our dog,
my dog, Frank,
running laps with his green ring, irritated.
You crossed my mind, as you do each time I am pressed to do something
odious and new.
You took care of everything — I do not remember anything but
a carpet of yellow and gold,
anything but this tableau disappearing, exposing wet earth,
lacerated, expectant.
I have since learned that expectation is synonymous with the worst
arrogance — 
trees exfoliate and their leaves simply evanesce,
as it is distasteful to consider their decomposition; worse,
a commitment to the graft of attentiveness, care.
I wish that I had watched you at least, hefting up these
fallow masses, unsticking strays from the tines,
I wish that I had seen you, moving through the yard,
the backwards alchemy,
how you pushed us from season to season — 
aching as soundlessly as the black boughs that surrendered
this intemperate mass.
November 2004

Karen SolieLife Is a Carnival

Dinner finished, wine in hand, in a vaguely competitive spirit
of disclosure, we trail Google Earth’s invisible pervert
through the streets of our hometowns, but find them shabbier, or grossly
contemporized, denuded of childhood’s native flora,
stuccoed or in some other way hostile
to the historical re-enactments we expect of our former
settings. What sadness in the disused curling rinks, their illegal
basement bars imploding, in the seed of a Wal-Mart
sprouting in the demographic, in Street View’s perpetual noon. With pale
and bloated production values, hits of AM radio rise
to the surface of a network of social relations long obsolete. We sense
a loss of rapport. But how sweet the persistence
of angle parking! Would we burn these places rather than see them
change, or would we simply burn them, the sites of wreckage
from which we staggered with our formative injuries into the rest
of our lives. They cannot be consigned to the fourfold,
though the age we were belongs to someone else. Like our old
house. Look what they’ve done to it. Who thought this would be fun?
A concert, then, YouTube from those inconceivable days before
YouTube, an era boarded over like a bankrupt country store,
cans still on its shelves, so hastily did we leave it. How beautiful
they are in their poncey clothes, their youthful higher
registers, full screen, two of them dead now. Is this
eternity? Encore, applause, encore; it’s almost like being there.
April 2012

Jesse Patrick FergusonFor the Fighter Pilot Made Redundant by Unmanned Drones

Fatigued, he bides there, glum, in the desert
Tim Hortons simulacrum, that mirage of home
dragged out the tail end of a C130 Hercules
and opened for business. In his PVC lawn chair,
he pours ho-hum into java and mopes
the spoon about his mug. Quite apart
from the other patrons, he scans beyond the brim
of his patio umbrella the depeopled sky
blue-white and chitin-dry as centuries-dead scorpion,
washed out and wide as a year’s worth
of wasted moments. His half-hearted ear strains
for rumble from the next village over,
but catches only dune-shiftings of coffee talk.
Across base camp, in a darkened room
a pimply-faced private plays video games
in which made-up hellfire falls
on featureless enemy targets that revert to desert
without a peep. Unreal cities. Made-up unmanned
Predator drones patrol the cgi sky, dropping
sugar cube cluster bombs into black coffee
hearts and minds. Dark minds that know not
the fighter pilot twiddling his itchy thumbs
at a Tim Hortons table in the Afghani sun.
March 2010

Jeramy DoddsCottage Country

10-cane rum and I’m all
sun inside. Children
in shrink-wrap-tight
swimsuits. Cigar boats
burning by. Our aluminum’s
hoist-high in dry-dock,
tonsilled in the mouth
of the boathouse,
its conked outboard
sidesaddles the stern
like the burnt-out fan
of a disbanded boy band.
I’m one gin from oblivion.
Children, little Pol Pots
divvying up all the fun.
They get some and then
some. Rising for a quick
dip, I eye those little shits
wading in the sun-shivved
Resurfacing I face
the strand where the Children
now stand at attention
in class-portrait stance
kneading pea gravel
in their Q-tip fists
until little Angela says,
We’ll give you a head start.
And from the tip
of the tongue-depressor
dock, I spy my high school
sweetheart turning down
the lakebed so I can pull
the bedrock over my head
before they find the time
to turn to teenagers.
September 2010

Don McKaySong for the Song of the Loon

If that’s the word:
the song’s already gone
before it’s uttered so the ear is left
full of its emptiness,
It seems the loon
opens its throat to some old
elemental wind, it seems that time
has finally found its syrinx and for a moment
lets itself be voice.
what perilous music!
Surely, like Odysseus, we ought
to stop our ears against this feral
MRI with its dreadful
diagnostic reverb?
But no, we would rather
be stricken, rather suspect
that the spirit also is a migratory species,
that it is right now flying to star river — 
as the ancients called the Milky Way — that in
fact it is already there,
yodelling for no one and
ignoring us, the collectors,
with our heads full of closets,
our hearts full of ovens,
and our sad feet.
September 2007

Robyn SarahCast-offs

Poignancy of the discarded.
The armless doll that stares
from the trash heap in spring,
the sagging sofa with the cat-scratched arms,
the love-stained mattress in the rain.
Inside-out umbrellas, broken-ribbed,
flapping forlornly in puddles,
and jack-o’-lanterns after Halloween,
askew on compost piles.
Poignancy even of the intact, discarded:
here, today, curbside by the corner post
(among junked chairs and rust-stained mops)
a perfectly good birdcage
with all the fittings: porcelain cups
for seed and water,
ladders, mirrors — all the bells
and whistles — everything
but the bird.
November 2013

Adam DickinsonHearsay

A polymer of longitudinal conspiracies
The Apollo landings happened
in someone’s basement.
The director was Sheik Zubair,
from Basra, who had earlier
written works erroneously attributed
to Bacon, Marlowe, and
Elvis. Collective chills
spike overproduced history plays
in the desert streets of Roswell,
New Mexico, in the succubus
hydrology of Bermuda.
9/11 was the work of a pet goat
pent up in the feedlots of the Pentagon.
When you get it,
you get it,
like a knife fight
in a phone booth
over a hole in the plot
you could drive a truck through.
Here, among the airbrushed
anomalies of the moon’s surface,
All Your Base Are Belong to Us.
September 2012

Michael RobbinsSeason in the Abyss

Du Fu, you doofus, that’s not
a goose. You’re drunk.
Please allow me to introduce…
no, that’s not your horse.
(No, nor woman neither.)
Into every life a little
Freud must fall. I’m a fraud.
I stole that pun. Like I said:
I’m afraid. Into every light
a little moth must blunder…
Cue power ballad.
I don’t know what to call a spade.
The sky will lately swish stuff.
I open my barbaric yap.
Du Fu joins me on the veranda.
We are old and full of crap.
The millionaires across the way,
their homes are all ablaze.
We like it when those homes collapse
like moths before clichés.
June 2013

Eric OrmsbyLunar Innuendos

That bluish cataract milky with age,
the moon’s grey glimpse gauzed by night
Scuffed and ochreous as a child’s lost ball
discovered under last December’s ice,
With necrotic shadows wisping its forehead
 — the sudden pleasure of death after long pain — 
Invents its spires and beginning belfries.
The moon is not cold cinder swathed
In the stark fixative of thermal glass
nor even speechless stone freckled with gleams
Nor a chill foundation for persuasive air.
Don’t be misled by its shrewd blue gaze:
The small brown bat can clasp it in his mouth.
May 2012

