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Poetry Prize

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. 

Snow Drifts

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. 


Sleeping Out

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.


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