Tanis MacDonald: one poem

SYBILL ELEGIES

the city was a bad
boyfriend when I was his
girl he called me
late to ask who I was
with when I was his girl he
talked forever about his
great future I
was the girl he
idled behind for
blocks tried to
pass me around
like a drag on
a cigarette girl on
the subway girl in the flat
shoes smart girl
spare girl left
girl right girl that
year’s girl the girl who
said I’m gone

and the city said
oh come on
girl what’s
your problem
I know what
you need

I always
have been one for
whom the world is too
much. I am a claxon
blaring I object
and subjected
I dare.

*

To be our own
women! To own
our faces and thighs and
the firmness of our grip. What
our mothers gave up
to teach us to stand. Sing
the names of our murdered sisters,
our missing and bartered selves, our
ripped children. Open
the book to Philomena; hear in
the voice of the shuttle my mother’s
face when she stood tall in
her polyester Sears
separates and told
the UC Boy my daughter
doesn’t want to talk to you
and
cracked down
the receiver like she was killing
a cockroach. Turn
from the sink and walk out
the doors we sanded
and into the squirrel-surveyed
pigeon-bitten streets, mist
from the ravine rising
behind our heads as we sprout
wings and fan them out like
mandalas. We are
a city where Gwendolyn
MacEwen does not aspirate
on a sandwich while quitting cold
turkey alone in the Annex, where Isabella
Valancy Crawford does not starve just
a stone’s throw from the asylum, where
lunatic villas spill laughing

women and children with designs
for astounding bicycles, where girls walk
up out of the ravine on strong
calves and know how to make a fist, where
the Necropolis glows with polish and
the scent of rice and peas wafts
over it, where llamas and donkeys
at Riverdale Farm smell
the deer in the ravine and
jump the fences at night
to frolic and return at dawn, half-wild
and pleased with their double lives,
where grassroot roses grow on Jane
Jacobs’ ladder

where our cadence is not coincidence

where we do not eat imperial
humiliations, do not call them
necessities nor cook them
into meat pies for others, where
we save our laments for
those who died hard because the law
failed and failed and failed them.
Tear down the hoardings. Keen.

*

Sybilla, grey trimmed with
roadkill, counts
small bodies courtesy of the long
commute. She washes her
ragged feet in Taddle Creek.
Philomena reads the nouns
and chooses to call them
new: condo, park, expressway,
market, girl on the subway.

Sister, citizen,
you farthest, you dearest, here
your humid body, your blistered
heels. You are the long will.
A woman is loosed from time by
how she will speak and be
spoken, by how she pays
daily in flames and high notes.
A siren’s a boulevard of broken
memes. All those eggs,
beautiful blasted
stones.

*

There was sometimes trouble
on the late shift and then
there were bouncers
and sometimes blood. Our
daily grind of taking
the measure of empire and
serving it hot before divvying
up the damp and jingling
contents of the tip
jar didn’t stop
guys we knew from
laughing on our nights off
about picking up
a drunk girl (like us),
taking her back to his place (like us),
and being back for last call (like us)
to howls of approval and songs
written, badly, to brag:
if I can make her
there, I’ll make her anywhere
in a no-win year strung with
quislings, friends
with broad skunk stripes down their
lissom backs, and one who
raised his sad eyes to me,
men are just hardwired
that way. Relax. Beware
the brides of March,
the long reach of
those toothy breeder
grins. The tongue must be
sure as shooting. Like us.

*

Fury is a homing device.
Shrug like ordinary hell
is the address from where
you forward your mail.


Tanis MacDonald is the author of three books of poetry, a scholarly study, and the essay collection Out of Line: Daring to be an Artist Outside the Big City (Wolsak and Wynn, 2018). Her next poetry book, Mobile, will be published by Book*hug in 2019. She is the co-editor (with Rosanna Deerchild and Ariel Gordon) of GUSH: Menstrual Manifestos for Our Times (Frontenac House, 2018). 

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