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CBC Poetry Prize

CBC Poetry Prize: "Borealis" by Pamela Porter

We've published the five poems on the shortlist for the 2013 CBC Poetry Prize. In "Borealis" a woman's infant daughter falls ill just as a blizzard begins to blow in on her remote farm.

The baby fevered on her lap, she watched the doctor’s mouth 
say pneumonia, say hospital, and stared at him as though the words were foreign 
and she had to search her mind for their meaning, the doctor saying 
after a silence that hospital might be easier 
with her alone out there on the farm, but she was thinking 
of the storm, how the water in the horses’ trough would have frozen by now,
and she’d have to carry the enamel pot across the snow, her hands 
in oven mitts, the water steaming in the pot and her trying not to spill 
until she reached the corral and poured the water in a rush over the rough ice, 
the ice melting in the middle, leaving an edge of fine, scalloped lace 
around the inside of the trough.  And the sheep - shutting them in the barn 
would be enough, but who knew what it was like out there now: 
first wind, then dust, then leaves, as she drove with the baby into town, 
then snow, horizontal, bleaching the fields, the air, and she looked 
into the doctor’s eyes, who seemed genuinely sorry for her,  
and whispered in her mind, how did I think I could ever be a mother, 
but told the doctor she’d take the baby home, and he only nodded his head, 
the storm a cavern she moved wearily through, drifts hardened across the road, 
antelope stumbling behind thin white lines of fence, and clustered cattle 
scoured white, round bales curled tight in their winter fur.  
The road’s curves she knew by heart, the baby not fussing anymore, but quiet
from something the doctor gave her, and later, 
lying on the floor beside the crib, listening to the phlegm in her small chest, 
she thought of fragile things: moss, spiders’ webs, lungs, 
the finch in hawk’s talons and the sky a snow of feathers on a day 
that had gone till afternoon without a death.
And in the night, wakened to stillness, the wind died, stars, in the room 
only her daughter’s fluttered breathing, and light - in the mirror, on the walls.  
She rose, went to the window, and it was as if she’d found herself 
inside the pulsing body of the world.  And saw in the field 
her three horses chase each other - the flown snow, the three circling 
muzzle to tail in a kind of dance: rose-flecked, necks arched, unspeakable, 
blood rushing in the stung cold, the baby’s cry, and their risen breath.


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