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CBC Poetry Prize

"Bluegrass Meteorology" by Alison Smith

This week we're publishing the five works on the shortlist for the CBC Poetry Prize

In her two poems, Alison Smith probes grief and emotional inheritance in respect to the passing of her grandparents. 

Bluegrass Meteorology

When the sky blackens I get that old feeling 
in my legs: banjo plucking, quick chicken scratching under 
loose skin, quiver of daises popping up from clay. 
It takes me back to where I wasn’t: aunts half asleep 
behind the kitchen, the sky fattening like a damp songbook.
Revelry strains the house as the grandparents strum 
getaway  getaway clapboard dreams of Jamboree glory. 
Their children grew up as radio towers: innards wired 
to weather and song. Through them, I learned to feel all the oldies.

The grandparents are gone now, save for bluegrass weather— 
a grey polyester sky with periwinkle lapels, the way it feels when 
fiddles lift on frayed Jack Pines and rain is fixing to jump 
out of silence into a lickety-split tempo. 
When that weather comes, you’ve got to cry, cry harder
or pick up your instrument and learn to play what you feel. 
There is no heaven. The grandparents are over us 
like snow, dirt-balling cloud, or under us like water churned by wind. 
They return in spells of bad weather, sobered by the elements, as if 
they’d always meant to sing us over yonder.

The Last Time I Was Alone With My Grandmother 

I read poetry aloud. I didn’t read the ones 
about dying and forgiveness, because outside
arrangements were being made 
and I didn't want the others to hear me slacken 
in the face of it. So I read the poems I could find 
about grass and mountains and rain.
Each time I said river, she turned her head 
as though she heard a familiar voice. 
Or that is how I put it because 
it had been years since she had known me 
and when the word, wet from my throat 
entered her dry ear, it seemed her body 
became a vacant rumple of clothes 
and she was stepping down a steep 
weedy bank and she was frightened
to be so naked but also very thirsty. 
When I was young she had a television 
she watched from down a hall—walking 
into the house you didn’t know if she saw you 
or All My Children. She grew phlox because 
it always came back. She ate toast with garlic salt
iceberg lettuce with white vinegar. I was told 
she’d raised five children with no indoor plumbing. 
There were few books on her shelves. I knew 
in the way children know this doesn’t separate 
but eventually it did. If she was proud of me 
she was too proud to ask why. As I read
her fevered eyes drifted to a cluttered wall of faces 
mostly Elvis’. Maybe she saw her fortune there.
She believed the girls who reached into the cage 
and held up numbered orbs had promised her 
golden apples. In the room there was gospel bluegrass 
on repeat, just in case. A pink shawl. Four empty chairs. 
The tv, turned off, gave me back my reflection. 
I read poems aloud.  I loosened scrawls of vetch 
and threw them against a stranger’s sky.



«Read the other shortlisted entries


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