Sunday, March 02, 2008


Now that the announcements are over, I am free to say how delighted I was to be one of the finalists in the year's CBC Literary Awards for Poetry. It is a great honour to be so selected.

In my own reading, I have come across the beautiful poems of the unbelievably talented Anne Michaels. I am slowly savouring her book, The Weight of Oranges. Let me share with you just one tasty poem which reached my heart, and also honour the spirit of painting by sharing a link to the astonishing art of my friend, Garry Berteig, whose painting I borrow here to illuminate the poem.

The Day of Jack Chambers

The day of Jack Chambers
we are black smudges on the frozen river.
You're walking ahead - in summer I would've said "upstream" -
sky, blue of veins, air the palest skin.
Old February light, weakest of the year,
casting its tinge like light in paintings
when the varnish has aged.
You're halfway up the river,
it's five o'clock and I can tell
by the way your back's to me, you're measuring pigments,
stealing the contents of this light, and sure enough
it begins to get dark.

We spent the day looking at Chambers' painting.
Even the earliest have the magnification of dying.
Ten years of leukemia, you have to think what you fear,
not just be afraid.
When he worked from photos
he added what happened before the shutter was pressed -
and what happened after.
Objects hang in the air where they'd been the moment before,
floating like dust in sunlight.
Always the same light - captive, gasping to get out
from Sunday place settings, his wife's hair,
from chrome trim and roofs of cars on the highway.

You explained visual time,
how there's no weight without shadow.
Nothing falls, every figure has a ghostly buoyancy.
You explained how Chambers grounded things with his light,
leaving the ghost inside.

I understood this by thinking "language" instead of "light,"
how everything suspended stays temporal.
I understood it as a grammar of beauty
with its apex of loss,
dishevelled burning trees half leafless.
As a room full of rain and the raft of our bed.
The way we fall from each other like halves of an orange,
skin dark as pottery in lamplight.
I know it, naked in the light of the fridge,
cold plummy resins in our mouths, warm sticky resins
of our bodies. By nights
we drain the pictures from your head and words
from my throat until I find nothing but sounds there.
And today, by way of light closing around itself
until the river is dark and all I see is your white breath.
By way of a young woman's hunger
so taste every part of her lover, even his words.

Chambers' painting of a girl: if the light were stronger
you'd see her bones, the green-blue tributaries
beginning and returning at the heart.
And the sky that's "wrong,"
cloud-mottled, above the horizon,
yet painted as if we're looking straight up.
Your brain tricks you,
like losing your balance in a dream,
being woken by the feeling of falling.

What you pain
are the parts left behind
when two people join.
Your figures look calm,
but their throats are closed
with cries that can't get out.

They are in mourning.
Your canvas finds a weakness in the air's tension,
someone's past seeps out.
We arrive by accumulation.
Time twists us by the shoulders until we're positioned to die,
looking backwards. Twisted into the ground.

Night. Soon we are pushing our faces
into the bin of stars. Lamplight
melts the windows of the river houses.
I can feel your bony fingers in your gloves.

This day belongs to Chambers. This
his river, his light. His eyes
that watched your black figure on the river,
sky the blue of veins, air
a translucent skin over everything.

There are three kinds of teachers, you said.
One who teaches you by making you afraid,
one who makes you angry.
The third makes you love him.


At 1:51 PM, Blogger Pearl said...

Congrats on your poem being so well received Heather!


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