Don McKay

mckay-book
Strike/Slip

Don McKay

2007 Canadian Winner

 

 

Astonished / Petrified

Astonished -

astounded, astonied, astunned, stopped short
and turned toward stone, the moment
filling with its slow
stratified time. Standing there, your face
cratered by its gawk,
you might be the symbol signifying eon.
What are you, empty or pregnant? Somewhere
sediments accumulate on seabeds, seabeds
rear up into mountains, ammonites
fossilize into gems. Are you thinking
or being thought? Cities
as sand dunes, epics
as e-mail. Astonished
you are famous and anonymous, the border
washed out by so soft a thing as weather. Someone
inside you steps from the forest and across the beach
toward the nameless all-dissolving ocean.

Petrified -

your heart’s tongue seized
mid-syllable, caught by the lava flow
you fled. Fixed,
you stiffen in the arms of wonder’s dark
undomesticated sister. Can’t you name her
and escape? You are the statue
that has lost the entrance into art,
wild and incompetent,
you have no house. Who are you?
You are the crystal that picks up
its many deaths.
You are the momentary mind of rock.

From Strike Slip, by Don McKay
Copyright © 2006 by Don McKay

mckay-book-2005
Camber

Don McKay

2005 Canadian Shortlist

 

 

Setting the Table

1. Knife

who comes to the table fresh
from killing the pig, edge
of edges,
entry into zip.
    Knife
who can swim as its secret
through the dialogue or glimmer
in a kitchen drawer. Who first appeared
in God’s hand to divide
the day from the night, then the sheep
from the goats, then from the other
sheep, then from their comfortable
fleeces. Nothing sinister in this except
it had to happen and it was the first
to have to. The imperative
mood. For what we are about to take
we must be grateful.

2. Fork

a touch of kestrel,
of Chopin, your hand with its fork
hovers above the plate, or punctuates
a proposition. This is the devil’s favourite
instrument, the fourfold
family of prongs: Hard Place,
Rock, Something You Should Know,
and For Your Own Good. At rest,
face up, it says,
please, its tines
pathetic as an old man’s fingers on a bed.
Face down it says
anything that moves.

3. Spoon

whose eloquence
is tongueless, witless, fingerless,
an absent egg.
Hi Ho, sing knife and fork, as off they go,
chummy as good cop and bad cop,
to interrogate the supper. Spoon waits
and reflects your expression,
inverted, in its tarnished moonlight. It knows
what it knows. It knows hunger
from the inside
out.

From Camber, by Don McKay
Copyright © 2004 by Don McKay

mckay-book
Another Gravity

Don McKay

2001 Canadian Shortlist

Sometimes a Voice

Sometimes a voice – have you heard this? –
wants not to be voice any longer, wants something
whispering between the words, some
rumour of its former life. Sometimes, even
in the midst of making sense or conversation, it will
hearken back to breath, or even farther,
to the wind, and recognize itself
as troubled air, a flight path still
looking for its bird.
         I’m thinking of us up there
shingling the boathouse roof. That job is all
off balance – squat, hammer, body skewed
against the incline, heft the bunder,
daub the tar, squat. Talking,
as we always talked, not about living
past the age of thirty with its
labyrinthine perils: getting hooked,
steady job, kids, business suit. Fuck that. The roof
sloped upward like a take-off ramp
waiting for Evel Knievel, pointing into open sky. Beyond it
twenty feet or so of concrete wharf before
the blue-black water of the lake. Danny said
that he could make it, easy. We said
never. He said case of beer, put up
or shut up. We said
asshole. Frank said first he should go get our beer
because he wasn’t going to get it paralysed or dead.
Everybody got up, taking this excuse
to stretch and smoke and pace the roof
from eaves to peak, discussing gravity
and Steve McQueen, who never used a stunt man, Danny’s
life expectancy, and whether that should be a case
of Export or O’Keefe’s. We knew what this was –
ongoing argument to fray
the tedium of work akin to filter vs. plain,
stick shift vs. automatic, condom vs.
pulling out in time. We flicked our butts toward the lake
and got back to the job. And then, amid the squat,
hammer, heft, no one saw him go. Suddenly he
wasn’t there, just his boots
with his hammer stuck inside one like a heavy-headed
flower. Back then it was bizarre that,
after all that banter, he should be so silent,
so inward with it just to
run off into sky. Later I thought,
cool. Still later I think it makes sense his voice should
sink back into breath and breath
devote itself to taking in whatever air
might have to say on that short flight between the roof
and the rest of his natural life.

From Another Gravity, by Don McKay
Copyright © 2000 by Don McKay

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