Catherine Greenwood, "The Texada Queen"
All this week, we're publishing the five poems selected as finalists for the 2011-2012 CBC Poetry Prize.
In Catherine Greenwood's "The Texada Queen," a father-daughter relationship is seen through the nautical lens of a lifelong profession.
The Texada Queen
We had words, I recall: too much beer
in me at seventeen, sarcasms thrust like swords
I couldn’t parry. It was Christmas, or New Year;
I cracked my glass upon my father’s brow,
(as my mother in a pillbox hat once broke
a bottle of champagne across the prow
of a ferry he’d designed- launching thus
their lives in the new country). No one moved. No one spoke
as the blood began to trickle, unstaunched
from his forehead’s gash. Like Zeus, unzipped,
the third eye weeping, I later thought -- much
later. Then my youngest brother tipped
the ashtray as he tried to pluck bits
of glass from the beer-drenched rug
awash in a reek of fear and cigarettes,
and my father slipped his moorings, shrugged off
my mother’s arm and shot between the chairs
to chase me through the basement, tugging
at my shirt. I outstripped him on the stairs,
then tripped over the sill. In he lurched,
and briskly boxed my ears. Within my tangled hair,
a swatted bug, I hid out on the porch
a while until my skull ceased buzzing,
the lamp jar above me full of scorched flies.
Now, I remember my ears ringing
as my father’s must have rung all those years
of tending boilers in freighters bringing
spoils across the ocean. His hearing gone,
he’s telling me a story, but the words
fall overboard like drowning men, their names
sunk to the bottom (this is one I’ve heard,
off San Francisco the ship tossed by storms
so rough the captain bid his crew goodbye
and braving the gale alone to save them,
went on deck to dump the timber-load,
his life no longer a sure thing). Decades on,
I try to salvage the scattered lumber
of our conversation, yelling to be heard
across a café table, our tumblers
of milk, as my father grapples for words.
That place you lose your money, what’s it called--
Casino, I shout. Persuade? Cholesterol!
It’s a bastard, he says. His brain is over-full,
crowded with a cargo of memories
now waking, banging about inside the hull
like famine victims after a long crossing.
Hauled up into sunlight’s glare, they blink--
nit-ridden, dragging goats his father ferried
across the Clyde and a brother stinking
of the diphtheria ward, some shorn
after scarlet fever -- then stare blankly
at the world. The stuff of lockets, foreign
to me. I can’t help my father recover
their names, the lost blueprint for morning,
or the boat they sailed in on. Powerless,
we leave them at the dock, links of blood
pudding in their pockets. And then the hour
of my birth arrives in a vivid flood -
like a wee skinned rabbit you were, he beams--
and brings me up squalling, covered in blood.