Mountain Pine Beetle Suite – II. summer: mating season

Chantal Gibson

copyright ©Chantal Gibson 2019

the female plays house    between
the bark & the sapwood    she is
hard-wired for love    in the phloem
her scent on the walls    she rubs
her Avon wrists together    & waits

the male finds her intoxicated    they
make love    under the trees    legs be-
come arms    hands grow fingers    nails
scratch    tiny love notes    in the bark

summer is short here    little time
for courtship in the North:    the cold-
blooded retreat to the woods    veins
pumped with antifreeze    the female
bores deeper    into the sapwood    she
drags her smokes    & her big belly    up
the tree    carves her birthing chamber
and her coffin with her teeth

Notes on the Poem

The poem "summer: mating season" is the second of four pieces comprising the "Mountain Pine Beetle Suite" from Chantal Gibson's 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection How She Read. Let's look at it standalone, as well as considering how it is a powerful moving force within the sweep of a larger poetic statement. A suite is "a group of things forming a unit or constituting a collection". When those things are, for example, musical compositions, they are often intended to be played or performed in a specific sequence. This second of four pieces in a suite named for a North American insect that has become invasive and destructive stands on its own in some striking ways. We've examined previously different poems that wield anthropomorphism to remarkable effect. The attributing of human characteristics, reactions or behaviour to non-human entities, including animals, is deployed in humorous, satirical and telling fashion in "Autumn News from the Donkey Sanctuary" by Ken Babstock, "Beagles" by Paul Muldoon and "Flies" by Alice Oswald. But the creatures creeping through Gibson's poem are chilling both in their mundanity ... "she rubs her Avon wrists together" ... and their unsettling cradle-to-grave tenacity, as ... "she drags her smokes    & her big belly    up the tree    carves her birthing chamber and her coffin with her teeth" Add to that chill this haunting observation about the insidiousness of the mountain pine beetle, taken from the Wikipedia page we inevitably seek out to learn more: "It may be the largest forest insect blight seen in North America since European colonization." We have also contemplated the fourth piece of this suite, "Obituary", as a previous Poem of the Week. The deathly life of the creatures here in "summer: mating season" are neutralized and vanquished by the life force memorialized in "Obituary" ... "she has every intention of coming back"

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *