Liz Howard

copyright ©2015 by Liz Howard

I just want to go back
into the bush and eat
more blueberries
growing wild as she
drops me off at the lumber
mill I’m fifteen and a janitor
cleaning out the urinals
at the debarker I find
pubic hair the lumberjacks
have left long barbs curled
to “put me in my place”
debarker: where they
keep the machine that
cuts the bark away from
the trees years ago my
blood cousin fell in
and emerged skinless
that was before this brain
sprouted from my spine
in an allegory trees
would be distributed
evenly throughout the
narrative in a gesture
of looking back over
my shoulder as mom
pulls away from the
yard I have on a hard
hat that is orange and too
big over my weird bleached
hair I have only the same
rag for the toilets as the
dishes when I look up the
sky is obscured by smoke
I can never tell what
they’re burning

Notes on the Poem

There is so much packed into the slim, breathless column of poetry that is Liz Howard's poem "Debarker", from her 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize winning collection Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent. Let's debark from the poem its many-layered cargo. Yes, just one of many meanings of the verb "to debark" is "to unload, as from a ship or airplane". While the titular meaning refers to a type of hydraulic equipment that removes bark from logs, there is much else to unload here. Another meaning of the verb is "to disembark" and from the outset of the poem, it's clear the narrator would like to step off from where she is being taken and "go back into the bush and eat more blueberries growing wild" Yet another meaning of "to debark" is to reduce or eliminate a dog's ability to vocalize by surgically altering its vocal cords. The young narrator of the poem is harassed and intimidated "to "put me in my place"" She is being prevented from communicating, but as she observes ... "that was before this brain sprouted from my spine" ... it's clear her wit and determination will prevail. We've observed before how Howard wields features such as line length to dramatic effect in her poems. The crisp, taut lines of "Debarker" rush forth - almost like a bracing hydraulic burst - with no seeming demarcation of sentences or thoughts, save for one punchy bit of punctuation near the poem's midpoint. Not only is the narrator conveying her thoughts and feelings, but slid into that torrent of observations and emotion is her sly and very fine revenge on those who would torment her.

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