Sadiqa de Meijer, "Great Aunt Unmarried"
All this week, we're publishing the five poems selected as finalists for the 2011-2012 CBC Poetry Prize.
In Sadiqa de Meijer's "Great Aunt Unmarried," encounters with an elderly relative evoke moments of the foreign and the familiar.
Great Aunt Unmarried
Upright sentinel of order among forty-three
third graders. War is over.
It’s all over their faces. That boy
in breeches! That waif seeking cover.
One year we drove the long, fogged seawall
to see her sisters
in their province, which had its own language, and was known
for stoics, though it flew
a flag of hearts.
Pastures etched with narrow roads.
I saw her shrink
behind the steering wheel. A dandelion shuts for rain
like that. She spoke to me by accident
in the dialect, and blushed - not far now,
I guessed, a tinge
of bovine melancholy in the vowels.
Someone had stitched the earth and sky together
with dim rows of poplars.
Embedded in the strata of that visit, under the wallpaper’s beige umbels,
the severe ancestors framed in ovals, deep in the woods on the hooked
tablecloth, where boars foraged knowing the musket-shots of conversation
could not strike them, the youngest sister, newly octogenerian,
pressed a rock into my hand. Kandij, a fragment from the dark sugar
they had stirred into their coffee. I could tell the protocol
was to skip through the uncurling ferns, licking merrily, but I was
seventeen, already I carried a furtive notebook in the pocket where the shard
dropped, almost weightless. Their spoons with schooner handles, clinking,
and the glazed brown cups, and the round tray with a landscape.
We went for a drive in nature. Two of them tied ivory
kerchiefs around their home permanents, while the third
muttered a curse on vanity, and we folded into a sedan,
automatic for the rheumatisms. At the speed of a procession,
to the dissolution of chalk peppermints. Here, the middle sister
nodded to the shoulder. Lawnchairs emerged. From the ditch,
the road was hearsay. Buttercups towered over a far spire.
The three in bifocals, their hands on their slacks
trembled like the grass. To the south, the air force practised.
Whether that haunted or comforted them, I couldn’t tell.
On the drive to the house, the silence had a grander shape,
like a bell that fits over fields and villages, schoolhouses
and sugar beets and people.
The light of television. Sunk in a dark
chair, glued to the Brandenburg Gate
or Rwanda. Just before ablutions
and half a sleeping pill. Late.
Calls orchestrated over the clock-warp
of Greenland, underwater cables, constellations.
Static was a constant breaker, traversing
an endless beach.
Calvinist, so every word had to outweigh
the coin that was its counterpart, but not too nakedly.
Often, delays in the line made our voices collide: I saw
a skunk do you dream under the dumpster in English now? You go.
Or another conversation crackled in the background,
obliquely urgent, on the verge of clarity.
Later, she called at odd hours, her greeting as close
as the pillow, bright as the blood red numbers.
Some nights, she mislaid the horn.
So then it was me and the sea.