Governor General's Literary Awards·Chaos & Control

If you do come to stay... by Joel Thomas Hynes

A poem by the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award winner for fiction for CBC Books' special series, Chaos & Control.

A poem by the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award winner for fiction

(Illustration by Ben Shannon)

If you do come to stay..., a poem by Joel Thomas Hynes, is part of Chaos & Control, a special series of new original writing by the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award winners.

Hynes' novel We'll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night won the fiction category.

 To reiterate: 
I lost a few drops of blood
in the well last weekend. 
The water should be fine, 
but for delicate reasons
I have to implement 
a boil order. 

Now, I'm ashamed of my front door, 
at times 
in certain company.
Like when they rose up out of the bog that day
with their disposable camera 
and nervous grunts
and I was asked to stand beside it, the crusty peeling
scab of it
with my arm around a giggling stranger
while I tried not to appear ambushed
or inconvenienced
lest they label me surlier 
than I necessarily am.

Okay, the floorboards in the porch were
pillaged from the bones
of someone else's glory days. 
You have to lift the inside door
as it opens 
or it'll catch on the linoleum.
There were once sixteen layers
on the kitchen floor.
Pay no heed to the hand-painted sign 
with the cryptic slogan — it's more to do
with fear than hope. 
Hope is fear, 
if you know what I mean.  

Here, don't try to absorb
at once. 
Focus on what you already want to believe.  
No, I wouldn't trust those teabags.
Yes, there are a lot of mirrors
but they're mostly just for looks. 
Don't knock Jesus with the hair lip! 
It's a collector's item. 
And, if you stare at that picture of the Virgin
long enough
a ragged beard will sprout on her face
and she'll start bleeding from the forehead. 
Maybe you didn't need to know that.
But imagine how crazed, how banished to the edge
you'd have to be
to figure it out on your own. 

Spruce rinds, wood-box, kerosene hangovers.
Don't leave anything sweet unattended.
Feel free to rearrange the pantry, smoke in bed,
love yourself at the top of your lungs. 
If you're so inclined, 
I like my books arranged foremost 
on a geographical timeline. 
I've been lazy. 

Some visitors have experienced
a morbid heaviness if they 
place themselves specifically enough
at the kitchen table. 
You'll come to know which chair to avoid. 

The mirror beside the bookshelf 
in the dining room
is a fat mirror. 
Don't make eye contact. 

There are no taps, no pipes anywhere. 
Yes, that's a real bird's nest. 
No, that's not a real toilet. 
It's not self-explanatory either, 
but there's no soft poetic way 
to instruct you from here
so keep an eye out for the note. 

Should there be a problem 
with the key, or the lock, 
if one or the other should disagree, 
there is another way in.  
There's always another way in.

Simply dip down into the crawlspace 
beneath the front porch and worm your way along 
on your back with rocks 
and spent twelve gauge shells 
and maybe the rusted blade
of a hay scythe gouging
your shoulder blades, 
pull yourself into position beneath 
a (heavier than it looks) trap door
hold your breath, close your eyes 
and push.
And you're in, nothing to it. 

No, I havent used that machete in the corner
for anything sinister.
Those wind chimes are in the key of A minor
and in a perfect breeze
they ring out the opening chords of
Amazing Grace. 
That's why they're hanging in the closet 
in the very back room. 

That's not blood over there,
more like a misguided late night 
creative outrage. 
I never emptied any of those bottles. 
They are the relics of another man's crutch. 

Alright, there is a sort of melding in the air.
That's normal. 
It was intoxicating once, almost spiritual,
enough to incite a massacre 
of old injustices in your heart:
Sultry summer afternoons fumbling 
with your cousin's zipper in the hayloft
with root beer on your breath. 
Never again will we know such hunger. 

Now, if you do come to stay
you should know
there are a lot of rumours going around
about the origins of that French Provincial. 
It's not dirty but it's not clean either. 
Feel free to leave it just as you found it. 
It's my ticket out, some day.

Switch on the swag lamp
and give it a tap. 
There should be a deck of cards
on the shelf above the stove. 
Candles in the cabinet.
Extra blankets in the wooden chest
in the front room.

The apple tree bumps the eve
in a southerly wind, 
but it sounds like 
a small child is knocking from the attic.
You should expect no visitors.

But don't be surprised 
when the wind drops off 
sometime around midnight 
and you're standing in the east meadow 
beneath a baffling display 
of burned out wishes, 
don't be surprised to find yourself 
thump thump thumping 
for all you're suddenly worth 
against the same glass ceiling 
you thought you'd left behind 
back there, in town, the big town with
its immeasurable, unrelenting reasons 
not to face the open page,
not to hastily depart, 
not to gradually come to stay. 

About Joel Thomas Hynes

Joel Thomas Hynes won the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction for We'll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some NightThe novel's frenetic narration comes from Johnny Keough, a rural Newfoundlander and petty criminal, who is taking his ex-girlfriend's ashes on a cross-Canada road trip.

Hynes is a writer, actor and musician from Newfoundland. In the winter of 2018 on CBC TV, Hynes will star in the comedy series Little Dog, which he created and executive produces.

About the series Chaos & Control

Each year, CBC Books partners with the Canada Council for the Arts to present a special series of new original writing by the winners of the Governor General's Literary Awards. This year, the award-winning writers were asked to reflect on the theme of Chaos & Control. Read the rest of the series:

  • After 'While by Cherie Dimaline (young people's literature — text winner)
  • It is to that beside I go by Richard Harrison (poetry prize winner)
  • Okay by David A. Robertson (young people's literature — illustration winner)
  • Chaotics by Oana Avasilichioaei (translation winner)
  • The Tower by Hiro Kanagawa (drama winner)

Several authors also contributed to an episode of CBC Radio's Ideasdiscussing the concept of balancing chaos and control. Listen to the episode in the player below:


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