Linda BesnerDogwalker’s Law

The Korean chatelaine who claims she never boffed
her former dogwalker (and blots her creamy affidavit
swearing theirs a chaste relationship)
is perjuring: if she didn’t, she should have,
as he’s robust, with coastal ponytail.
Lapping the park arm in arm, as his pals attest they did,
(hers that she never), a seething preceded them:
a furor spilling over hillocks, yelping surge
afroth with rolling eye and tooth. Sextuplet
collared maniac rushing modesty’s hiding place.
It is unreasonable to doubt his beauty hounded her.
Signing, she drums nails appliquéd with sapphire,
a gift from her red-headed lesbian lover (she says,
but fails to produce her). Nails she raked (alleged)
across his back in a heap of harlot leaves.
Blindfolded by his bandana, a sword between them.
Money changed hands. Now she’s naked
in his briefs. Held fast by the long arm
that longs to leash the beast with six backs,
like a god he pictured, yogically,
while jogging. Toward a door marked “Barristers.”
Brains after all, she thinks, wondering
if she was wrong when she dismissed him.
April 2011

Vincent ColistroLeisure

With no one to properly apply the tourniquet, he afforded himself
the rare opportunity to just bleed everywhere. On the bedskirt, the garlic bowl,
the painting of a smudge that could be a farmer, the — the everywhere.
Blood became as a necessary aesthetic embellishment, the stucco,
for example. Then it began to appear functional, as grouting. Its copiousness
sort of normalized it, so he sat in his chair and began to read amid it.
Soon after, his wife came home, aghast of course, but he assured her
that the blood had probably always been there, that she should fix herself
a drink or a tomato sandwich and unwind a little bit. Being in no mood
to argue with him, she obliged. It was glamorous. And it empowered her.
So the two sat on the sofa and shared itty little stories about their childhood
vacations, their soft inaccuracies, each with their own twiggy architecture
until the man could no longer keep his eyes open. He died, of course.
In the morning, life clicked back into its old position, and the woman spent the day
crying on the phone with her sister, then the police, then the cleaners.
July/August 2013

CollinsLake Shore

“The cliché is your enemy.”
 — from a handbook on writing

It is not easy to admit this on paper,
but the surface of the lake
is sparkling very much like diamonds,
and I hesitate to say the wind is whispering,
but it seems to be doing something
very close to that this morning.
And if these clouds
do not look like fluffy balls of cotton,
I am not sure what they look like.
On the other hand,
the large, newly drilled hole
halfway up this maple tree
is where a woodpecker
must have worked half a day
just banging away at the good wood,
wings tucked in,
gripping the rough bark,
eyes beady with determination,
his red helmet on
and his metal lunch pail
hanging from a nearby branch.
July/August 2004

P. K. PageEach Mortal Thing

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
 — “As kingfishers catch fire”
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Essence, inner being, soul, heart’s core,
quiddity (poor thesaurus!) — are they one?
each other’s twin, perhaps? — I doubt it. Heart
and soul? O, surely, one the flesh and one
the ghost of flesh, less heavy but more dense.
And yet their object, their intent, their aim
sprung from that inner being, arrowing
truly towards its target, is become
singular and centred as a flame.
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same.
Cat is only cat and I — though a myriad
selves are self — am never more nor less
than is my essence. Surely “ís is ís”
(and here I quote Frank Scott, who said it first)
and ever shall be, while osmosis-like,
I occupy — or is it? — am this flesh.
A mystery. Sometimes the Holy Ghost
seems immanent, sometimes a vacant house
spills out its emptiness, expels, expels,
deals out that being indoors each one dwells.
How focus and define it? Is there need?
Not for most selves, host selves, but for those
lightweight stragglers who stand about,
shadowy figures, who are part of it
unthinkingly, and have a need to see
intrinsically, be drawn in to their self — 
their “heart and soul” self — Freud would call it “id” — 
indelible as India ink, the stuff
of inward/outward self that spills and spills
self — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells.
A naked child, there in its very buff,
unspeaking still, is in its heart of hearts
its self — no other — has no either/or.
Its “I am I” is printed in each cell.
And Rilke’s “tiny creatures” and great Blake’s
innocent little Joy are both at home
in skin and every skein of DNA.
That self, that essence, singular, unique,
knowingly enters in its place and time
crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
June 2008

Dani CoutureSalvage

You can tell a thousand-footer
by her straight back, hammer head
 — a skyscraper toppled.
Too long for locks, what she’s best at:
pushing taconite from Duluth to Gary,
the endless circuitry of ports.
Built from the centre of the earth up,
this ship is a piece of ceremonial armour,
a leviathan penny, a horseshoe
pinned to Great Lakes lucky until she’s not.
Christened and kissed off
years before you were born,
she is an older sister, a summer cousin
who only appears in a quarter of your photos
and out of focus. She’s your favourite
because you barely know her.
In smaller water, this ship could be
an island, bridge, or territory.
She is a herd of 20,000 horses
trembling to shake off its load.
In her wake, lesser vessels are sent to scrap,
run aground, and peeled down to air, yet one day
it will cost less to wreck her than to keep her:
a final trip to Port Colborne or Alang.
Breakers will scrabble up her hard-rusted sides,
pull her down by torch and hand.
Her pieces soon held in the gut
of another ship downbound for better things.
After the Edwin H. Gott
June 2011

Moez SuraniAfter Arriving Home and Reading Your Letter from Port Said

If I had written to you earlier
and heard how everything had changed
and how, instead of Djibouti in June, you set sail
from Alex in July,
I would have joined you and been the third on your crew
and come with you on your French friend’s catamaran
to Jiddah! Eritrea! Aden! Seychelles! — even if,
as you write,
the visas will be difficult.
It will be weeks, you say,
before you can write again.
Just last week
I was in Cairo.
June 2011

Damian RogersDream of the Last Shaker

We stream into the meetinghouse
through two doors
like twin cords
in the same braid.
I love the men,
all of them
lined up like
God’s long finger.
The sun attends everything
equally: the wood, the bend
of her white muslin sleeve,
the outstretched arm of the apocalypse.
Take hold of my shoulder.
Shake me awake.
January/February 2009

Barbara NickelOnychomychosis

Under the toenail, lights. He wants it gone
of course, fungal mess; the bed has grown
its gloom over the months. I’ll prescribe
the usual; pills, painless. Just scribble
it all back to piglet pink — yet — 
the lights haunt. Pulse in the night
sky outside Edmonton when I stopped
the car. Got out numb; I’d driven non-stop
from the coast, in hours it would be dawn.
Aurora shivered ghostspeak down,
her lips pale green parted, delivered
what — a cave, a heart? Something to live
by. And I thought (sagely, the ditch, firs,
highway, all that dark place concurred)
to drive on. Hello, industrial park, fire
of morning, tired diners, Canadian Tires,
flax, flax, flax, flax, flax,
hubs tacked on fences, ruined shacks, flocks
of reeling crows, prairie’s fiber, root
and swing, slack of evening, backroad routes
and ruts not taken.
Hello, love. Her door
was open. Loaves of bread, still warm. I dared
to take her in my arms and not let go.
All night we rolled, twisted, writhed, glowed…
until the dawn; I was a body on a bed
knowing this would grow and end.
May 2009

Nicole BrossardUntitled

where life has new words for soul
and muscles about to
and voices about to
and desire about to
there is always a surplus of meanings
to absorb the curve of my thoughts
until and until new names appear so I can
let go of my soul my tongue and my words
September 2004

Amanda JerniganEncounter

A friend, seeing his babe in ultrasound,
imagined it an astronaut, “behind
glass dome reflections, lost in space…,”
and so I had that image close to mind
when the technician finally tipped her screen
to me, revealing — not an astronaut, but Earth,
so “small, light blue, so touchingly alone.”
Thus Leonov. It was a commonplace,
back then, that once we had the earth in sight,
the isolation of the planet “known,”
we would clean up our act, would mend our ways — 
a kind of cosmic recognition scene.
So much for that, the skeptic in me says.
And yet as I beheld you floating there
I felt myself grow small, the air grow thin,
as if I were the one adrift in space,
and you the one who might yet pull me in.
May 2013

