CBC Poetry Prize: "Stikine Country" by Emily McGiffin
We've published the five poems on the shortlist for the 2012 CBC Poetry Prize. In "Stikine Country," the northern BC wilderness presents its own paradigm of power, beauty and belonging.
Again I walked the canyon's rim in order
not to think. White sat fat on the land, black dactyl
creeks, rivers breaking through.
I had bludgeoned
each uncertainty with logic, intellect: those blunt weapons.
All their measured, hyperbolic words are dice
shaken in a loose fist. My learning: heavy
bundle of sticks. Hemlocks bent
under their snow load—mind
still coasting its tired track—and the raw air knifed in,
pivoting bare aspens that stroked the lovelorn
grey sky. Everywhere, winter stood; gaunt nostalgia
mewing at its ankles. Below,
ice leaned over the passage of water, thrusting
blue knees into the sleek dark. Night
had ebbed just enough to expose
this small rock of noon. I was riddled
with thinking, with the thought of our time,
torpedo-wormed, eaten. What small husk
remained to see the world? Blind
heart, it burrowed into human knowing
that had drifted here from elsewhere.
Night. The moose stepped up. I woke where I lay
on the moss and our gazes met, caesural.
What I was then: lifted: wind breathed through
the dewy webs of thought and broke them.
And then: afraid. Petrified by night,
its strangeness; inscrutable, inhumane
mountains; the freshet creek and its language
no human ear can know. I closed my eyes, tight:
prophylaxis. Rain rode in, sharp hooves
dashing over the tarpaulin. Again, thought,
fearful, hammered in my mind's pipes—
an airlock stuck behind the walls.
It was too much to be alone with,
all this wild. Why are we not taught
how to rest here? The houses I have built
I could dismantle with equal care.
North of Here
Beyond the mind's flight―which remains
circumscribed by gravity, grammar, Descartes―a fiasco of poplars
raises stippled hands to the clear October sky.
Resplendent, they have almost finished speaking.
They stand together below the heathered ridge
where I lie breathing the honeyed autumnal air, below the gully
where four grizzlies snuffle for late berries in the tawny afternoon. Water,
moving past over a fan of scree, disappears into the ground becoming
its sinews, arteries, lungs. This is how
the land inhabits you: wilderness
sinks into your subterrainean mind,
into the cavernous space there, brightness
surging through. The Stone Sheep
that starts at your scent and canters away, its breath
still hanging in the air as you arrive where it stood:
that is your own wonder made real.
Shall I tell you where this is? Shall I draw you a map?
You must promise
to go there at once:
by daybreak, this mountain
will be a yellow bulldozer
and a heap of broken rock.
Blue, blue and the slapdash clouds—clouds
burled up over the buckled ridge; limelight
fell through the naked windows of my eyes.
We skinned toward the spiny peak: across
the boilerplate windslab—sun-broken cornice
ominous above—under the many-named face,
that granite altar scoured, fissured, polished by time,
by tongues that have praised it, by empty hands
pressed against it, extended for its alms.
In the lockjawed rock, a vein
of ancestry, fault lines of migrations, landfall
for the narrative to anchor us here.
Cresting the ridge, exhausted,
the sunlit world unfurled itself
and my knees gave way.