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Progressive politics, ideas & culture

November-December 2011

Great Canadian Literary Hunt 2011: “Wake” by Frances Boyle

Frances Boyle

We’re posting the winners of the 2011 Great Canadian Literary Hunt all this week. Read the other finalists here and follow or friend us to stay up to date on 2012’s contest!

Sunlight, on one leg, limps out to the meadow and settles in.
Insects fall back inside their voices,
Little fanfares and muted repeats,
Inadequate language of sorrow
— (Charles Wright “Nine-Panel Yaak River Screen”)

Cocoon of dry throated days (hospital vigil, machines
stilled, packing up, singularities knit tight with details
then the silent drive, watching out for deer)
opens up: a house beside train tracks
set among fields. Jostling embraces
by oldest friends, my children, my man steadying.
Brilliant fall weather unblinking
stares me down; all this activity is background
sound, the love proffered is meddling.
Sunlight, on one leg, limps out to the meadow and settles in.

In slanted light, snow geese rise
in their hundreds above the stubble. We walk
the grid road alongside furrows. I’m numb
to my friend’s talk of her car ride from the coast,
time she took to ponder – should she leave
her daughter’s father? I can’t care now about her choices,
I’m just grateful that she’s here. And our other friend
who’s rooted in this land, though she says
she never walks it. Our talk breaks down to noises.
Insects fall back inside their voices.

Next day a wake. Mouths affirm life not grief.
Ranged in chairs, we know the celebration’s hollow,
that current may capsize us easy as it rocks us.
So I stammer my few words, listen
to the clear eyed keening of children
too young to know grief, that cheat
of promise. Friends play songs my brother loved,
some he’d written: plunges in mad river, a new year’s kiss.
Again and again the same regrets, stories we relate,
little fanfares and muted repeats.

Give me a scotch I’d said. Now his boss
has sent round trays of whiskey. Bar open
I weave myself into knots of his people,
drink deep of their memories, and that beer he liked
not for craft’s sake but because it’s cheap. I down glasses
for numbness now, redemptive pain tomorrow,
then return to warp and weft of spouse, sister, his close friends,
these two women mine. We spin words harder to think
than say, all trying on phrases, sentences we borrow,
completely inadequate language of sorrow.

Frances Boyle’s poetry and fiction have appeared across Canada and in the U.S. in anthologies and literary magazines including The Fiddlehead, Room and Contemporary Verse 2, and as a “Monday’s poem”. Previous poetry awards include Arc’s Diana Brebner Prize, and second place in Prairie Fire’s Banff Centre Bliss Carmen Award. Happily making her home in Ottawa for the past 16 years, Frances still continues to draw on her strong ties to Regina and Vancouver.
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