Elise PartridgeTwo Cowboys

He yanked the child along,
six years old? dressed like him — 
ebony snakeskin boots
scuttling through blaring cabs;
black bolos fluttering;
hats bobbing, black rolled brims.
Were they running late for a wake?
The father scowled. His nose
was gnarled, a boxer’s;
blond ponytail fraying, slicked.
The boy tried to keep pace — 
skittered along on scuffed toes,
lurched off a curb. The man
swore, quickening his stride.
Oh not to be left behind
when all you clutch is one hand!
Was the boy saddlebag freight
flung on for aching rides?
At the light, he glanced towards me.
Brown colt-eyes, wary, full.
Let him be dashing from shifts
at the fair’s Wild West tent.
Let me not find him years on
tossed, by broken bulls.
April 2008

Evelyn LauDear Updike

I dreaded those future aeons when I would not be present — an endless succession of days I would miss, with their own news and songs and styles of machine.
 — John Updike, “On Being a Self Forever”

No, nothing much has changed.
A year later, the world is still one you’d recognize — 
no winged cars to clog the air,
no robots to do our dirty work.
The hours and days, as it turns out,
just go on. No space age fabrics
drape our tired bodies, though I did try on a sweater
built of bamboo, soft as chewed silk.
The chrome surface of the dream’s lake
where I swim every night
still hides the same wreckage in its mud bottom.
Sometimes I open my eyes at the morning
and wonder what words you would wring
from the splendour and boredom
of these limited hours. Some day
there’ll be a future we won’t recognize,
but not now. Outside my window,
the low moan of winter in the ragged street.
Flakes of funereal ash falling from the sky.
The soiled comforters of the clouds;
the tightly wrapped buds of winter roses.
These grudging gifts of December,
tied in newsprint. For weeks after your death,
The New Yorker continued to print your backlog
as if death couldn’t stopper your creativity,
as if you were still writing in that midnight room.
But not a word from you now, and it’s dark at four.
May 2010

Helen GuriWater Conscious

Cry in the shower. Save yourself
a rainstorm: listen to the basketballs
falling tropically on the neighbour’s court.
Drop-kick a potted cactus
for its dram of ooze.
Lick your wounds at the watering hole
two blocks upstream. Drool into your beer,
then drift outdoors, take a leak on the levee.
Confuse “tribulation” with “tributary.”
Invite Psycho to supper. Shower.
If cooking up a storm,
cry into the flour.
Try to milk the cat. Lick
your wounds. Empty sacks of rock
salt over anyone’s tin roof.
Percentage-wise, people are mostly drips.
It takes umpteen to plump a rain pillow — 
glutton rigged under the eaves
to usher last night’s
downpour to your shower.
October 2012

Sonnet L’AbbéShh

shush, sugar, hush
this heartthrash, this harsh
sharp emotion
shall pass
o shyness, the blush
at shit and wanting to wash it,
at shit and needing to share it,
of wishing
our piss flushed
and shame quashed,
the rush of passions assuredness
brushes off and brashness
shuns, the gush
of shit through the fiction mesh
between he and she — 
let me cushion it,
let me freshen,
let me witness your shit
and keep you, unshunned.
Let me be shore to your ashes,
show you mushy, luscious
in the crush of my lips
to your ferocious
October 2006

George Elliott ClarkeBluing Green

à la manière de Miles Davis
“The problem with jazz is miscegenation” ?
Say I want purity, to be pure black,
Coloured to purge every bit of whiteness
From my innards, my psyche, my senses,
So that, if I failed, a motherfucker could
Smash me in the face with my trumpet,
Or let me fall like a comic book Capone,
Tasting black blood as it floods my mouth,
My throat slashed by another gangster.
Well, I’d be resurrectin’ that jive spiritual
Just to crucify its stupid ass!
True: I crave a cinematic albescence — 
Like lightning rum scorching the throat,
Or napalm eating away superficial flesh,
Cannibalizing it down to the clean bone,
Or a high trumpet note as white as cocaine,
A kiss charging like acid through my dick,
Thanks to une parisienne as pale as New York,
Her dark hair falling in sheets around her
Like black shadow around an ivory flame,
Her upbeat allure crazying me like crack
As rich as the notes I’m hitting now — 
Because jazz sprouts from gutters,
Stew-soiled beds, genital stink,
Operas o’ rape, crotch-scented wetness,
Whorettes with hips like black mares,
Pallid Barbies all high up in the shit,
A philharmonic orchestra of coitus — 
Clarinet of cock, sax of cunt, drum of ass — 
So that the rum alchemizing my stomach
Emerges as white-gold notes, molten, volcanic,
In the trumpeting air, now brassy, silvery.
Remember the clean facts:
We pig out on squalor.
We are only as pure
As the blue inside green.
November 2005

Sheldon ZitnerThe Twentieth Time

Some say it looks like rain,
some say they believe in God,
some say they are going to Winnipeg.
The polling numbers are accurate
to within plus or minus 4.2%,
nineteen times out of twenty.
But on the twentieth time,
which came not twentieth,
but — out of the blue of theory — first,
everyone opened his umbrella,
everyone knelt to pray,
and nobody took the plane to Winnipeg.
Up through the pious downpour
an angry whirr arose, as if
it was a twentieth time for locusts.
The mean, tenacious stickers
that disfigure fruit for retail
ripped themselves free
of Anjou, Bosc and Bartlett,
and gathered in swarms of millions.
Ominous funnel-clouds of grit
whirled into mouths and nostrils,
provoking universal asthma,
clogging controls and monitors,
and grinding through the circuits.
The catatonic silence of computers
opened a second age of steam.
At night the swarms blacked out
street lamps and traffic lights.
Nothing moved. At last, the twentieth
time ran out. After it had sluiced
away the debris of fallen stickers,
the downpour stopped abruptly.
The twentieth time masks again
in probability, the odds unchanged.
Some close umbrellas,
some cross themselves,
some take the plane to Winnipeg.
July/August 2005

Jon Paul FiorentinoDying in Winnipeg

Don’t read me wrong — 
I plan on dying in Winnipeg
In a strange way I
posit Winnipeg is where everything always dies:
Grandfathers, clock radios, Chevrolets
faith, journalists, fine-tip pens
Earle Nelson, hockey dads
your best friend from the old street…
I will let the rush-hour dust or the blowing
snow or the dance-hall fumes fill my lungs
I will simply wait, let my side-splitting body
fail under the flattering lights in the hallway
Of the underfunded Concordia Hospital
and don’t dream of visiting
But listen, there’s a show tonight
at the legion hall
And I have half a liver left and
a hatchback with a quarter tank
I’m not hard to be had
October 2010

