Literary Prizes·CBC Literary Prizes

Caribou in the Anthropocene by Cara Waterfall

Cara Waterfall made the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for Caribou in the Anthropocene.

2019 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist

Cara Waterfall is an Ottawa-born and Costa Rica-based poet and editor. (Jessica Antista)

Cara Waterfall made the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for Caribou in the Anthropocene.

She will receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have her work published on CBC Books.

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

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.

About the CBC Poetry Prize

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.