from alterity

Kaie Kellough

copyright ©2019 by Kaie Kellough

… a two-day bus ride to the northern border where the family crossed into Canada, suitcases in hand.”
CBC News, September 13, 2017

welcome turning selves in, selves traveling through space, turning being in to paper
flesh becomes white fiber for deliberation, legality in question, self a question mark
welcome signatures, boxes checked on forms welcome dossiers deconstructed
sequences of numbers queued up to be filed, sorted, detained, catalogued, welcome,
interrogated, archived, speculated upon in the news, counted, and either welcome,
accepted, rejected, re-counted, queued up again, filed into a different queue, chased,
fled, welcome, or stalked in limbo in borgesian bureacratic labyrinths, trash-talked
by pundits, welcome, whispered about in polite living rooms, opined on from the
middle class on down, welcome, debated in wood-paneled parliament encircled by
welcome, by words, invoked to stoke fear, vilified as terror, as other, welcome, now
tossing on narrow army cots chrome and canvas reality, minimal without aesthetic,
the furniture of state aid of newsflash

Notes on the Poem

Let's continue celebrating newly announced 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize winner Magnetic Equator by Kaie Kellough by immersing ourselves in another selection from the collection. This is an excerpt from the section of the book entitled "alterity". The poem excerpt's epigraph is taken from the news story "Haitian family fleeing Donald Trump's America tries to find footing in Montreal", as recounted by CBC News reporter Simon Nakonechny. The story traces the family's fraught arrival in Canada, their hopes to start a new life and what lies ahead in order to fulfill that dream. The flow of words in Kellough's poem seem to flood the spaces of that sparely told story on the CBC web site. While emotions well up in the account ... "There they were met by RCMP officers and detained. "I cried," Kiwanna says. "They said Dad was going to get arrested, and that made Mommy cry."" ... it is a news report and therefore presumably, theoretically dry and strictly factual. Some of the words from the news story do slide into the poem and take on new forms. In the poem, as one phrase hands off steadily to the next, individual words seem to subtly morph in meaning. There is a sense of slipping, slippage, slipperiness to how "welcome" loses its meaning and any sense of warmth or inclusiveness, and becomes lost in a bewildering sequence of bureaucratic mysteries and barriers ("borgesian bureacratic labyrinths" indeed), something threatening, a word rendered both meaningless and malevolent. In that relentless flow, human beings - selves - morph too, as "flesh becomes white fiber" in the dehumanizing process of being processed. From beginning to end, the poem excerpt comes full circle, from the news story reference to the dismissive "newsflash". The family's story and what they are going through or soon to be going through is reduced to something ephemeral and soon out of mind, even as the phrase "furniture of state aid" (where "furniture" connects uncomfortably with previous metntions of "polite living rooms" and "wood-paneled parliament") connotes something formidable, enduring, even if detrimental. Caught in the current of this poem excerpt, you are then reminded that it is part of an entire piece entitled "alterity", meaning the state of being other or different, otherness. With that in mind, the poem and the news story that sparks it are shown in stark relief ... and the words "as other" break from that current and glint with pointed ferocity.

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