CBC Literary Prizes

Shelter Object by Stephanie Bolster

Stephanie Bolster made the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for Shelter Object.

2019 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist

Stephanie Bolster won the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry for her first collection White Stone: The Alice Poems. (Thomas Bolster)

Stephanie Bolster made the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for Shelter Object.

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 Shelter Object below.

This piece has strong language.


Shelter Object

The constellations made of fear. Chaos
where a shape was. Stars where a roof.

A fire where a place. The world
asleep in its bed. The world irrevocable.

The heat unfathomable. Already
acute in hospital.

Soon coffins of zinc. Soon 
they'd gut the wards of the dead.

Tried robots but robot death 
seized their limbs if they were limbs.

So bio-robots. Men scraped into a flat shovel
some graphite rods and dust. Tossed from the roof.

Count the seconds each man done
on to the next and the next of thousands.

Of hundreds of thousands. Liquidators
past the limit got more rubles.

Their most important work. Decades later
after a stroke one got enough for 700 g of butter.

Too late they did not shout on May Day.
Fourteen days it took to die his tongue came out.

The leaves just opening. The parade stands
empty the officials' children already sent away.

Flash of paparazzi where radiation ate the film.
Years it took to die. His organs in his mouth she wiped out.

Men fished from a bridge. Loved a fire
all colours flashing old colours new.

Tourists say The Bridge of Death. It's in a game online.
The forest thinly green that first gold then red.

The poison climbed in and poured its soft sound out.
The face of a monster she wouldn't show a mirror.

Some looked into the explosion.
Some said it changed the colour of a man's eyes.

She cut her nails to the quick.
The sheets tore him where they touched.

Her beloved a reactor. Eye of the beholder.
The body shitting itself out 30 times a day.

Worse to suffer the shits or to watch.
Worse to tell the woman with the recorder.

Why are you coming here some said.
What do you want.

The bad meat in the expensive
salami fewer would buy.

Worse meat in freight cars turned away
each stop. 600 tons. Four years the same meat.

Until they dug and buried where it came from.
Never as deep as the constellations high.

The mind rusts or rots. What it held
falls through. Silence divided by silence.

Soap on my hands from the bottle
bought for the girls. The heap it will land in their future.

To be sorted. To be remade. To be left
and leach into what earth. To last.

Her words before transcription before translation
were their words. Before they were words.

Still the cows spurted milk.
They shot the dogs.

No hat. Head back in the grass.
What you don't know won't. What you don't imagine.

How long it takes for safe is a mindfuck.
Plutonium 720 000 years.

They used to hold hands even asleep.
Lucky to live by the stained glass café by the pool.

He said I was close to something then.
I haven't had that feeling again even in love
.

I will read it again how she cleaned
his mouth with her hand I will wash my hands.


Shelter Object From Ukrainian Об'єкт Укриття, the term for the sarcophagus covering the nuclear reactor. Many details drawn from Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, Svetlana Alexievich, transl. Keith Gessen. New York: Picador, 1997, 2006.

"after a stroke . . . ": The 'liquidator': He cleaned up after Chernobyl – and is paying the price, Kim Hjelmgaard, USA Today, 17 April 2016.

"Worse meat . . . ": Chernobyl at 30: How Attempts to Contain the Radiation Failed, Kate Brown, Time, 26 April 2016.

"I was close . . .": Voices from Chernobyl, Aleksandr Kudryagin, liquidator, p. 188.


Read the other finalists

About Stephanie Bolster

Stephanie Bolster has published four books of poetry. The most recent one, A Page from the Wonders of Life on Earth, was a finalist for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Work from her current manuscript, Long Exposure, was a finalist for the 2012 CBC Poetry Prize and made the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize longlist. Her first book, White Stone: The Alice Poems, won the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award in 1998 and was translated into French by Daniel Canty. In 2008, she served as the editor of The Best Canadian Poetry in English. She was born in Vancouver and teaches creative writing at Concordia University in Montreal.

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.

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