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CBC Poetry Prize

"On Naming and the Origin of Pity" by Cassidy McFadzean

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

In her narrative poem Cassidy McFadzean tells the story of George, a towering presence in his Grade Six classroom and whose physical appearance engenders a melancholic sense of neighbourhood compassion.


We called him George, an anachronism in the grade six classroom,
where his old-fashioned name 
seemed out of place. I knew a Clara and Araya too—both killed 

by twenty-two, the obituaries  
said. They were named for great-grandmothers they never met. 
Linearity rejected them.  
And just as the twins seemed to never speak a word in all the hours of  
speech therapy we shared—
surrounded by phonemes and graphemes in English and in Cree—
we all had our quirks.   

George was burned all over 
as far as any of us could tell. He was a tower above the rest of us.  
He’d been held back. 
His fingers clutched the strings of his hoodie hiding the edge
of his wax-tightened mask. 
So when the fire fighters came to give a safety presentation, it was George 
they made crawl on all fours 

through the set-up of plastic tubes in the gymnasium, and test the imaginary 
heat of the wood of the fake door 
with the back of his hand. We could almost see a younger George starring
in the locally produced VHS
they screened in the community room each year. It was a grainy George  
leaning into the metal garbage bin  
to watch the red and orange flicker of flames and being trapped within, 
the boy’s curiosity got the best of him.  

My father was a janitor, more or less, at the Lawson pool, a few blocks away. 
Everyone came on Tuesday nights  
for Family Swim, which was free, the pool splashing with bodies. 
Dad said he’d seen him there. 
Kept an eye out, I think. It was hard not to, the melted skin 

of George’s face, its brushstrokes of dried 
acrylic, shined in the pool’s cool light. George was not so easily hidden 
from sight, but a nice gesture 
for a kid my father barely knew. He helped him get inside his locker, 
when George had lost the key. 
And when he wrenched open the metal, there was only some sneakers 
and a balled up t-shirt inside.
No towel or change of jeans. George on the third-storey tower 

of the Lawson looked like any other kid—
the one who shot his friend by accident and tried to burn the body in the alley,
for instance—his skin 
brown like the others instead of the pale pink his scars usually looked. 
George dashed and dove 
off the edge of the platform, a blur through the air, disappeared under water. 



**





 

«Read the other shortlisted entries



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