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BloodLines: "Artery" by Phil Hall

We’ve partnered with the Canada Council for the Arts to present a new literary series: BloodLines. Inspired by this year’s Massey Lectures by Lawrence Hill, Blood: The Stuff of Life, BloodLines features new fiction, nonfiction and poetry inspired by the theme of blood—written by ten Canadian writers who have won or been nominated for Governor General’s Literary Awards.

In Phil Hall’s BloodLines poem, a subway rider falls asleep and dreams of lap dogs, Norval Morrisseau, and a world beyond blood.

* * *

“Artery” by Phil Hall 

One water—language—this—other blood

All of us—underground—thrown together—shadow-forms—blanks 

As interconnecting lines—green red blue yellow—rush us—sitting—standing 

See the grease-spots—our visionary heads—have worn

I drifted off—silent—immense—my arm is numb—asleep

Useless bastard arm—this very line—family trees drop branches here

I dream water on the brain—my origins unraveling—into any local swamp

My hand is an inflated glove—full of heavy water—can we shake—we have the shakes

I am always surprised when I see my blood—coming out—little tube after little tube—I guess I don't believe in blood—not really

Let's drink—not the doctor's red river—but the shaman's tangled creek

Here is to—not sire-spatter—but a wrested-free—shared—anonymity

A Pope—his robes immaculate—underwrites blood—Luke 3:23-38

My eye asleep—gibbous—leaking—blind to how it hails—my foot asleep—elusive Big Foot!

Discover remarkable family stories from across the country »

The President throws a bag of blood—a crowd claps—a ball game starts

My heart—sound—asleep to philosophy—too busy fisting its tides

The Prime Minister calls the President—what should I do with all this blood—the President says—freeze-dry it by sending it to committee

Unpronounceable—on the subway—the grub-way—early—late—we are recent immigrants—reading 100 bibles—transiting to crap-jobs

The Governor General looks up—at a Spirit painting—by Norval Morrisseau—then smiles & says—this buffalo mozzarella is superb 

The official culture thinks we are vermiculture—because we disown shame—to sit here—nodding—all of us translators


A Premier’s breathalyzer is off the chart—a Mayor watches a vampire movie nude—my doctor throws down in disgust a biography of Norman Bethune

I don’t care how I came by these looks—what station I got on at—language is the other blood—Finnigans Wake 3:23-38

Norval Morrisseau—voiceless—dry—sits in a wheelchair—at the National Gallery—among his transformations—& cries

Blood—a myth of family—little roof—couple & child—attendant shepherds—animal figurines

Family—a myth of history—that manger silhouette—trope—left on our church roof all spring—a hope virus—in every out-port

History—a myth of progress—how else could we talk those elders into abandoning their homes nets & dories

Progress—a myth of capitalism—weathered sea-goers—as self-reliant as wet rope—but sentimental at last—softened by a diet of crèche

Capitalism—a myth of money—we unsettled every soul—from those fished-out ports—we relocated every legend—into the cities—to babysit gaming grand-kids—feed lap dogs

Money—a myth of security—holy child—couple & shepherds—attendant figurines—animal roof

Security—a myth of immortality—is it—I am livid—or—I have livid

Immortality—a myth of blood—I am getting there

Here—with the adopted—who have been ruined by a story

We are starving for—starved by—an official story—we have been told—it is our destiny—to know

A story we could just as easily make up—it might suit us better

I am walking beside insemination—surrogate—Wolf Boy—clone—walking with unknown soldiers—navies—lost faces in old photos

An out-dated heritage myth—keeps us focused on our laps—keeps us—as if—lap dogs

We are hurting ourselves for evidence—begging for legitimacy—language is the other blood

Transformation the only IV—my arm awakens—not my stop

My hand awakens—missed my stop—foot awakens—eye awakens

We are no longer bogged at source—or log-jammed by corpus

Having disowned blood's proof—doors are closing—we take these woven lines together

One-water—spiral-glinting—spelled wrong—mumbling in circles

You & I—inventing ourselves—syllable deltas—who & why 

But then—when the wars—over blood—are no more 

The battles—over water—begin


Phil Hall.jpg

Phil Hall won the 2011 Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry for Killdeer. He also won the 2012 Trillium Book Award for Killdeer. This book of essay-poems also won an Alcuin Design Award, and was nominated for the Griffin Poetry Prize. 

Hall’s most recent publications are The Small Nouns Crying Faith and X. Also recently, he has held writer-in-residency posts at Queen’s University and the University of Windsor. 

Currently, he is poet-in-residence for the Wired Writing Program at the Banff Centre for the Arts. He lives near Perth, Ontario.

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