CBCBooks on  Twitter CBCBooks on Facebook

2014 CBC Poetry Prize: "Coda" by Basma Kavanagh

In this shortlisted poem for the 2014 CBC Poetry Prize, the world brings itself back from the brink after the disappearance of its most destructive species.


Who will miss us, sense
our standing forms ghosting
the old farms, feel 
the work of our hands—
thumbs and fingers—
on the trees and rivers,
the scarred, heaped
fieldstones, our sweat 
in the dykes and dams, 
our skulls under grass, 
our dust in the crumbled

Maybe the deer, as the apples 
shrink and sour year after year.
Perhaps the apples themselves,
ripening without our keen
attention, a hunger and relish
that made them blush. Maybe mice, 
as wheat and oats re-wild, 
seeds slowly growing less plump. 
The crows, the ravens 
and rats will miss our mess, 
the roadkill and scraps—and maggots,
yes, maggots, will mourn us, 
mourn garbage’s extinction
with every eloquent wriggle.

Ocean dwellers will recall a nightmare
time long past. On desolate beaches, 
wasps will chew old nets and wooden traps 
to mush, sculpt palatial nests 
with little disruption, mouthful by mouthful.

The sleek coyotes will call the last dogs
into the woods and devour them.
Cats will creep into the trees
to dwell, and the house sparrows—

What else might we mend with our passing?
What will be lost?

Only hawks will eat songbirds on the new earth,
no naked animal cover itself with another’s skin.

Fire will gutter, our ancient alliance extinguished.
Suddenly rare in a world without matches,
where pinched flints no longer 
flick sparks onto tinder, 
and sharpened sticks and hot palms
have ceased their  furious rubbing.  
When shells hold shellfish or lie empty, 
cease to be tidy vessels for punk and treasured embers,
fire, that charismatic parasite, will be desperate.
Lightning, its stingy and erratic keeper,
might save fire from extinction.

Coal and oil write ballads, their time
of persecution over. They warm themselves
on the sunny shore. They sing new verses
to the ocean:

Wounds were carved in Earth’s bright crust,
wounds they cracked and palped,
they cut us from our nests, 
burned us to warm themselves.

Wounds were carved in Earth’s bright crust,
we lived in fear so long;
the teeth of their machines will rust,
the hunters have all gone.

They hum, and watch the horizon.
At dusk, coal brushes oil’s hair
a hundred strokes until it shines.

The wind tries to call a meeting,
restore the nap of time
to smoothness, but the continents aren’t listening,

they’re having an orogeny—

lovemaking mountains, 
indifferent to disturbance.

In the woodlands, trees
and mushrooms reach
their roots into the plastic bags,
wrap fridges and grills, rusted
mattress coils, penetrate
the fried motherboards
and busted strollers, the polystyrene,
the tired old tires,  pantyhose, diapers, 
pill bottles and vinyl records.
Everything breaks down 
into ever smaller pieces,
pried apart by hair-thin threads,
swallowed, digested, excreted
by ever smaller beings;
one day these fragments
will form something living.

We were living, 

cradled by the world like  the wolves, 
great auks, the woodland caribou,

exiled to the same unearthly limbo.
Can we return from dream

or memory? What follows
collapse? What flowers

after us, what creature
will purify and scour our mess, 

rise from ash?



To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.

set count down final date: 11/01/2014
set count up final date: 11/01/2014
show ENTER NOW menu 0