Boreal Swing

by Liz Howard



My mother hunted moose
as a child my grandfather taught her
how to field dress a bull:
make an incision from the throat
to the pelvis
the abdominal cavity emptied
haul him up between two pines
the body inverted
antlers almost grazing
the soil
each hind limb leashed to a trunk above
to allow the flesh to cool
then she’d climb inside
the open chest
fix her toes along the ledge
of two ribs
and with a kick to the bull’s left shoulder
he sent her
swinging

Notes on the Poem

Let's celebrate her 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize win by revisiting "Boreal Swing" by Liz Howard from her debut poetry collection Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent. The judges' citation praising this work notably singles out this very poem as "an oddly tender childhood memory of a ‘boreal swing’ made from the carcass of a moose." There is much that is captivating about this brief, visually striking and surprisingly intimate poem. An interesting feature of this poem is one that we've seen wielded to varying and intriguing effect in other Poems of the Week. Line length plays interesting roles in all of My Meadow, My Twilight by Carl Phillips, When Eyes are On Me by Yusef Komunyakaa and Stone Church by Alan Shapiro. Line length can be a visual element, reinforcing imagery or subject matter in a poem. Where lines turn can affect how the poem registers aurally, whether you're speaking it in your head or hearing it read aloud, and as such, line length has impact on intonation, pacing and rhythm. To this reader, the wide, then somewhat narrower, then somewhat narrower line lengths mimick the swaying motion of the child's unusual swing. The poem's widest line is the one where the swing is set in particular motion: "and with a kick to the bull's left shoulder" Can you picture it?

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