Canadian Poets #1

Sue Goyette


Tourism was great until the ocean went all coyote on us.
Lurking behind schoolyards, attacking people.

We were told to act big. To stand aggressively in our place.
Experts in animal control told us we had polluted its natural habitat

with our motored hands and greasy mayor. It had to feed further
afield and was too wild to mediate. The marriage counselors

suggested we do five random kind things for it on a weekly basis
until it trusted us again. Also, to show we were listening,

we were to “mirror” what it was saying. We gave that job
to the poets. Apparently, it was “a tired bus driver”

and “a wayward friend.” It was “the midnight of the death
of nights” and “the orphanage we’d been taken from.”

A fourth grade class made it their Spring Fling project.
With glitter glue and feathers, we were given murals

of how our life should look. We’d need more diving boards,
exploding rainbows and smiling dolphins/unicorns to achieve

any of it. The mothers of teenage boys elected themselves
to counsel. They wore wedge shoes and pink nail polish

and were either fiercely tired or determined to get supper on,
nodding while we explained how it sprawled its stuff everywhere.

How it stayed up until all hours of the night and gave us no
respect. Sound familiar, we asked. They leaned in as if over a map:

you are here, they said, manicured but in the trenches, trust us,
let go of any ideas of what you think it should be doing.

From Ocean by Sue Goyette
Text copyright © Sue Goyette, 2013


Clark New
George Elliot Clarke

Discourse on Pure Virtue

à Geeta

The brown girl, golden, sable-eyed,
flourishing yellow hibiscus,
steps exuberant, august,
into August—
her lushly brocaded gold silk sari
lavishing honey light at her auburn feet,
sandalled, cedarly,
with scent of sandalwood haloing her,
her individualized, warm, light-dark body,
her every glance a direction of the air,
her look of mischievous—even tart—sweetness….
O has she…?
She has
come in from morning’s slight autumnal chill,
her feet moistened with diamantine dew—
how the sea summers in grass
(that same grass that rears at the sun
while butterflies mob frangipani…).
Behold her smile declaring
warm, sun-dyed, terracotta lips—
that chance come home—
and I answer,
“You are light uplifting,
liberating me from murk,
from an inferno of squalor.”
O! Let there be rum and molasses,
rice and mackerel, O Muse,
the Indian Ocean softening and sweetening the Atlantic,
this august autumn.
All these pleasures we will prove:
lotus like slow-motion lightning,
ivory gold fountaining from earth,

like you, a fresh light, sprung from earth.


– “Discourse on Pure Virtue” by George Elliot Clarke, from Blue, copyright © 2001 by George Elliot Clarke.


Michael Ondaadje

The Cinnamon Peeler

If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
On your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
You could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to you hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler’s wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
–your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers…

When we swam once
I touched you in the water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
you climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter’s wife, the lime burner’s daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume

and knew

what good is it
to be the lime burner’s daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
Peeler’s wife. Smell me.


– Michael Ondaatje

Margaret Avison

The World Still Needs

Frivolity is out of season.
Yet, in this poetry, let it be admitted
The world still needs piano-tuners
And has fewer, and more of these
Grey fellows prone to liquor
On an unlikely Tuesday, gritty with wind,
When somewhere behind windows,
A housewife stays for him until the
Hour of the uneasy bridge-club cocktails
And the office rush at the groceteria
And the vesper-bell and lit-up buses passing
And the supper trays along the hospital corridor,
Suffering from
Sore throat and dusty curtains.

Not all alone on the deserted boathouse
Or even on the prairie freight
(The engineer leaned out, watchful and blank
And had no Christmas worries
Mainly because it was the eve of April),
Is like the moment
When the piano in the concert-hall
Finds texture absolute, a single solitude
For those hundreds in rows, half out of overcoats,
Their eyes swimming with sleep.

From this communal cramp of understanding
Springs up suburbia, where every man would build
A clapboard in a well of Russian forest
With yard enough for a high clothesline strung
To a small balcony …
A woman whose eyes shine like evening’s star
Takes in the freshblown linen
While sky a lonely wash of pink is still
reflected in brown mud
Where lettuces will grow, another spring.

– This poem is from the first volume of ‘Always Now’, the collected poems of Margaret Avison. It was originally published in her first book ‘Winter Sun’ (Routledge,Kegan Paul, 1960 )


Margaret Atwood-584
Margaret Atwood

This Is A Photograph Of Me

It was taken some time ago.
At first it seems to be
a smeared
print: blurred lines and grey flecks
blended with the paper;

then, as you scan
it, you see in the left-hand corner
a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree
(balsam or spruce) emerging
and, to the right, halfway up
what ought to be a gentle
slope, a small frame house.

In the background there is a lake,
and beyond that, some low hills.

(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.

I am in the lake, in the center
of the picture, just under the surface.

It is difficult to say where
precisely, or to say
how large or small I am:
the effect of water
on light is a distortion

but if you look long enough,
you will be able to see me.

– Margaret Atwood


E. Pauline Johnson

The Lost Lagoon

IT is dusk on the Lost Lagoon,
And we two dreaming the dusk away,
Beneath the drift of a twilight grey,
Beneath the drowse of an ending day,
And the curve of a golden moon.

It is dark in the Lost Lagoon,
And gone are the depths of haunting blue,
The grouping gulls, and the old canoe,
The singing firs, and the dusk and–you,
And gone is the golden moon.

O lure of the Lost Lagoon!–
I dream to-night that my paddle blurs
The purple shade where the seaweed stirs,
I hear the call of the singing firs
In the hush of the golden moon.

– E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)


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