Sue Goyette: Six poems

Six poems from Sue Goyette. We feature a folio and a conversation
with the Halifax poet.

from Ocean


The idea of home was so big, so bottomless,
carpenters had to tie a rope around their waists

for fear of being swallowed whole by the houses
they were building. They burned sawdust

mixed with invoices addressed to their mothers’
maiden names and inhaled the smoke

of homesickness until it seeped into their dreams.
The first hinge was a replication of a scarab beetle,

half of its insect legs holding onto the idea of coming,
the other half holding onto the idea of going.

Hammers were the original instruments
for the nomadic walking song and installing windows

was a master class on marriage counseling. A good
carpenter was worth her weight in forest.

A rudimentary way of testing a carpenter’s skill
was to get her to walk amongst trees. A carpenter

with a heavy hand, an inability to appreciate
the future footsteps on the floor boards she was laying

would literally make the trees shirk.



The ocean is the original mood ring.
Often, and for days, it convinced us

we felt an industrial grey malaise with a deep heart
of blue. The occasional whip of a whitecap idea

would bloom in our plans. We’d sit by its side
while it slept, our pens poised like fishing rods.

When it granted an interview, it refused to talk
about its film credits or its accolades of full moons.

It was more interested in talking about what we thought
it tasted like: fish or tears, it wanted to know.

And it loved stalking us. Some of us would wake
with that rearview feeling of being watched. We’d skid out

of our dreams only to sink over our heads. When we could,
we’d spear a good conversation and carry it, wriggling,

to its mouth. We’d find the bones of what we were trying
to say later, washed up on shore. We’d boil them to drink

their broth then wake hungover from the truth. Some days,
the ocean would convince us we were green

with many small ambitions and other days, we were used
aluminum foil, an offshore of seagulls dipping

and stealing morsels of our memories. In this way, we knew
we were aging. Some days, if we were to believe it, we felt

nothing but a progress of sky, a fleet of spaceships shaped
like clouds sailing out of our harbour in search for somewhere new.


from The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl


The ghost of the girl hoisted the shovel to show
the jury what had been prescribed to her. She tried
telling them that all she could do with this shovel
was to dig holes she kept falling into. One of the jurors
was watching her so she showed how she had to stand on
a chair to maneuver the shovel to actually dig
a hole. The carpet in the courtroom wouldn’t
cooperate, however, and so the ghost got frustrated
and kicked the shovel, which would often happen at home.
Her mother would then pull her off the chair
and put her in the bathtub without any water.
This made swimming and fishing extremely difficult,
she tried explaining to the juror. All she ever wanted
to do was to float in the bath. Sometimes her mother
would forget that she had locked her in there until
the mother had to pee. Then it would be funny
and her father would laugh and laugh until fires started
in his ears which would make him mad.


Poverty didn’t know the first thing about eating
a unicorn. It gnawed at its horn but the glitter
settled in poverty’s cavities which caused pain
to spark in its ears. It picked up a leg
but the delicious smell of green dazed it and poverty
found itself sitting down, scraping green out of the unicorn’s
hoof. The ghost of the girl showed it how to start
a plant by placing the green at the bottom of a glass of water.
The plant quickly took root and offered its leaves
which poverty ate immediately. It was surprising how nourished
poverty felt after eating those leaves. The ghost of the girl
put her hand on the unicorn and the unicorn told her
that unicorns had never been captured in pill form.
What the girl had been prescribed was actually an elk
and even then not a real elk but a synthetic version
that probably made her feel worse. Poverty didn’t have a belt
to undo, it was feeling that plenished.


from Penelope

I wake to a horse. Are you in my dream? I’m asked.
Do I look like a dream? I reply. Were we just pillaging

a castle but didn’t take the gold? I’m asked. I would never
take anyone else’s gold, I reply. Was there a goddess

who spoke as an owl, commanding us to leave
by way of the river? I’m asked. Was she wearing a long string

of pearls under her breasts? I reply. Are you the lady
who’s been waiting for a husband for a pathetically long time?

I’m asked. Are you fucking kidding me? I reply. The horse
and I study each other until our edges meld, our forces join.


I wake to watch us. What did you do to your hair? we ask.
Our hands fledging, aloft. Nothing, we reply.

Is this the marsh of another dream or us reacquainting with the next
vow? If Odysseus is a mast, am I now a stalk, flowering?

We negotiate the distance between us with awkwardness.
When I tell him of the small hosts of lichen and my sips,

he tastes them. When he speaks the names of his lost men, I hold them
on my tongue until the names wear out their chiming. And when Telemachus

weeps a boy for each year his father has been gone, we open our arms
to welcome them. So many small boys clamouring for family.


Poems from Ocean, The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl, and Penelope, all from gasperau press, used with permission by the author. Read more about the poems