CBC Literary Prizes

Onion by Mia Anderson

Mia Anderson has made the 2021 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for Onion.

2021 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist

Mia Anderson is a poet living in Portneuf, Que. (Danielle Giguère)

Mia Anderson has made the 2021 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for Onion.

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

Lise Gaston has won the 2021 CBC Poetry Prize for James.

You can read Onion below.


God knows I've cried enough.
This wasn't meant to be an S&M relationship.
All I wanted was to keep house, serve a good meal, share.

Someone said, "To love is to give what you haven't got."
Lacan — layers you this layer more than his laconic "to love is 
to wish to be loved" and both more than the art naïf I once heard recited by a 

light-weight heroine in a drawing-room comedy
when there used to be drawing rooms, and comedies, and light-weight
laughter instead of gravity-stricken tears. Or terrorists. Or complots. Or corruption.

Or COVID.
Or slease. Or grift not to mention graft.
Or tax havens not to mention hate attacks, not to mention okay so, I won't mention.

Look, all I want to talk about is the garden,
but there are layers in the way. You know, what precipitated this, 
the unintended consequences of that, what history, what politics, what family,

what wounds, what dreams, what hole where god, as
they say. The god hole like the centre of the onion where Nothing
holds court. It took Peer Gynt 5 Acts and 40 Scenes. Relatively fast, that.

Maybe we're growing the other way round. 
I mean maybe the centre's formed the latest. You think?
But that's not what it feels like. It feels like peeling the past from nearest

to farthest in; or maybe like slicing and then counting the rings
outward as you would a tree's, ah, 1973, the oil crisis, ah, 2001, 9/11,
ah, 2020, George Floyd, ah, tears in the nature of things: the school ring, the work ring,

the wedding ring, the boxing ring, the bell that tolls.
What do I mean? Quite. What does anyone mean when they 'say'?
"And I do not doubt but to hear them say, it is a sweet comedy." All I wanted to say

was the garden, words for it.
The Bottom line: "No more words: away! go; away!"
Quotes, layering us. That Margaret in the service of anthropology

who said we marry so as to have someone to eat dinner with. Hand-to-mouth wedlock.
My dinner recipes would always begin with cream for dessert,
garlic for the main dish, 

but that belies the one to hand, this tough and tender — one? This? More like many.
"The I that is We": more ingrown quotes, another layer of flesh, of self.
They say it takes its name from its federation of many into one:

a union. Something of our conglomerate history. A sweet comedy, our Canada.
"I do not doubt but to hear them say, it is a sweet comedy."
Or the atonement: after catastrophe a divine comedy 

in which we get to be
put 'at one' again with the O at the centre: wholed. Each one 
is a one because it holds its folds its 

'O's of self to its gether, 
its happenings its little history round that nothing which is its self.
"For we are to utter sweet breath."

All I wanted was to make house, serve a good garden, share. 
"Most dear actors, eat no onions nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath"
but we would eat, and we blew it, our breath.

Let this be all and sum: layer upon smelly layer
pungent and lovable, tears in the nature of things,
little tanks squatting on the ground in their paper armour,

little unities sharing the space for a
while, good eats, good company, good compost.
Dear oyster, dear pearl of great size, cheap grace, good deal,

your small holding still in spite of all
moves me to tears.
Onions R Us.


Read the other finalists

About Mia Anderson

Mia Anderson has been an actress, organic grower and market gardener, shepherd, priest, poet and translator. Several of these things she still is. She has published six books of poetry, won the Montreal International Poetry Prize, the National Magazine Award and twice the Malahat Long Poem Prize. She was raised and educated in Toronto but now lives on the francophone shores of the St. Lawrence, near Huron-Wendat land.

The poem's source of inspiration

"The garden. But the poem says that. Food, in the sense that the deeply moral chef José Andrés means it. He said, 'We can change the world through the power of food.' The playfulness of the poem's marital metaphor and the love of small farms — with their desperate current needs. A sad and sorry hope for small agriculture and for humanity."

About the 2021 CBC Poetry Prize

The winner of the 2021 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 the Arts and Creativity. Four finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their work published on CBC Books.

The 2022 CBC Nonfiction Prize will open in January. The 2022 CBC Poetry Prize will open in April.

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