Nyla MatukReturn to Metcalf Street

Lonely in their languor, and twenty years no longer lovely
Or lingering in storefront neon mingling with dusk,
Widows gossiping with friends on porches,
Then sleeping away August evenings
On Metcalfe Street outside the apartment building:
“Where a life deprived of beauty so cruelly, gradually,
Should love still, or must love, the home she kept dutifully”
Late summer among old streetwise planes
My father waiting as I stop at the Cafe Colonnade,
Pizza the same for over forty years
And forty years on, parked outside the Church of Latter-day Saints
No longer the young man from Palestine
Hardened by the civil service, imagining what could have been
Or remembering my sloe-eyed perambulations, or his once
Having a parent to hold each hand, too
My parents knowing you must make a life here, however you can
Living on the tenth floor in the Governor Metcalfe Apartments, a block east
How my heart marvels at that life, then so sumptuously unexamined
As this street recuperates and comes back
On itself, as if they always knew we would never stay on
Those swing sets and monkey bars convincing them of cheerful attachments
Or hopeful times and the promised permanence or return
Of children, or the repeat bloom of that Jerusalem flower
Hidden in a 1952 suitcase
From the desert of the old country to Yuba City, California
Edmonton  Winnipeg  London  Ottawa
Or a branch of terebinth on those hills of home, of thyme and thorns
The tulips of May, the government Homelands Festival
My summer months with honeyed storybooks at the Ottawa Public Library
I recognize Metcalfe Street in my father’s face
And his voice falling forty years, lost to himself
No longer young. So long away,
And so far from home.
June 2012

A. F. Moritz Bee In Aster

I saw the crisped, curled, and sere
beech leaf float from ninety feet above
on a serene long voyage across the air
and come to the fountain’s sheer
falling wall of water, touch, and be
violently thrust down, lost in an instant
in the sheen of the plunge to reappear
on the pool’s surface, shot back
toward the trunk it had hovered free of,
then slowing, in miniature narrows passing between
the ornamental rocks to sleep drifting
by a bee stubborn in a violet aster
and to swirl, copper, with many other leaves,
gold, red, and green, on a clear bed of water
an inch above perfectly fitting stones
laid long ago to be the basis
to my delight by someone I’ll never know.
March 2012

Alison PickHistory

The empty cathedral reminds me of you — 
memory flares, a match struck in blackness — 
our old song, the late monks’ psalms, click
of a latch: the Middle Ages closed.
Centuries later, the church’s courtyard
caged the Germans’ prisoners of war,
gate patrolled by their youngest general,
glossy gun by his side. Now
an archive, the building implies
the past can be known
through yellowing papers — as if a heart
could break and break
and live to tell the tale.
A soft rain falls where the bodies were found.
And you, your letters are buried beneath them.
Black earth and ink. History’s compost.
December 2011

Bardia SinaeeBarnacle Goose Ballad

Barnacle geese enjoy Nordic palatals,
stone relief fish beds, and aberrant gulls.
When shellfish submerge and wash up riding buoys,
the geese fly one lap, plunge into the fjord, ease
back their black neckties and splurge.
Barnacle geese sing hymns to their children,
then push them off cliffs to see if they live.
No trust falls. No terranean birds.
Barnacle geese sing hymns to their children,
then teach them the words. We’d call this stoic:
ask Goose Dad for insects and have your pick,
but ask about sex and he’ll make you eat fins.
I saw it last Christmas: Mom gutting the bird,
bailing fistfuls of pebbles and sand from its craw.
She took out its windpipe and voice box intact
and blew out a goose call the neighbours all heard.
Goose heads on platters with poppy seed loaf.
Goose born of driftwood in barnacled reeds.
Goose on the cliff with sisters and brothers.
A few on the ledge, a few in the water.
2012 Walrus Poetry Prize Readers’ Choice

Sara Peters I Understood Our Time Was Running Out

For Julie
I understood our time was running out,
so I planned a winter picnic, and privately decided
not to eat. We drove past petrified trees,
and thankfully we passed a cyclist
with prayer cards woven through his spokes — 
so he provided talk until
we reached the cove. You spread a collapsed cardboard box
over seagrass blown the wrong way,
while I unpacked my obvious fruits and vegetables:
pomegranate, artichoke heart, cherry.
Some people bag the first head they see.
I’d chosen lettuce as carefully
as a ball gown, comparing ruffles.
But soon we were noting a summer A-frame,
nodding our emptying heads, and as if at a chess game
we stared at the square foot between us.
Soon I’d try on your glasses, you’d play with my lighter,
a few feet away foam came off the water
and dolloped the rocks, and a plastic doll torso
was eight waves away from arriving:
armless legless sucked and beaten clean.
September 2011

Jason Guriel Poetry Is Barbarous

“The extra lines are probably all wrong, but—right as you are — I could not stop. By the time you get this note, I will have gotten rid of them, myself.”
 — Samuel Menashe, in a letter
The snow is rising and erasing
two rakes forgotten on the lawn.
It’s not just fall the snow’s effacing;
two static lives — a plastic swan
and rabbit, paired on patio stone — 
are being buried to the throat.
But in the time it took to hone
these lines the level like a moat
has risen. The rabbit’s now all ears,
antennae tuned to snowy gusts.
(That was Brodsky — “I’m all ears!” — 
that time you called him. Now he gets
an earful from the earthworm.) The swan’s
all neck, a cane for leaning on,
and the rakes are primered-over lines
that lie below like old designs.
November 2013

Margaret ChristakosLease

Impatient: You had visited the day of purchase,
Dates each had costumed. Every item on own
Hanger, recalled the fabric, as I pushed each
Room. Was emptied; then began the disavowal passing
My skin, on sculptural trays. Blouses skidded past
Years. Here was all my stuff, held through
The world until the glass vases. Dozens of
Objects I’d worn against it had been six
Matched earrings; arrayed once or twice but
I, I used to live there. The room
On a scallop shell was filled with beautiful
Storage for today, & then: I left for good.
December/January 2005

Julie BruckThe Trick

Blinking in the half-light, almost bright
after the school’s dim corridors, we’d pass
the line of poplars, tall black sentries
at the outer limits of the play field.
Street lights flicked on, one at a time,
new snow coming down, heavy and wet.
We ran the hill and slid, our boots
etching serpentines on the snowy sidewalk.
A big boulevard to cross, then the empty
lot, whose Scotch pines knelt beneath
the snow’s accumulation, blue in this light,
before the final, dangerous curve.
We always sensed them, were never
prepared for the three or four boys
crouched between the blind flanks
of houses, coiled to grab our hats and run
with impossible suddenness, schoolbags slung
like ammo belts across their eight-year-old chests.
We jammed the hats our mothers bought
deep in our pockets like charms — anything
to deflect their rough attentions,
though I knew it meant they liked us:
I had two brothers and understood
to love meant to torment.
A schoolmate’s mother, who sang
in a barbershop quartet,
had already hung herself at home.
Another child’s father would soon seal
his garage door with duct tape,
and start the family car.
She left no note, his would say,
he loved them all. I thought the trick
was to sidestep even the smallest emergencies,
disappear in our blue or grey duffel coats,
hats clamped in our wet fists, to will
them by like fire engines when the fire
is elsewhere and much more urgent — until
they’d blown past, their boisterous voices
receding, and three or four Canadiens jackets
drew so close to the vanishing point,
you could hide them by holding up a thumb.
We’d walk home quietly in the softly
falling snow, small monks who remained,
to all appearances, untouched.
December 2010

Susan HolbrookTransit

Shambling through sand in Patagonia
and Columbia wear, we queue up for
a rare chance to be wowed. The Sky
News guy twiddles the azimuth knob,
lures us with the roulette of glimpsing
a Venusian ring of light or black drop
for which we’ll each steal a few extra
seconds by playing dumb at the eyepiece,
then circle back to the end of the line again.
We watch the shot sun without looking at it
just as we can watch without looking at our
backlit children, hunched over the shore.
We call them repeatedly to a turn at the scope
but they hunker at the lake’s wet lip, Mylar
glasses flung, because they can catch it
next century, something like water already
trickling quickly from the pebbles and
shells in their hands.
April 2013

