Obituary

Chantal Gibson

wide mouth masons, shard glass, steamed
cabbage, boiling water n beets, some days
her countertops wept and the white tile floor
was a blistering purple sea

let us remember the curved lines bracketing her
parenthetical smile

sometimes she missed the 401 exit to _____ Street
and followed the broken line to Guysborough bi-
secting her fists, not long before the beetles came
and the old pines laid down their weary branches

she surrendered to Science: a needle-punctured
landscape, pretending Prince George had a coast-
line, she traded the shit stank of pulp for the scent
of Atlantic sea salt

she was a card reader, a fortune teller, a knocked-
over stop sign that said, No one promised you a life
without corners

she taught her daughter how to make a fist, to un-
tuck the thumb, expose it just enough to take the
impact of a punch without breaking

she giggled when he called it croshit, after she took
to crocheting afghans and doilies, nothing prepared
him for a widower’s life of small cups of soup & half
sandwiches

she leaves behind a question mark, a flickering
light, and a northern village of bones, a peaceful scene
staged on a lake in the quiet corner of morning, as if

she has every intention
of coming back

Notes on the Poem

Over the next four weeks, our Poem of the Week choices will come from the seven works on the newly announced 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist. We will be showcasing two selections per week, with one work in the fourth week. This is a bit of a departure from our usual weekly schedule to ensure that you get to enjoy selections from the entire shortlist before the accelerated 2020 winners announcement on May 19th. (Don't we all need double portions of poetry right now?) The second of two selections this week comes from How She Read by Chantal Gibson. They may be functional and necessary, they may even evoke surprising emotion, but we don't typically associate obituaries with artistry or beauty. Gibson's poem turns that standardized notification of someone's passing - so standardized you can even google a template for it - resoundingly on its ear. There is no room in the obituary template for the sensory bonanza that vigorously launches and animates this poem. The colours, the smells, the vivid sensations ... "her countertops wept and the white tile floor was a blistering purple sea" are of a life lived energetically, prodigiously, enthusiastically. That previous fragment is the vibrant rendition of, say, "loved to cook" for the obituary template's request for an answer to "accomplished at {skill/talent}". Gibson's poem reads between the dull lines and canned words and phrases of the traditional obituary and brings other tamped down aspects of a life lived back to life. A journey summed up blandly as "moved across Canada" becomes, with unconventional gorgeousness: "pretending Prince George had a coast- line, she traded the shit stank of pulp for the scent of Atlantic sea salt" A mundane "enjoyed needlecrafts" becomes not only a sly chuckle "she giggled when he called it croshit, after she took to crocheting afghans and doilies" but a snapshot of a relationship, one that segues into the pathos of what is left in the wake of that obituary: "nothing prepared him for a widower's life of small cups of soup & half sandwiches" This obituary acknowledges that the signs along the way of this life (getting off the highway, coming to a stop) were not always heeded. This obituary also includes references you would normally never see, like the imparted skill of making a fist that was perhaps even more important than cooking or needlecrafts. This obituary also offers a bracingly ambiguous ending that argues against a conventional obituary's finality, with a lack of concluding punctuation and an abundance of spirit.

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