- Winner, Stephan G. Stephasson Award - Alberta Book Prize for Poetry
- Winner, Petra Kenney International Poetry Prize
In a letter to his brothers in 1818, John Keats remarked on a curious expression in vogue among his friends: "they call drinking deep dying scarlet." The poems in this collection, inspired by Keats' misspelling of "dyeing," explore the ways in which we drink deep from life, searching for beauty and passion despite a melancholy awareness of our own mortality.
Poised between praise and lamentation, Dying Scarlet moves from the experiences of the poet's grandfather in the trenches of World War One, to the fate of an obscure English poet in the Elizabethan age, to the present-day journey of a sockeye salmon; from the Russia of Anna Akhmatova to the Manitoba of Margaret Laurence. Autumnal and contemplative, these are poems of love, of memory, of home, of dying - and, most profoundly, of life.close this panel
In the first autumn frost of 1963, my brothers
coasted their punt to stillness in some marsh reeds
at the mouth of the Fraser River, and shot a pair
of rainbows from the sky. The mantle piece of my parents'
home would display those stuffed greens and blues for years;
I'd later steal the glassy eyes to replace my aggies
lost at school. But that cold morning, I wasn't around,
when those quick mallards fell, when my brothers woke
in the same sparse room and spoke together almost
gently of the coming kill. I wasn't born. No myth
but theirs will line this poem, and no deaths either:
they're so young they can't foresee the rift
that time will tear between them. Maybe I know
where they were the night the two most famous shots
of the year brought down an empire's arcing prince,
but they don't know. Last month? Last week? Maybe
they were shooting pool at Dutchie's parlour or drinking
beer in the parking lot outside the rink. Maybe they
had bagged a ring-necked beauty in the pumpkin fields
behind some barn, or hung a spring-net at the cannery.
Hell, maybe they pressed their mouths against our mother's
swollen belly and told me secrets no one else could tell.
They don't remember anything about those days, and if
you can't remember how you loved your brother in the breaking
dawn, why would you care about the famous dead, or the fact
they died at all? My brothers were close as those two birds that flew above the marsh; they're not close now. Myth-making isn't in their blood, or mine, and it's not my business to wonder where they stood the moment that their friendship died. Maybe they whispered something to me. Maybe they said, "Little brother, you'll only know us when we're changed. But we were once another way." Maybe they just laughed and said "he packs a punch."
I don't know. I might as well still be sleeping in the womb
with rainbow bruises on my temples, while my brothers pass
their frozen blue into my nephews' eyes.
Love Poem, My Back to the Fraser
Whale jaw, jack-spring spine, rock cod gill,
scallop under the skin of my hand; these
are the bones I'm burying now. Tomcat skull,
sparrow wing, spaniel paw, full moon behind
my bluest gaze; I'm planting them all.
No animal returns to gnaw its gnawed limb
left in a trap; I've thirty years to dig
the deep six for, and hard shoulderblades
to gunnysack. Darling, carry the spade
for me, chant my years without you down;
I want the sunlight on a new foundation,
my old bricks in the wormsweet ground.
Cattle hock, heron claw, muskrat rib,
mast I hang my breathing from; I'll part
the grass and roll the die; I'll build
new castanets: here's a fresh gentility:
as the hummingbird twines its tiny nest
of spiderweb and moss, so I build
my hope and sleep from the marrow
of your kiss.