"Tar Swan" by David Martin - 2014 CBC Poetry Prize winner
Today, Alberta poet David Martin was named the Grand Prize winner of the 2014 CBC Poetry Prize for his poem "Tar Swan."In their decision, the judges said that David Martin's poem "urgently speaks to central concerns of our time, particularly here in Canada: the consequences of coal and oil extraction, environmental degradation, and our responsibility to the natural world.""Tar Swan"...
Today, Alberta poet David Martin was named the Grand Prize winner of the 2014 CBC Poetry Prize for his poem "Tar Swan."
In their decision, the judges said that David Martin's poem " urgently speaks to central concerns of our time, particularly here in Canada: the consequences of coal and oil extraction, environmental degradation, and our responsibility to the natural world."
"Tar Swan" is read by Jeff Douglas.
As I've told you tide and tide again,
you're not the first to strike the bell
undertoe. I witnessed a single cygnet,
abandoned by cob and pen, fending
in the lichen. His sobs skip-dripped
from sockets and slithered into deep
pools of felicity. Doodle-buggers
and orange-worms will soon mine his
blistered lore. He busked his flags,
heralding a black egg along slipshod
Athabaska, spit the yoke, and under
my fluted lip, a tar-cleaned tongue.
Hold, before your hand-made eyes,
I offer a soup to eat your reflection.
Say Alexander Mackenzie once
netted an elephant by the jugular,
a vein he blotted ashore, and ashore
he cajoled a catheter up its trunk,
a trunk that smelled of sea coal.
Believe me, he never imagined
his dead mammal would tender
its supreme body as petroleum.
We are bitumen farmers, gleaners,
and I wield the wide metal plough,
a plough with ragged furrow-slice
my coulter's wake. Wake, and never
again will Virgil warn, Let the horns
of the moon govern a Soiler's work.
All magicians know stubholders
double watch: convincing heart
that behind the trick is trick,
hoodwinking mind-be-body to lunch
with wonder. It's simple, then:
Threshing bitumen is the Devil's
Handkerchief followed by a Question
of Sympathy. Suckers agog, exposed
by boreal thugs who conjure a terrible
prophesy, stringing out Dionysian
muck to smear on highway blacktop.
Finally, by sleight of hand, they
sluice foaming shades from the body,
as the stage manager skins his take.
Behold, the Plant is alive! I give you
the loafing-crunch of Draglined Sand;
the shut-eye-beak-oool of Feed Hopper;
the scheming-sheaths of Toothed Rollers;
the rumen-torque of Pug Mill;
the pupa-soup-gyrate of Separator;
the moulted-scales of Tailings Pond;
the magpie appraisal of Settling Tank;
the shadow-tailed-cache of Elephant Storage;
the nagging scent of Water Drained to River.
I submit Nature's Supreme Gift to Industry.
Muskeg, glacial tills, sandstone and shale -
all useless like a turf cutter's scraw,
for we are gouging at a forest sea.
As I slept, a creature brewed for me:
head a white-tongued lion, body
the blood of a cinnamon hermit, feet
the sheaths of a fire moth - and as I
pounced, flailing hands, hurling clods
of black sand in its mask, biting
out eyes - nothing would cripple
the monster, no wound appeared
on craning form. At last, I choked
its throat with heavy stones, crushing a
gaunt neck, peeled back layers
of rotted cloak to find brittle feathers,
no bulk beneath, but a black egg -
a single black egg wrapped in moss.
Broken-teeth roads disappear where
photographs split by half-dash light,
and make this quickening my home.
Peel back overburden, lie down in
elephant drool like a swan that sinks
into song. Wheels turn, and I'm the
undercarriage. Children with trowels
excavate my flesh. They clutch feathers,
demanding I give back the nest egg
wrapped in moss, rotting moss held
in a deer-skin sack, the sack sewn
in my chest, chest bearing me cusp
to cusp on river taunts, taunts that turn
the wheel and pull me into undercarriage.