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Poetry Prize

Marion Quednau, "Yesterday, I looked inside"

All this week, we're publishing the five poems selected as finalists for the 2011-2012 CBC Poetry Prize.

In Marion Quednau's "Yesterday, I looked inside," a casual glance leads to a tragic discovery and a question of grace.


*****

Yesterday, I looked inside


a gold, late-model Grand Marquis, remember those?  
The driver's keys, unclutched, on the seat
beside him, a little of his youth 
still hesitant on his face,
his skin so blue  --
the late afternoon fading as well in the early-summer's 
heat, the car's hazard lights 
blinking on-and-off, on- 
and-off, relaying a last-minute 
presence of mind -- 
and then doubt --
courage, and then a failing.  

Hard to know
whether he was coming or going -- in a real flap
or taking his own sweet time --
the back seat crammed with a vintage red 
vacuum, broken lamp, and barrage of cardboard boxes 
holding God-knows-what, 
the sum total of a kind of living.        
A passerby laughed with me about that.  
We took turns leaning into the car's open windows
and shouting into the man's face. 
That can sometimes be a life-saver;
even wrong-sounding words 
better than a roaring white street 
of silence. 

For some reason I thought 
to recite a few poems 
that might awaken a man; 
one by Carver about the last years 
being "pure gravy," 
and a few words from John Donne
on the subject of death being not especially "proud" … 
while my cohort, curious as I was
to see some trick of transparency -- a lifting up,
or out of, as easy to believe 
as smoke from a winter chimney --
kept repeating, "Can you hear me? Are you 
diabetic?" and once, just for a joke, 
"Hey buddy, here come the police!"

But there were no sirens, 
although we'd called for response; 
the air hung heavily in the street, and the man  
didn't even twitch, not once, 
while we yodelled and felt ill-at-ease;
a third bystander soon
sprinting to the nearby Big-B Saloon 
where the girls would start dancing, later,
to spread the news, some sorry sod
blacked-out -- maybe not even breathing -
Another quarter-hour tripped by 
like soft, sullen eternity, 
an ambulance finally gliding into view --
it seemed cruel providence
to remember the milk I'd bought, spoiled in the heat.  

"You did the right thing," 
the paramedic said, pulling on his baby-blue latex gloves;
although I'd been afraid 
to touch a man with writhing-snake tattoos,
his mouth gaping --
had offered only badly-canted verse 
as resuscitation. 
"He's a known drug-user; has OD'd before,"
the medic said, without blame,
as if despair were an accepted fact 
like the earth being round
and wobbling slightly on its axis.

We were standing in front of the Bellevue, 
a roughneck hotel survived 
from boom-and-bust days in a once-shake-mill town -- 
cars slowing, faces craned 
to catch sight of someone 
unrecognized, and in real trouble -- 
that's as good as it gets; a thrilling
of blood, their own lives 
remarkably unscathed -- 


Maybe they thought I knew 
the collapsed man, had chosen 
to love him, the way we do -- helplessly, 
and half-hearted --
or cheapened the story 
once they got home, some drifter's  
girlfriend or sister, bawling her eyes out
on the main drag, they saw the whole thing. 
I hate that, people blowing things 
out of proportion. It shows us up 
to be only passing strangers, nothing more.   

Believe me, it was this simple.  
I saw the gold car, the blued skin 
of the man inside, 
and how he wanted 
to prepare for beauty, 
give it his best shot,
get somewhere without any hitches, for once -- 
without that shimmering hook, or hoop
that always snared him -- 
and such a quiet approach 
on old, bald tires.       
     



«Read the other shortlisted entries



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