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.