Shawna Lemay reads Brenda Schmidt

From Brenda Schmidt’s Cantos from Wolverine Creek


The first few steps into a shed.

Fear, the burst of pigeon

This fear to be the east window, the wood frame,

the last bits of white paint peeling, the orange lichen

on the ledge against the glass, the missing putty, to be

inside, the pale moth wings,

the roll of wire painted by bird,

shit-shaped spots of rust where the shit ate through,

the glass, one of the four panes,

one of the million spots where the egg cases burst, to be

what light hits always

implies a certain darkness.

See the Dewline jacket, size 40, hanging

by the hood in the corner, the mouse-eaten

lining at the hem, the wasp nest,

small and abandoned, clinging to the ceiling,

the box of jars, the metal bowl, insides rusted out.

See the exhaust-stained ceiling.

In the corner, on the bench, it comes to light:

the jaws of a vice, lips a bit apart.

Somewhere a little girl spins the handle,

slipping it back and forth through the hole.

It keeps slipping.


How to read a poem, how to read fear. Listen. See. Listen (there is an ear in fear). Walk into the poem. (The first few steps). Walk into shed. Step. Then – burst. Bird burst, pigeon burst. Cower, crouch, cringe, duck, hands above head (protect yourself from landings, stray feathers, droppings). Chaos, flapping, blink, squint, flinch. Now, straighten up, wary. This fear to be, to be, to be inside. To be shed, shed itself. Shed fear, shed light, the fear to shed light.

Careful description, anatomy of a shed. Listen: paint peeling. Lichen on Ledge. Missing putty, pale moth. Listen: shit-shaped, instead of shipshape. Shit, twice on one line. See: the windows cloud with egg burst. (Again the word burst – the after burst, afterbirth). The room, the shed, dims. Remember other birds in houses, buildings, mead halls. (The Anglo-Saxon story – A bird emerges from darkness and flies through a lighted mead hall where all is merriment and music. In a flash the bird is outside again in perennial darkness. Such is the life of man. A spark of light in the void). What light hits implies a certain darkness.

See. The coat described so precisely. Whose coat? Size 40. Then, wasp nest, abandoned, empty jars, metal bowl (the bowl echoes surgical images in other poems in the collection). But this metal bowl is rusted out. Vessels, garments – empty, abandoned, rusted, chewed, gnawed at.

See the ceiling. The word ceiling, derived from, influenced by, the Latin, heavens. But here there are no clouds, no angels, but exhaust stains. The ceiling, its stains, its exhaust, a line unto itself.

Next, in the corner. We knew there would be a dark corner, waited for the light to become focussed in the very darkest place, to be trained there. In the corner, a bench. (Bachelard: “That most sordid of all havens, the corner, deserves to be examined”). Work bench, vice, open lipped. Somewhere. (Here I leave the poem behind, wander, into memory. I remember playing in a shed like this, in various sheds. Across the road from our farm, was a pheasant farm and we held our breath, squinted our eyes, in the murky shed with the incubators, feathers, egg splat, the dim heavy smell. We ran out lightheaded. Another shed. My father’s work shed. Putting my fingers innocent in the vice, or a small piece of wood, tightening it, dropping the handle, the sound, I remember the sound of metal through metal, the sound, shish, thunk, shish, thunk). Somewhere a little girl. A corner. (Bachelard: “It would be hard to find a more felicitous way of saying that the corner is the chamber of being”).

A little girl (floating in time). Spinning. Slipping. A handle slips back and forth. The jaws of the vice, the lips, the spinning and slipping. The hole. I go back to eggs bursting, burst of pigeon. Vessels, nests, empty, abandoned, rusted out. This fear to be – what is here, what is shed. To shed fear. To fear to be. Look again at the exhaust-stained ceiling. Stained with exhaust. Exhaustion. In the corner, slipping, fear to be. In this place where things have been made, formed, born, birthed, collected – are now empty, soiled, shat upon, stained. The fear to be this place. Light shined into the dark places, shedding light in the corner, see, listen. The poem begins with sound – the burst of a pigeon, and ends with, slipping. Back and forth. Slow. Methodical. Thunk. thunk. thunk. A canto, a song. It comes to light: the jaws of a vice. (It comes to light).

Shawna Lemay has published four books of poetry – All the God-Sized Fruit (winner of the Stephan G. Stephansson Award and the Gerald Lampert Award), Against Paradise, Still and Blue Feast. She has two books forthcoming: Red Velvet Forest (The Muses’ Company), a collection of poetry, and Calm Things (Palimpsest Press), a book of essays on still life.

Brenda Schmidt is a writer, painter, birdwatcher, bog walker, author of A Haunting Sun (2001), More Than Three Feet of Ice (2005), and Cantos from Wolverine Creek (2008).

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