Farther / Father

by Sandra Ridley

copyright ©2016 by Sandra Ridley

Our dead call out our dead / you show your filthy face
You useless tit / you runt / you piece of shit / a shame
Unleashed by plain-talk / begging before a threshing
From the old butcher / your leather strap / unbelted
Crescent buckle for a skinning / hiding / each of us /
Slickened with blood / held down in your hinterland
Each barren mile unabating / say mercy.

What dwells in the dog’s sleep / unbounded / darkness
The closer you are to the sun the more difficult you are
To see / penumbral / who runs from whom / until kept
Down / cowering / I do not move / you will not move.

You are no less dangerous than you were as you drag
Your bones / field stones / we never once wept upon
The firmament / eight children left with the lone wife
Who would not carry the quiet / the final cardiac pall
Paled thirty years / crescent moons / scars strapped
Below the heart.

A finisher with a surly disposition / better run boy
Run / before the shadow on an August day / flight
Of the dove interrupted / who should feel shame /
Worthless idlers / caught neurotic / we are taught
You will not be tamed.

Dirige / domine / deus meus / ignominious father / aberration
Uttered solemn / all you missed is nothing / noli me tangere /
Don’t touch me.

Each child dragged by its hair across the linoleum /
Given lip / good for nothing / illicit / dusk / dusk-lit
Let these bygones / cease holding on me.

We brace in the centre / attention / nothing more than this
Far-fetched ruckus / rot-gut fuss / a latched door farmhouse
Taunting / the slap-board remains / rants / lashed feverish
Your day’s demands / fraught / cling to the bleak / this filth
In plain sight / I am a man possessed.

Beyond two graves / yours and the child’s / a sole
Pine fallen from a lack of forest / the sun-downed
Dove-wing unfolds / under night / your closeness
Lies too close.

Birch box and iron nails / buried under the cover of lichen
Scrolled years / each letter etched by lime / faded shame
Be a lesser phantom / of the bleak / you will receive no less
No blossom braided in the child’s hair.

Rosemarie / rose of thorn / rose up from prairie
Wherever you have gone you will not take her /
Unfollowed to a harrow / kin / stone / infanta
Sub rosa / only her eyes cry.

Our dire wolf / bewildered / breath taken in plain sight /
Before the sun is farthest south / ruck-sacked / a shadow
Across the face / red zenith / dog-light / Dead Dog Creek
In the faithful hour / his small body filled with buckshot
Carry him / carry him.

Undreamt / the sleeper remains untouched.

Notes on the Poem

We are still aglow from the memorable live presentations of the 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted poetry collections. We trust the audience of poetry lovers - enjoying the readings in the beautiful venue of Koerner Hall in Toronto or via the livestream - along with the few of you who missed the readings, will be delighted to discover the superb selections from the event we've placed on the Griffin Poetry Prize YouTube channel. Interestingly, not everyone is a fan of poets reading aloud/performing their poetry. Academy of American Poets contributor and author David Groff contended the following in his 2005 essay "The Peril of the Poetry Reading: The Page Versus the Performance":
"But even if the poem takes on a fresh life when it’s delivered in the voice of its maker, it loses more than it gains. Attending a poetry reading has as much in common with reading a poem on the page as reading a screenplay has to do with seeing a movie. Only when we acknowledge that a poem performed is no substitute for a poem read in private will we truly advance the cause of the poetic word."
We offer Sandra Ridley's reading from her 2017 shortlisted collection Silvija as a counterpoint to Groff's assertion. Certainly, we can read Ridley's poems to ourselves and appreciate what the Griffin Poetry Prize judges observed:
“The poems in Sandra Ridley’s book are potent and beguiling. Words are given the space they need to root and branch. This pace of them engages with the unarticulated, the hidden, the unbearable as readers encounter five elegies that allude to and invoke trauma, shame, and a profound sense of loss. Given the themes at work in this collection, silence is an essential part of the reading. Ridley conducts and curates that space as liminal."
We can insert - and even prefer - silence as we sense it should be part of Ridley's powerful words and images. But isn't it elucidating and doesn't it expand the poem's possibilities, not diminish them, to hear how Ridley herself incorporates that space?

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