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Poetry Canadian

What You Can't Have

by (author) Michael V. Smith

Signature Editions
Initial publish date
Apr 2005
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2005
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What You Can’t Have is a candid exploration of sex, sexuality, and sexualities.

Michael V. Smith explores desire, looking at the difference between wants and needs in this collection of poems about longing to belong and acceptance.

Some of the poems are concerned with adolescent awareness of sexuality and self while others are concerned with gender transgression. All examine the limits of our cultural norms in a collection that is carnal, corporeally driven, and relishes in the body. Smith uses language that is plain-spoken, artful and yet undecorated.

About the author

Michael V. Smith is a Vancouver writer, comedian, filmmaker, zinester, performance artist and occasional clown. Recently, Smith won Vancouver’s Community Hero of the Year Award and the inaugural Dayne Ogilvie Award for Emerging Gay Writers. He’s also won a Western Magazine Award for Fiction, scooped both short film categories at Toronto’s Inside Out festival, and was nominated for the Journey Prize. Smith is the author of the novel Cumberland, and a collection of poems titled What You Can’t Have.

David Ellingsen is a vancouver photographer who’s landscapes have been seen in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Canada and the US, as well as on film and television productions such as The L Word and 4400. Alongside his fine art work, David is running a successful commercial photography business with clients such as The New York Times Magazine and CBC Radio Canada.

Michael V. Smith's profile page

Excerpt: What You Can't Have (by (author) Michael V. Smith)


Their mother sits on the porch, so close to their dad in his armchair he feels the night shift each time she swings her hair, tying blue ribbons at the back. The middle sister –Sister Three of Five she calls herself– helps make two bows. The air tastes of cool damp grass, the sun has abandoned the yard. The children want to stand here, barefoot on the floorboards, relaxed, all their skin relaxed and open to the sounds of the woods. They each would like to be the one who asks the question which keeps their parents home tonight, their father talking the sun back over the trees.



She is the dark child who refuses to bathe, who wears the same dress worn through, her hair pulled back days later only because her mother pins it better than she cares. She eats what she can carry to the woods, sleeps next to the open window when she’s home. One night her mother woke to her shadow beyond the doorframe, walking away, her daughter, the girl with ideas.



The child in the window seems as thin as his breath fogging the glass. The world disappears with a sigh from his small lungs as he waits for the mist to uncloud the street below. The child is more patient than the man watching from the sidewalk who wants the boy to hurry up & wipe the glass. They are alone together the boy curled on his windowsill the man growing cold outside, his feet damp from the walk & the freezing snow. In the next room a woman is asleep. She dreams a husband who wants back in, a boy so frail these days she doesn’t dare.

Editorial Reviews

“A collection of heartbreaking elegies for thwarted desire and unapologetic denouncements of propriety.”


Other titles by Michael V. Smith