We Were Never Meant to Break Like This

Billy-Ray Belcourt

copyright ©2017 by Billy-Ray Belcourt

1. follow me out of the backdoor of the world.

2. how do you tell someone that they are helping you stay tuned into life?

3. what does it mean that her first breath was also her last?

4. i am so sad that i burrow into the absence of every boy who has held me.

5. i kiss him knowing that when i wake up i will be in a body differently.

6. the future is already over, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have anywhere else to go.

Notes on the Poem

The poem "We Were Never Meant to Break Like This" from Billy-Ray Belcourt's 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize winning collection This Wound is a World is presented as a numbered list. Does this structure guide the poem's readers ... or lead them, with intent, in some unexpected direction? Let's revisit this poem from a Griffin Poetry Prize winner while we await the news of two new Griffin Poetry Prize winners for 2020, to be announced May 19, 2020. As this consideration of the list poem form observes, "Lists are part of life ... used throughout the centuries to make an inventory of things." We assemble lists to classify or contain a set of items with common elements - or, perhaps, to hold together as a reminder disparate items that only have in common that they are on that list, such as groceries. A numbered list might suggest hierarchy or chronology, an arrangement of priorities or rankings, or a sequence of steps or instructions. What is Billy-Ray Belcourt doing with this modest numbered list? Does the title suggest what each entry has in common with the others? Do the numbers suggest that each entry happens in some order or sequence? #1 and #2 might be linked, but then #3 veers tragically, #4 remains in a depressed slough, #5 hints at a redemptive turn, #6 is pragmatic but oddly hopeful. In its use of the list poem form, "We Were Never Meant to Break Like This" also seems to lightly employ the rhetorical device expeditio, whereby numbers of alternatives are put forward but then narrowed down to just one. If the numbered list is a sequence or set of steps to be worked through, then #6 is the ultimate, the final, the arrived-at conclusion and solution. Interestingly, that final line item seems to strike a note of rueful optimism as it declares "the future is already over".

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