Great Canadian Literary Hunt 2009: A Place for Ships by Jimmy McInnes

Editor’s note: We’re posting the winners of the 2009 Great Canadian Literary Hunt to promote the 2010 contest. Look for one new poem and short story each day the rest of this week. Enter today and you could be published in This Magazine, and win a cash prize of $750!

Great Canadian Literary Hunt - 3rd place, poetryI am attempting to understand. Explosions are mere news flashes to me and not the prattlings of Saturday or Wednesday or Christmas. My childhood home has no roof either. Its buyers are remodelling. There was no conflict over identity. No leaks over political affiliation, only those of a roof. They will tear up aging carpets. They will fend off ants with poison. They have carpets to age. These are venomless insects, tongues forkless, their tiny bodies without scales or hood.

Your village was larger than mine. Vankalai: a place for ships. No water-flow. Its name doesn’t river off the tongue of a westerner. Its name does not run like a tap to me. No taps. At sunrise your mother would head and hip gallons of well water till sunset. (You would spend the days playing cricket with boys. Striking the tennis ball into the air with oars. A curly bob of hair then.) Your chore was the scooping of white chicken stool from the rotund beachscape. You were a village girl in the true sense of the word. Population was not the factor, but level of squalor.

When we make love we (let our shades brush. We are an assembly of liquid, unarmed expressions that caused me to worry at first. Your fingers transform to green in mine. You say it took you months to overlook my pale and pinkness. We joke about a new form of sexual imperialism as if it never before existed. Gayathri: your native name, who in legends is always accompanied by a white swan. It means song, hymn. I over-pronounce the hinging “a” like a hiccup. I find your hairs throughout my clothing. You write Tamil in blue ink on my shoulder and refuse to) translate.

From infancy, you were bounced on the knee of subjugated narratives. You still maintain some inside conniections—unfortunate considering your lack of white-academic veil to hide behind, your inability to be seen as unbiased though yourself just a student in this country. Bearing to sit through the stories of my rural whitebred roots, you allow our incomparable setbacks to amalgamate into one. This is selfless, uncommon. I am attempting to understand.

When the government first invaded your town you walked for about a day and a half until the beach eclipsed on itself. The navy had taken those who sailed before, and your mother wasn’t about to be that reckless. You four dingied till India in a float made clumsy among the waves. There, your name was all muttish: first part below untouchable, second part high-cast and third an unsubtle reminder of the Portuguese conquest. A village girl with an immunization shot that stands today as something almost sized for horses, third world-medicine. There.

Word returned early in this new year but was lost beneath the Gaza Strip. This is something you claim to be used to. A distant second in world conflicts. It was not long before they had taken most of Jaffna. Not long before I actually understood what that symbolized. You would miss phone-calls late at night or be struck by them. No inbounds were available. Your mother was wiring money to places unwirable. The digits just float now like counterfeit angels. Her charity lost in the purgatory of jeep-bound bureaucracy. Rent is still due. The civil war lingers on. Rent is still due.

Jimmy McInnes was born and raised on Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula, but now lives in Toronto. His poetry has recently appeared in GULCH: An Assemblage of Poetry and Prose from Tightrope Books. “A Place for Ships” is a section of a long poem sequence currently in progress.