Méira CookThe Devil’s Advocate

My lords and ladies, gentlemen of the jury — 
when you hear hoofbeats, assume horses. Not zebras.
This is true in almost all parts of the world
except the African savannah, where it is safer
to assume zebras. Also eland, giraffes, herds
of this and that. In India, assume cows; in Spain,
bulls, matadors in their sun-blurred hooves.
In Tuscany, angels, in kingdom-come horses again,
pale quartets of “Wish You Were Here.” My client
sends his regrets. He is busy
falling through blank verse for all eternity while a mere afternoon
passes its shadow over us. The sun moves from one window
of the courthouse to the next, and then it is tea time.
One sugar or two? Perhaps a bun. Stretch
and yawn and back we go. I submit
for your perusal Exhibit A.
This is a map of the world, of God, and of everything.
Above is heaven, below is hell.
The future is to the right, the past is to the left.
My client, in his plea for mercy, wishes me to recall
his salient points. His sense of humour, direction, and yes, style,
his tendency to violent foreshortenings, and that finding
himself irredeemably zebra, he hoofed the streets
of his brawling, captious nature, kicking
up dust and all the limping platitudes
of this earth, our home. They tell you dreams
don’t come true. But they never tell you how.
2012 Walrus Poetry Prize Winner

Jonathan BennettCivil and Civic

You talk across periods; I draw on arms
with blue pen, The Clash, et cetera.
With gall you hang posters, know the slogans.
You savour the word disobedience,
chew chocolate first thing in the morning,
as I follow you around, onto the bus,
ignore exposed hip skin winking love, love.
Trapped, wet in a tent, some bitch recites Brecht.
We play hacky sack.
They open tear gas.
An act born from a crowd’s seething will
I heave the blunt harm of a brick at helmets
and shields, a slow, magnificent arc.
My brick in flight is like a dove, you shriek.
A boy falls and is crushed. We are all filmed.
Two cars are torched in the square after dark.
Over there you haver at a statue’s feet,
the bronze general dismounts and runs you through.
January/February 2011

Jacob McArthur MooneySin of Omission

The priest
was Haitian and unpopular, sent
from Halifax to lift the
church’s sinking numbers.
Someone made a joke about
Someone made a joke about
how he choked on certain words:
roshery, Simmeritin,
Good instead of God.
He liked his vestments arranged
in a reliable order, would
reach for them blindly, one
finger on his scripture.
He had me come in early to
heat and light the room, dust
the Christ-bearing frames
of the Passion. On the Sunday
of the crash, he
decided not to mention it, said
Those people
in the ocean, those people
are not us.
June 2010

Richard GreenWaves

“Everybody selling, nobody buying,”
I am told, as a man carries shoes tied by
their laces to a string around his neck.
Women tend flames, sell griyo and discs
of fried plantain beside the road.
Everywhere the trade in worn tires, salvaged
from cars that have crept to their millionth
mile and died at last. The trees cut young from
the crumbling mountains lean against stone walls
in stacks of twenty, poles to prop canvas,
bits of cloth, a rice bag, whatever serves
as roofing in neighbourhoods where there’s not
yet a stone, a shingle, a door that swings.
I am as safe as my passport makes me
in a city where parking lot attendants
carry pump-actions but help with groceries.
Rebuilding is a matter of cinder
block and thickets of rebar rising up
the mountain’s steep face. As soon as there is
cash, another room rises on each roof
and another, all hostage to mudslides
and the Richter scale. Down the better streets
are high walls topped with concertina, called
“democracy wire” since Aristide
came home. Other walls are draped more gently
with pink and white blooms of bougainvillea,
but its thorny stems will tear hands and skin
of rioters or thieves who try to climb.
I am told that the gangs are no longer
absolute, and that poor mothers have made
a rout of cholera by the way they treat
the water. Twice, we come upon rioters
hurling stones in the streets. It is theatre,
I think, as they scatter when the police
show up in helmets and armour, ready
for some bad thing that does not happen now.
Another day, and we are back in traffic,
a tour of absences — the presidential
palace, a cathedral with its murals
of Christ and martyrs in the Haitian style,
just civic blanks beside the harbour.
Our destination is the Oloffson,
once HQ for writers and journalists — 
Charles Addams once dreamt of Morticia
and Gomez over rum punches in the bar.
My job is biography, and I seek the ghost
of Graham Greene, who set The Comedians here.
The place survived the quake but seems worn out,
its steel roof rusting, the floors soft with rot;
at one end, a voodoo goddess in stone
looks over rubble to the open sea.
Daniel Morel, a press photographer,
tells me that farther up another hotel
simply fell. He says it was not a shaking
but a sense of the earth moving in a wave
toward you. He took the pictures we all saw:
a round-faced woman buried to the shoulders
in white stone and cement, and beside her
the bloodied flesh of a man’s back. Daniel tried
to record and to help, and the great papers
took his work and ran it without a byline.
We sit with Bernard and Ginette Diederich,
my hosts in Haiti. He is eighty-seven,
a newsman, historian, old friend of Graham
Greene. She is a psychiatrist and veteran
of Haiti’s sorrows. They speak of the Mass
to come and what it will commemorate.
Fifty years ago, almost to the day,
Bernard discovered a massacre,
wired out his report, and was then snatched up.
He waited in his cell at the National Penitentiary
while the Tontons Macoutes talked over
the merits of shooting him. A New Zealander,
his white skin promised diplomatic
troubles. He was bundled onto a plane,
but Ginette, Haitian born, was suddenly
cut off. In time, she and their baby
made it safely out, while behind them
psychosis was loose in the city streets
with carbines, machetes, and kerosene.
April 26, 1963:
Someone shot at Baby Doc and his sister
as they went to school, killed their minders.
Papa Doc decided it was the army, ordered
every officer seized, even the retired ones.
Someone shot at Baby Doc and his sister
The Macoutes said there was one marksman,
a young lieutenant named François Benoît,
who could have taken the shot, so they
burned his house, his parents, his baby,
two maids, a gardener, and a pregnant woman.
It did not matter that the marksman
could not have done it, was already in
refuge at the Dominican embassy.
They killed seventy-five the first day,
soldiers and their relatives — a message.
April 26, 2013:
“François is not bitter,” Ginette tells me.
We are in the doorway of the Église
St. Pierre, where the walkers and canes
of those who remember, those who survived,
support their shuffling movement to the pews.
I see him then, handsome, calm, smiling.
I shake his hand and can manage no more
than “Bonjour, monsieur.” He hears an odd
accent, looks curiously, and goes back
to greeting men and women who never
had a true funeral for their disappeared.
The next day, we drive among the mountains
beyond the city: Kenscoff. Here, too, the roadside
marchandes: their tires, griyo, breadfruit, mangoes.
The next day we drive among the mountains
While a broad steel gate is being opened,
I ask, “Does François have reason to fear
reprisals? How does he stay safe?” Bernard
smiles: “François has guns. François likes his guns.”
Of course, he is a hard man to kill. But
soldiering is behind him now, and so too
the hand-to-hand of politics. On the roof
of his house, signs of his new vocation:
he has covered it with hydroponic gear,
racks of lettuces ripening in the sun.
His wife is quiet, embraces Bernard
and Ginette as companions in her grief.
François is working, but takes some time from
the frenzy of his cellphone and walks
me to the brow of a hill. He shows me
a long greenhouse he is building. These days,
he says, he has 65,000 head of lettuce,
and they take six weeks to grow. A strange
end to such a history, but I think
he has become what his country needed.
These roads wind among degrees of sorrow
I cannot imagine. On one side, cubes
of cinder block, the windows and doors
caged with wrought iron — having nothing
to take is no protection against thieves.
On the other, ravines and gullies fall
twenty or thirty feet to gravel and trash
with no guardrail to save you from the drop.
I will have the luxury of flying out,
while for most Haitians it is not just skin
but making choices that marks a stranger.
A man not in his right mind sits on two stacked
tires at the edge of traffic, the cars
beside him going nowhere. The sole of one
bare foot is caked in dust, his elbow is up,
knuckles in his hair. His eyes are closed.
October 2013

