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Winning Text: Poetry (2010):
First Prize

To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Brian Brett

A Suite of Poems by Brian Brett

At the round earth's imagin'd corners, blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go.

                             - John Donne, Holy Sonnets


And I awoke in the thunder of those trumpets,
the bright lights and the sirens of the ass-slappers,
and I was but one of many awakenings, stars
numberless and bright beyond the galaxies,
human and insect, striving and writhing,
as we came tumbling over the walls
where we returned, tumbling again, full of arrows
and bulbuls and radiation and smiling and loving
and dying in our gentled beds, hands held
by many fingers and the gaze of love, tumbling
into light and rivers, dodging crocodiles and not
dodging crocodiles, to your scattered bodies go
and then shrug them off in the Magellanic cloud
and the Mindanao deep, life all the way back
to the big bang, and the bang we don't hear,
the one that strikes the heart and the lung and perforates
our spine as we crazy dance into the trenches of lovers
and weeping children and playing children and lost children,
all the scattered bodies of time and life like pearls
in the night sky appearing and disappearing in the fog.



I would like to have
this one last summer
before I die, my father
said with his simple honesty,
and then he died
on a brilliant day in May.
And now twelve years later
I am down on my knees,
my hands riffling the black earth,
ripping out the morning
glory roots and quack grass.
The beans are so tall
in the heat their poles
are bending toward me
like shaggy, silent priests.
The thyme is humming with bees.
This is the garden in its glory.
My joints hurt so bad
that I will have trouble standing
again in the light flooding
upward from the sea.
And now the hornet of death
is singing in my own blood as I live
the last summer of my father.



The red racer has a green tree frog
in her mouth, and the frog 
embraces the snake.
Their jaws are locked.
Death is inevitable
and they stare at each other
with lizard eyes, unblinking,
aware of the end,
yet fighting for position - 
the power of the frog
can't match the snake,
but still they fight
for form's sake.

Like this tranquil frog - 
how many among us
wouldn't bite the face
that marks our fate,
and wrestle our giants
until they swallow us?



The rain on the tin roof, it makes
me feel hunted, makes me feel like a tiger
in Singapore, before there was a Singapore.
The rain on the red tin roof comes down
in waves, in an ecstasy of climate.
I love the way it dances its rich weather.
Rain on the roof, as sweet as a slim, shy
girl slipping off her wet sheath under
the bridge in my nineteenth year.
After that, only the rain spoke.



Take off your clothes.
Drop them at your feet.
Walk naked toward me.
This is the beauty
of creatures like us.
Tomorrow, we will be dead.
Today, we will be desire.



These were the endless years, 
memory the butterfly that remembers 
the cocoon and the caterpillar.
I put my head to the rails
listening to the forever train,
and offered a penny and a spoon,
gifts for the iron wheels to flatten.
My friends, when they weren't busy
with their circle jerks and betting
who could shoot the highest until
one juiced the chandelier,
they claimed that Apache warriors
could put their ears to the earth
and count two riders
on the way out of morning.
So I always kept my ears to the ground,
listening for the riders, and once
in the last years of my innocence
there was a great thunder in the ground
and I stood up amazed
in the high golden Chilcotin hill
grass of always summer
as the thundering, riderless
herd of mustangs rushed
around and past me
galloping wild and free,
the almost eternal horses of memory.



Will he? Will this man-thing ever hear
the haunt of the Swainson's Thrush
again in another wide summer to come?
He's a walking wound walking.
He's the mortar and pestle of joints;
the ancient dog under the willow;
the withering plums almost too sweet;
the drooping breasts of the wry, old girl;
the autumn wind showing scarlet,
prancing its version of the whirling whirl - 
and the haunted songs celebrating the dusk.
Hoohoo sweet, sweet, the enduring
birds sing the years of our alive.



The black clouds roll over the land, 
     lumpy as old meat wrongly
tossed into the compost -

     smudge fires before spring.

You burn everything.
     Wisps of smoke rise above the fog,
miniature, slow tornadoes among the mountains.

     The sun does its work,
the history of cold, raunchy baggage kept,
desire gone slack, you left me
     for the fire, 
     and the fire
     is enormous, its red desire - 
paper bags and cardboard, your flesh
white as mushrooms beneath all the flannel.

     The rage of the fire,
burning winter in the fog of winter.



