Caribou in the Anthropocene by Cara Waterfall
2019 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist
Cara Waterfall made the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for Caribou in the Anthropocene.
Alycia Pirmohamed won the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize for Love Poem with Elk and Punctuation, Prairie Storm and Tasbih.
You can read Caribou in the Anthropocene below.
Caribou in the Anthropocene
Circumpolar, they inhabit
a continuum of movement,
follow a wilderness
of stars & pillars of aspen
through this tannin-dark passage:
an arc of fingers, catching light.
Southbound for the fall rut:
they spar, rub antlers against larches,
shred velvet until red spires emerge.
At moonset, a chorale of starlings
rinses the air: a murmuration
with muscular intent.
Mongrel autumn is longer & mercurial as ever,
the ground magmatic with sedge.
Tamaracks are yellow flames, leaves
like pennies in the wind.
Morels curl, still dark with meat
& cottongrass grows in the trenches,
where last year's fire left a scar.
The scrimmage for survival is everywhere.
Weeks deep in hunger, their ears
are pricked & at peak brightness.
Panic lanterned in each eye.
Each ribcage is a twin harp
through which breath sharpens.
Pitchwood eyes scan the road.
Moths unhinge from branches, settle
stark as hieroglyphs on their coats.
Days slip by like grain.
In the tundra's throat,
tinnitus whines in their ears,
infinitely. & when the winds riot,
their eyes burn bluer
than a polar bear's tongue.
A uranium pond exhales an acidic sigh.
They crater through frost
for lichen, only finding ice —
not the radionuclides beneath.
On frozen lakes, they ruminate, nap in snippets,
listening for wolves — or the harsh maw
of the snowmobiles.
Overhead, the eagle's ceaseless claim
for their marrow.
The temblor of migration to the calving grounds.
Navigate by snow contour,
floe-edge, rock shape.
But hundreds drown at flooded waterways:
an isthmus of undulating backs
rise like sacks & crowd the banks,
until the helicopters
can haul them out.
A drilling rig encroaches
on the calving grounds,
The cow's eyes flare
as eighteen-wheelers barrel by
on a smear of highway.
Bitumen paves over her nostrils.
Sewage rivers through her lungs.
Ravens pixelate the horizon:
a blur of cruciforms
in the springtime brume.
Some lose their way
through the wrongness of seasons,
with only the palaver
of geese for company.
Buoyant in the night,
their bodies become pure instrument —
a psalm for the strayed.
The thaw starts early &
they purple their mouths
with cloudberries, blink back
inky hills of bot flies that drench
the jaw's rind in blood.
They brave highways, seek shade
from pipelines, wade into muskeg.
The calves sway, taste air
for the first time. Their small mouths bleat faith,
a frequency lower than meltwater,
but growing in echoes:
a tremolo that reverberates
in the milk-bones of their mothers.
Propellers rake the stratosphere.
Flight is the only imperative —
that crepuscular craving
that never sleeps.
In a sea of scarred grass,
they shed their antlers,
tines like lightning in statuary.
What's left behind
remains servant to this earth:
mined by wild animals
or resurfaces in the violet cyclamen
that blooms after.
What's left behind
a chorus of dust & smoke,
disappeared into anecdote.
Nothing of the ballad
in their dogged stride
or sprinting hooves,
only this fugue state that orbits
their bodies like a shield,
pushes them forward
until their breath unscrolls,
thick as loss, across
night's dark belly.
Read the other finalists
- Family Affair by Faith Arkorful
- Shelter Object by Stephanie Bolster
- The Grolar Bear's Ballad by Catherine Greenwood
- Love Poem with Elk and Punctuation, Prairie Storm and Tasbih by Alycia Primohamed
- You Left Something by Erin Soros
- 12 by Sarah Tsiang
About Cara Waterfall
Cara Waterfall was born Ottawa and lives in Costa Rica. Cara's work has been featured or is forthcoming in Best Canadian Poetry, CV2, The Maynard, The Fiddlehead, SWWIM, Rust + Moth and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. She won Room's 2018 Short Forms contest and second place in Frontier Poetry's 2018 award for new poets. She has a postgraduate diploma in poetry & lyric discourse from the Writer's Studio at Simon Fraser University and a postgraduate diploma from the London School of Journalism.
The winner of the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, have their work published on CBC Books and attend a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. The remaining finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their work published on CBC Books.