David O’Meara That’s Where the American Helicopters Landed

Sixtyish now, Ling Quang’s hard look
lifts from the gravel where we’ve stopped,
the Honda’s kickstand staked
to the mountain road’s bit of shoulder,
our helmets left
like laid eggs on the leather seat.
He points at the place
near the silk factory, where the craters
are almost grown over, green
and levelled
with new vegetation
and loose stands of pine.
On the bike, we lean through curves,
tires eating the steep grade back to town.
Slashes of sun break
through a storm cloud that squats
farther east. His view flashes, too fast to feel,
across his knock-off Ray-Bans,
past the bridge again,
where a man stands fishing,
his nylon net like a smudge of mist
that skims his catch from the creek,
their fins struggling in the killing air.
 — Da Lat, Vietnam
January/February 2012

Steven Heighton Baffled in Ashdod, Blind in Gaza

E.A.: former Israeli Defence Forces soldier who, in August 2010, posted photos of herself smiling beside bound and blindfolded Palestinian prisoners. She labelled her Facebook album “The army…best time of my life.”
Eden of Ashdod, you only did
what any young recruit might do — 
what I might have done myself, a little scared, a little
stoned (on your own strength, Eden,
as if each beautiful bullet you packed
were a pill—designer hybrid
of Percocet and blow, to anneal you against all
that’s frail and slow, that’s bound,
beyond help) — 
And so these Facebook pix
and that bit of bad press (don’t worry, Eden, the news — 
save on Al Jazeera and in the tabloids of Tehran — 
has already moved on).
You don’t get it. You protest. Your little shoot
killed no one! So, then, why are the great Jews — 
the poets and performers, the scientists, inventors,
philosophers, reformers — those truest
People of the Book — all weeping quietly
in their tombs: Paul Celan,
Hannah Arendt, almond-bitter Mandel-
stam, Marx and Einstein, all of them sad
insomniacs of the hinterlife, tallowing
hours away in the earth
to understand this “Facebook,” as well as the smirk
this now-world wears: failed future that won’t leave them to sleep,
not even the adamant suicides — Benjamin, Levi, Celan — 
especially not the suicides.
And you yourself sit baffled in Ashdod,
Eden, wondering why no one did
quite catch the joke—meantime the army’s marketing folks
Photoshop your face to a blur, but
too late, you’re famous! Your poses
pathogenic, spreading via tweets and texts, and sickening…
sickening no one at all — we’ve all gone immune — all
but the hopeful dead, though of course
they’re dead and can’t die again
of our indignities.
Eden of ash, your grand-
parents were the Nazi War — Eden
of Ashdod, der Tod
is still in the story, the frontier
between millennia didn’t keep it out,
the Human Future didn’t phase it out,
now it’s posted, grinning, on your wall.
Let every wall wail.
March 2012

Shane RhodesA Picture by Brueghel: Landscape with Icarus Falling
(contra Auden)

Brueghel was right — 
everyone sees
nothing at least
once in the life
of a tragedy.
To the left,
in the painting,
a tenant farmer
walks behind a horse — 
four centuries
of ploughing
and not once
has he dropped
his seed.
The light here
will be taken
without footnote
by Monet.
Yet the fallen
boy beating
the sea with
broken wings
is less
than the ship
sailing by
with its paint-thick hold
full of slaves
from Mozambique.
Or the shepherd
staring away so
intent at nothing
his eyes
gouge out.
Such private things
with public weight.
He was wrong,
the old master,
about suffering.
It does not ascend
beyond its human
position — 
like Icarus to myth — 
but profits
beneath paint
(a scream through water)
in parenthesis.
May 2005

George MurrayBrushfires

…some skeletal remains initially thought to
be single bodies were actually two people fused
together by searing temperatures.
 — CNN, February 12, 2009
There are always bodies to discover
at each disaster, in a range of states,
from seeming sleep to a charred disorder.
But once the inspections begin in earnest,
expect this death count to escalate
when the scorched landscape is closely assessed,
teeth and DNA separated, filed
as discrete razed histories, aggregates
of last moments and final acts, the wild
fires closing in like inverse-shadows
cast by a speeding sackcloth sun; innate
desire to touch, like first love, pupils aglow.
It’s common enough to come across pairs
of bodies, washed up in the surf like dumped freight,
broken on the pavement beneath barely-
there buildings, or even camouflaged
in the charcoal and atomized silicate
of a brushfire, but harder to tell which vague
strewn ember was once man or woman,
or which was both; entwined in conjugate
burning, the heat put to use and flames fanned.
Falling or burning, embraced against the end;
what-was-once-two closes in, supplicates,
smoulders down to one corpse, crumbles, ascends.
November 2010

Adam SolThe Last Matador

It is good to be finished, finally.
I am relieved. The protesters
and politicians have their points,
and if a certain species of man
is allowed to fade into extinction
we should, perhaps, praise progress
and look for new sources of spectacle.
Man will have his bloody games.
Just not this one. It is a pity,
but only for those of us who believe it
to be a form of art.
My comrades have mostly changed
their names and entered
the banking industry. We are too
decorous for soldiering, though
one or two have found a place
with the drug lords, who still
feel that death and style belong together.
I will miss the adulation, I won’t
deny it: The roses they threw. Blood
on the sand, sand on the roses. But mostly
I will miss my body’s lithe movement
alongside the beast, and his magnificent heat.
And the moment when he looks
at me, the banderillas draped
over his back like the feathers of an exotic bird,
when he looks at me with that
single-minded, resigned ferocity
as if to say, So, it will be you.
September 2013

Brent RaycroftScarecrow Maintenance

The old man’s itchy greatcoat fell to me
and given his complaint of its intransigence
I landed on the notion of storing it in the open.
Now that he can’t feel the elements
why not put this remnant of him in them?
There’s acid in the rain enough, enough UV,
that what outlasted him may not outlast me.
Get a pole and cross-pole. Fix them together.
Fence wire, screw nails, duct tape, whatever.
The less seen of this part the better.
There’s no need for carpentry. Let him be
haphazard. Let him fail in a high wind,
collapse with the weight of a cloudburst.
He should need maintenance.
When the pumpkin rots it’s shocking. Try a
punctured soccer ball. Or a mask from art class.
When the straw hat’s gone, tack on a baseball cap.
When you find him flattened by some enemy,
reach your arm beneath his backbone,
thin within the war-green wool, and heave.
Stamp your heel down hard where he is planted.
Crows come regardless.
Deer and rabbits act as though he’s harmless.
But I’ve seen men and women startled.
I’ve backed into him, hoeing in the garden,
felt a poke between my shoulder blades.
He’s got hypervigilance. Low-level PTSD.
Those sleeves held wide show no sign of fatigue.
2013 Walrus Poetry Prize Readers' Choice

Mathew Henderson
You Ask Your Father What a Lease Is

And he tells you about the geese beyond
the aqueduct, how they turn the sky grey,
how as a teen he never put his gun away dirty.
You remember the blue steel cleaner,
the sound of a rag drawn through a barrel,
and still, you catch the scent of solvent rising
from buried cells that ruled you as a boy.
The lease is meaningless: a square paced
first by seismic workers, and then your father,
and then by every other man you know.
But you’ve always pulled meaning from nothing
and when he leads you to an empty field, you
tear grass in fistfuls, read the roots like a will.
May 2012

