CBC Poetry Prize: "The Trailer" by James Scoles

James Scoles won the 2013 CBC Poetry Prize for "The Trailer," in which the most unloved things make for the most lovable stories.

       I

Teaching my students the most unloved 

things make for the most lovable stories 

takes too much honesty: my trailer, that

perfect example, remains parked in silent 

shame, like a criminal record, crouching 

low in history’s shadow. Nobody knows 

the love given, won, made and traded be-

tween two-by-three wood-paneled walls. 

I told her the most unloved things often make 

for the most lovable stories that baking-hot long

August day: tilted leaky toilet, sunken floors 

dark, soft, soggy in so many places. Sweet 

nothings were whispered about the economy 

and living within our means while she stood 

tall, eyes beautiful in blue-grey sparkling 

wonder under rusty windows, chubby-

bottomed old doors, pressing down; she 

sank in, shook her head, but accepted my 

promises. Lies. Let me open the secrets 

of our leaky tin shack, show her awkward 

construction, poor and painful renovations: 

techniques and temper borrowed from olden 

days; madness was simpler then, explainable. 

By living disasters daily, the Irish learned the 

hard way how to not bury a fighting 

chance; my students learn the way well-

worn, pain-ready folks fuel top-shelf

character, how voice feeds persona.  

How setting lifts the sails of a story. 

And how grading gets done under 

the influence of more than just

good intentions.  

II

Come together it did: bit by bit,

wall after wall. Patchwork: porch, 

wet sky became one for a time.  

Tin begat shingle, old screws re-

birthed into galvanized. Count-

less rubbery-guck tubes made a 

bit better mess of the leaky roof 

edges, while inside our matchbox 

true love caught fire, was every-

thing we made of every day. But 

building anything unbreakable is 

no easy task, especially within the 

scrappy walls of a silly little dream;

it was all we needed, could afford,

and the love made did cover each 

day’s losses. Like afternoon paint 

drops upon floors, thighs. Meals were 

love made, mingling night-tight, evenings

rendered in cedar lust and plaster dust. 

Coats of sweat, primer, passion and wait. 

Stories made for another time, another 

world. Alight. And why not betwixt thin 

walls? Eleven beat-up dividers at best—

all cigarette-yellow and once-wet, some 

reinforced with hopeful screws—all left 

wondering what’ll happen next. Waiting 

to see if hope hangs on or finds a way 

to fail. Waiting upon a wisdom under-

neath, the dark recesses beneath, where 

secrets lie buried under seven hundred 

square-feet of domestic disturbance: a 

place built for the story we deserved.

III

It began in the back half, where 

the floor slopes a little up our tree-

less backyard, where hot waterlines

broke the second winter. But even 

the first winter was a bit broken; not 

waterworks but the ridiculous fear our 

love was too strong: no tin-lined walls 

could ever hope to contain us. And

just like that: one by one, in quick 

fashion, each appliance died. Leaks 

reopened; things dug under the skirt-

ing, got beneath cinder-block footings.  

Certain benefits, of course, to circling 

the wagons, but the moment you move 

into 1981 Slimline 54-footers certain 

things are given up for other glories. 

Stories cut in tin and melamine: saw-

dusty glue, sweet kitchen summer 

sweats: hot-house collection of lust, 

bunny-dust, mouse-droppings by the 

frying-panful. Mealy-bugs, ants watched

many lovemaking nights leave the living 

room feeling over-sexed, like Memory’s 

dirty bedroom, where loneliness nestles 

in for evenings. Where bed-springs sing 

sad songs: little ballads to honour such 

gorgeous, creaky history. Musical charms 

kept hidden. Old badges, dangerous pins. 

Letters tucked into shoeboxes. Certificates 

framed in K-Mart gold. Best parking spot 

in the park: another thing that will not last.



Get to know James Scoles »

Read the shortlisted poems »