In her kitchen she embraces the blade.
She embraces, in her kitchen, the shiny
blade, the boning knife. It was mine always,
he thought while she acknowledged the chicken;
she bowed, in the kitchen, with the dead bird
ignoring him, and she considered its parts,
the boning knife held like a samurai sword
by a bad actor in a bad samurai film, the shiny
knife in the kitchen, embraced by a samurai
and I was no longer there, her concentration
swallowed the kitchen as she addressed dinner - 
the thigh, the drumstick, the wing, the breast split,
so much variety to choose when you have a knife
in your hands in the kitchen, a boning knife - ignoring me - 
although I was the one who always boned the chicken
     until that day.



Fifty years ago, it was
the newest thing since Wonder bread,
which was white, fluffy, and sliced.
The real wonder of the bread
was that it took the wheat out of the wheat 
in an age when people were impressed
by food that didn't feed.
The snowsuit was blue,
and there was snow then, lots of it.
My mother would tirelessly put on
all my layers of bundling underclothes
and zip me into my blue suit,
the little boots, the little gloves,
and I would rush out into the snow
as white as the Wonder bread
and eat it without peanut butter or jam.
Then I would grow cold and cry
at the door, and mother would
let me inside and take off layer
after layer, like peeling a bright little onion
who was crying in discomfort.
But after a few minutes with the heater
and a slice of bread and jam, I would
cry and cry and cry until mother
bundled me all up again and sent
me back out into the world of wonder.
I was so young then and already
I failed to understand the need
for the borders we call doors
that shut in and shut out
the delights of the other side.



Look into the image of you, boy-child,
the endless eyelashes, the floating wild hair
draped down to your ass.
The long bones of hormones
that didn't stop growing
until the doctors whacked you with chemicals.

Boy-child, you were the wind on the road,
stopped suddenly by the purple asters,
or the smile of the waiter-girl
whose legs stretched down to the floor
and you spent years buying
a thousand hot beef sandwiches
so you could love her legs
and dream of the cascading
premature silver hair of her
nineteen years in the world,
hair that touched your mouth
when she leaned over the table
to refill the foul coffee
you drank to bring her back.

Now turn again to the mirror and stare
at the thickened face of old age
and smile and remember the nearly
ancient, silver-haired waitress of your desires.



Out in the bay the great whales
spy hop and tail slap; grandeur
still exists, and when you float
in the water you can hear them,
the mother and calf, singing
love songs to each other far away.

The pelicans fall from the sky
like awkward comedians catching fish,
while the young adults herd the hundreds
of babies into interesting formations on the water.

It's crazy with life here; the market
is full of melons and tequila and señoritas
buxom in tight white dresses,
pouting when their wide mothers 
chase the boys away.

Across the bay in Tenacatita all the hotels
are empty, the chairs along the sea-swept seawall
scattered and forlorn. It's a recession, they say,
but the blue puffer fish still act as saintly guides
leading the way between the walls of coral,
and the ecstatic sting rays touch and roll
and breed on the sandy bottom of the bay.

Everything here is almost as it was,
and briefly I wonder how long
will our war on the world
hold back the crashing waves of Tenacatita?



Gently, that gentle one went.
A good New Year dinner,
a touch of indigestion. 
Sixty years old but trim 
and hard working and healthy,
maybe heartburned from a good meal.
She followed him to their bedroom.
He lay down and let out a big sigh,
and the sigh was his last breath.
Sixty short years, a talented, quiet man
alone on his bed with his wife - 
stunned, and gazing upon him,
mouth quivering at the years, their lives.
O astonishing astonishing world!



When I think of the dirt 
     I'm going to eat,
The dust I will become, the mud
flowing along the ocean floor,
     I wonder
where all the great moments
               go -
all the inspired pauses that "Haw!!"
in the face of what most would call reality.

The moments where even the glass-eyed geek
dances on the ruin of those who foiled him.

     When we die
our families spend the rest of their lives
     forgetting us, 
the way we forget the dog licking the knives
     in the dishwasher,
the bicycle dance of the courier in traffic.

We leave nothing behind but energy,
     the energy of life...

     to the star's core,
     the tree's leaf,
     the raven's betrayed squawk.
You can find our ragged essence everywhere,



Do the dead have spirits?
They can't. There would
be too many filling the immensity.
All the world is dying, in greater
and greater quantities, the dead
rising out of earthquakes
and tidal waves and heroin needles
and guns and childbirth and typhus.
The dead whirling around us,
chickens and cattle and children,
millions of spirits flying
past our startled faces.
Waves of shuddering wraiths
brushing us with the coldness
of the grave's soil and the ocean,
the fires of that last pyre.
The dead going everywhere,
flying away like rockets, comets,
waterfalls of shadows, waning flares,
meteors in the night, all the candles
silent, fading into the invisible.


Click here to read the text as it appears in the May 2011 issue of Air Canada's enRoute Magazine.

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