Suzannah ShowlerYou and Your Rich Inner Life

External conditions conspire to slip
along the waxy thread of your nerves
and hunker down, cathectic, in the carry-on
you keep at the ready for a flight
from the everyday. We sign off on an agreement
to accept what the senses offer: a volley of errors.
Anything to interrupt the hypnotic mumbling
that lips the inner retaining wall of the skull.
Nobody ever tells the stitch of metal vacuumed
inside a light bulb to conduct itself better.
The fear of letting too much wash past
without record is not unfounded.
It’s never too late to change tack,
drop your sensory anchors elsewhere.
Your perceptions won’t be watered down,
though you might still hold your digits
over a light source, feeling for residual heat,
and get nothing back. Too much light
will clear away the murk of shadow detail
complicating any record of the event.
Call this getting washed out. Don’t forget:
exposure is something you can die of.
July/August 2013

Matthew TierneyTrust Fund

Brother and sister watch the estate lawyer
take a cork-backed ruler to the ground plan:
two wings behind a cast iron gate, a barn
raised for the Shetlands. Into the picture
flock grouse, and the furious Vs breed Ws,
while on the French-curved cobbled path
a litter of kittens cascades in a burlap sack.
Brother and sister like stowaways clasp hands
as the horizon lifts and blackens the moor.
Mother in whalebone from her boudoir
warned she’d return every seventeen years
with the locusts. Since they first sat down,
the antique globe on the lawyer’s desk
has not stopped spinning Pacific, Pacific.
September 2012

Jeff LatosikThe Piñata

They came to see the piñata.
The piñata hung from a crane
and swayed with a swollen gut
of newspaper and paste.
They listened as the piñata creaked
like a dock in choppy waters.
They began to shout themselves to the brink.
And standing there, watching the piñata,
it seemed almost possible
to forget the search that had continued
since Christmas, was it this past
or the one before?
Parks, rivers, cupboards, drawers,
the bent light beneath their decks — 
what had they found?
And standing there, the piñata swaying,
they were gathered and ready
with hammers, bats, knives, and chains
to smash and tear until the piñata’s shanks
could be nipped by dogs.
Though when the first seam split,
some resorted to doubling over
and pawing the grass.
While others continued taking swings,
the halved ones moved with new insistence,
their hands sweeping over the ground
like visible winds.
September 2009

Ken Babstock Caledonia

Then we came out in numbers.
As Canadians we came out in numbers with flags.
With flags aloft and hooting we stepped out in anger and in numbers.
In numbers as Canadians we came out drunk and threw rocks.
We threw rocks and golf balls as our patience had come to its natural end.
As Canadians we threw rocks past our flags aloft at them.
Having been finally angered enough we came out at night with rocks.
We’d been as Canadians infringed upon we thought with flags.
So we threw rocks. Rocks and a few choice epithets and golf balls hooting.
You don’t live here we’re proud Canadians in anger with rocks
and without patience we appeared in numbers around barrel fires and spoke.
Into megaphones at the OPP drunk and them we’d had enough as Canadians.
Citizens with flags and megaphones and our rights and some of our children
threw rocks at the very end of their young patience with flags and placards
hooting. Our kids came out in numbers to stand in solidarity with us as Canadians
into megaphones demanding we throw rocks and a few choice Canadians
without access to that road as our only route through anger with flags
aloft alongside placards and our kids angry to be blocked by them with
special treatment to be angered by rocks thrown in Canadian solidarity
with megaphones and our kids in numbers aloft in a wind over patience
our only route you don’t have to live near them as Canadians drunk with rocks.
We came out in numbers at night as Canadians singing around barrel fires and marching.
April 2007

Robert Kroetsch I’m Going to Read Three Poems

Before I read this first poem I should tell you that my
paternal grandfather had a gold pocket watch with a
lid over the watch’s face. In his later years he could not
remember how to raise the lid so he’d simply take the
watch out of his vest pocket, look at the gold lid, then
put the watch back into his vest pocket and say, “It’s time
I was going.” Then he would sit down at the supper table.
What I’m suggesting is, he was a kind of a poet.
I got the idea for this second poem when I happened to
recall listening to my grandmother read “The Cremation
of Sam McGee” from an old book that she hid on a top
shelf in her pantry. Now and then, while reading, she
would glance lovingly at her husband. One day I climbed
up the pantry shelves and peeked into the hidden book.
It wasn’t a book of poems; it was a book of recipes. What
I’m suggesting is, my grandmother was a kind of a poet.
I should mention that this third and last poem is about
poetry, though poetry is nowhere mentioned in the
poem. Prairie graveyards are marked by an obvious sense
of line and stress and line ending. What is surprising is
the custom of inserting new granite blocks, along with
unverified information, into spaces in lines that appear to
be complete. I feel this surprise especially when I see my
own name on a pair of weathered stones.
September 2004

Paul MuldoonThe Sevendogs Psalter

I’ve just now got wind of a fox
that’s long got wind of men
as he slinks from traffic island to traffic island
to where he’s made his den
in the midst of a roundabout.
I’ve flown into Heathrow
to meet with the latest in iris recognition
a mere five hours ago,
having driven through a hamlet
known as Settecani,
a spot on the lung of Emilia-Romagna,
when the quite uncanny
voice that had started to intone
what sounded like a psalm
through my hire car’s old global positioning system
made me lose my aplomb,
this first psalm seeming to concern
the Etruscan fable
in which the fox sets its nose to the tarmacadam
as to a turntable
before slinking through the centre — 
though it’s much less a slink,
in fact, than the embodiment of resignation
that just now makes me think
it’s as if his own mother had
picked him up by the nape
and ferried him across another intersection.
The whole thing’s caught on tape.
April 2012

Leonard Cohen Different Sides

We find ourselves on different sides
Of a line that nobody drew
Though it all may be one in the higher eye
Down here where we live it is two
I to my side call the meek and the mild
You to your side call the Word
By virtue of suffering I claim to have won
You claim to have never been heard
Both of us say there are laws to obey
But frankly I don’t like your tone
You want to change the way I make love
I want to leave it alone (I want to leave it… )
The pull of the moon the thrust of the sun
And thus the ocean is crossed
The waters are blessed while a shadowy guest
Kindles a light for the lost
Both of us say there are laws to obey…
Down in the valley the famine goes on
The famine up on the hill
I say that you shouldn’t you couldn’t you can’t
You say that you must and you will
Both of us say there are laws to obey…
You want to live where the suffering is
I want to get out of town
C’mon baby give me a kiss
Stop writing everything down
Both of us say there are laws to obey
But frankly I don’t like your tone
You want to change the way I make love
I want to leave it alone
Both of us say there are laws to obey…
March 2012

Mary Jo BangI as in Justice

Just this: Consider that you are here and there
Is a bar or six at the window and you are dying
To escape. And on the television
The operatic
Which is sometimes called the nightly news.
In between cuts of carnage, the click
Catches and claims the marzipan
Blue behind it. A hand unzips the blue,
And reaches through and strokes the cat,
Calico, old, and tending to fat.
You know this thin scene
Is lit by the heedless light at the end
Of a harrowed day. Curiosity and hunger
Give rise to wanderlust. Then back
To the program: “If you look at the brain…”
Not everyone agrees but it’s clear
There is an immense power in uncertainty.
There is that story that goes like this:
You were a crime you didn’t know had been committed.
And it’s that not knowing, the sine qua non
Of uncertainty, that holds the person in
Place. I can’t tell you how to think
Of it but for some it’s seen
As an overambitious stranglehold.
Think garrote at the neck. And then think
Of how silly it sounds
To say afterwards, “I was angry,”
When what you might have said was,
“Surely what I wish for you can’t be worse
Than what fate has in store.”
September 2009

