Oxygen (from Obit)

Victoria Chang

copyright ©2020

Oxygen—died on March 12, 2012. At
first, it came in heavy green canisters.
Then a large rolling machine that
pushed air day and night. When my
mother changed her clothes, she
had to take the tube out of her nose.
She stopped to catch her breath, as
if breath were constantly in motion,
as if it could be chased. I’m not sure
when I began to notice her panic
without the oxygen, in the way we don’t
notice a leaf turning red or an empire
falling. One day, it just appears, as if
it had been there all along. Like the
hospice staff with their papers, bags
of medicine, their garlands of silence.
Like grief, the way it dangles from
everything like earrings. The way grief
needs oxygen. The way every once in
a while, it catches the light and starts
smoking. The way my grief will die with
me. The way it will cleave and grow
like antlers. 

Notes on the Poem

Our Poem of the Week continues to celebrate the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted poets. The announcement of this year’s winners is an occasion to delve deeper into the work of all our shortlisted poets. In a recent interview on CBC's Q, Canisia Lubrin mentions gratitude for the “conversations” created by the constellation of the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted books. When juxtaposed, thematic threads and images begin to surface: the underworld, grief, a celebration or mistrust in the lyrical “I”, and the rhythmic summoning of ancestry, to cite but a few shared concerns among this year’s shortlist. This week’s poem is from Victoria Chang’s shortlisted collection Obit. “In this book ‘grief takes many / forms, as tears or pinwheels...’, ‘dying lasts forever / until it stops’ and ‘our sadness is plural, but grief is / singular,’” the judges say. Listen to Victoria Chang read the poem of the week in a beautifully illustrated excerpt from the Griffin Poetry Prize Winners Announcement Film here.

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