Kateri LanthierThe Coin under the Leftmost Sliding Cup

Did you feel the Earth move? That was our Tectonic Dance Party.
The world is a crowded club with all the exits blocked.
I might sound like a goose in an opera gown, but I say again, I love you.
I’m tired of all this thinking at the very top of my lungs.
If only my fingers could keep up! Then the dialogue in my head
Wouldn’t unscroll like a ’30s Screwball in underwater slo-mo.
What if the truth of desire lies in Aesop upside down?
Where the fox’s teeth are the Unattainable, and the grapes full of
I’m not too cool to care, though. Nature and I have a lover’s quarrel.
I adopted the strut of the peacock and the nightingale’s nightgown.
After 15,000 texts, can we say we have a past?
My love for you is e-phemeral, elliptical, ekphrastic…
Love to me was cotton candy: spangle, collapse, tongue grit.
With you, it’s sadness scissored out. Lights on a suspension bridge.
Sport with me. I am the coin under the leftmost sliding cup.
Right, left, double-crossing… There. Now you’re in my pocket.
Cellphone, psalter, cigarette, gun: we like to set fire to our palms.
Rome burns as I photograph flowers or wear them as a bra.
Call it playing with fire. Call it connect-the-dots lightning.
Whenever we run down to the lake, the lake ascends sky mountain.
Streetlight’s an earthbound lunatic, courting June’s too-perfect leaves.
These gardens are a plein-air perfume factory, drunk on their own power.
The Spaceman loved the Gumball Machine (beautiful, beautiful).
But each time he took her by the arm, she lost another sweet eye.
It’s curtains for you, day. Stars eye us from the stage.
Ars longa, vita brevis, kid. Long walk, short pier.
2013 Walrus Poetry Prize Winner

Gabe ForemanWhen Will I Find Myself?

nothing gets under you.
It’s about to roll past but you crane
and stop it with your foot, then nest on it.
It’s real life, you breathe,
but can’t believe
you’re vowing to keep it warm,
ignoring the swarm
of polka dots embellishing the shell,
the blowhole stabbed through either pole.
I find myself
obsessed with Easter.
April lilies, lilacs, daisies
blossom best away from us.
According to the worldwide web
of shoots and roots
humans feed
on hallowed ground
and tend to self-implode if left alone.
A torn straw basket with a stomach
of shredded yellow plastic
flung across the lawn,
who am I to disagree?
When I find myself in times of trouble
nothing special comes to me.
November 2012

Nick ThranDopamine

The personalities of the dwarfs
were still “open to change”
throughout the rewrites. Dopey himself
was introduced late. Why not add a Latinate
“a” to the end of his name
as Adriana Caselotti sings the Sinemet out
from the front of her cerebral cortex?
The voice of Snow White would marry a doctor
in the same year her previous husband,
the actor Norval Mitchell, died.
Pure joy will transmit as the dwarfs
remove small, bloodless jewels — 
“Heigh-ho” in the mineshaft.
Emphasis mine.
May 2011

Troy Jollimore Charlie Brown

When the little tree falters and droops pathetically
under the weight of that innocent-looking
but fatal ornament, and Charlie Brown wails,
I’ve killed it, everything I touch gets ruined,
I feel for the guy: I know the sad prison
his heart’s doing time in. I know how it feels
to be King Midas’s evil twin,
Destructo-Man careening through the world,
smashing houses, reducing highways to rubble,
levelling whole cities with my evil-eye laser beams
and mega-grenades. If only I could hold
a cute little bunny without crushing the breath
out of it with my unrestrained strength, if only
I could embrace a woman without inspiring
in her the sudden desire to obtain
a restraining order or move to Cleveland.
I wish I could have a drink with Charlie
Brown — he must be old enough now,
he probably goes by Charles, or Chuck — 
and tell him it gets better, Chuck, or, really,
it doesn’t, but you learn to live with it,
and you learn that what you destroy comes back
to you, not always, but sometimes, refreshed
and reassembled, almost as good
as new, and sometimes — sometimes — bearing
the willingness to forgive. And he’d take
a long, mad gulp of his vodka gimlet,
stare off into a world that only he
is tipsy and broken hearted enough
to see — some planar Midwestern town
with repeating trees and ink black night skies,
and, forgetting that I was there, he’d shake
that globe of a head and sigh and mutter,
You know, the truth is that Linus was right.
It really wasn’t such a bad little tree.
December 2011

Daryl HineTrue Blood

For Gladys Finley
Farewell, a long farewell to all the joys
Of woods and water, valley, stream, and hill!
Goodbye as well to all the tarnished boys
With names like Godric, Raphael, and Bill!
Keep your meetings brief, your greetings breezy:
Regret will not be vain, nor parting easy.
Easy goes the flow of least resistance,
Fluid love that reaches its own level
In the secret back room of existence
To find itself confronted by a devil
When all the mysteries of tainted blood
Are washed away by that enchanted flood.
March 2013

David McGimpsey What Was That Poem?

My mother asked me, What was that poem?
It was Longfellow’s “My Lost Youth,” I think.
The answer was Longfellow, often enough,
even though she never liked Evangeline.
I talked to my mother on my cellphone
outside a grocery store in Philadelphia.
She asked me what I was buying, Was it dear?,
and if I now liked football more than baseball.
It was the last conversation I ever had with her.
I told her I liked baseball, to make her happy.
I knew she wasn’t calling to talk sports.
She was showing off, saying, “I’m going to be okay!”
What was that poem? she’d say and act surprised
when I didn’t know. It wasn’t about the answer.
It was about noticing something held on to,
with wit and ferocity, until the day is done.
November 2011

The WalrusFearless. Witty. Thoughtful. Canadian.
This ebook is just the start. Subscribe to The Walrus and experience the best in long-form journalism, fiction, poetry, and editorials every month.

The Walrus launched in October 2003 with a straightforward mandate: to be a national general interest magazine about Canada and its place in the world. We are committed to publishing the best work by the best writers from Canada and elsewhere on a wide range of topics for readers who are curious about the world.

The Walrus magazine is a project of the charitable, non-profit Walrus Foundation.
Browse. Photo galleries, blogs, web exclusives, archives, and much more with a simple click.

Watch. Smart on the page, smart on the screen. Original documentaries based on stories from the magazine.

Attend. Public events and debates, coming soon to cities across the country.

Join. Sign up for our newsletter, follow us on Twitter, or like our Facebook page for all things Walrus online.

The Walrus Foundation is a registered charitable non-profit (No. 861851624-RR00001) with an educational mandate to promote writers, artists, ideas, and debate on matters vital to Canadians. The foundation publishes The Walrus magazine; produces digital content and television at thewalrus.ca; and curates the Walrus Talks, public debates, leadership dinners, and other educational events. Through our internship programs, we train young professionals in media, publishing, and non-profit development.

Please consider supporting the Walrus Foundation.

This anthology copyright Coach House Books, 2013.
Individual poems copyright in the names of their authors (or contributors), 2013.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Published in 2013 byTHE WALRUS FOUNDATION101–19 Duncan Street, Toronto, ON M5H 3H1Tel. (416) 971-5004, fax (416) 971-8768thewalrus.ca
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in PublicationThe Walrus Anthology of Poetry / edited by Michael Lista.
EPUB ISBN 978-1-927552-17-9
MOBI ISBN 978-1-927552-18-6
I. Walrus Foundation II. Title.
PS8501.T86I2 2012      C813’.54      C2012-901829-5
Ebook Conversion by Laura Brady
Cover image and design by Brian Morgan

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful