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Heidi Garnett won the Joyce Dunn Memorial Award for Poetry in
2004. She has been featured on CBC radio and published in many literary magazines including The
New Quarterly, Event, Carousel and Contemporary Verse 2. Her first book of poetry,
Phosphorus, will be released in 2006 by Thistledown Press. Recently, she completed a
collection of 108 short poems that tell a love story called One Hundred and Eight Rudraksha
We Weep For Our Children
Our children meet behind the co-op
and stand in a circle, facing each other, laughing,
sniffing gasoline fumes from plastic bags.
They have misjudged the ice. Uh.
It is thin where they stand.
If they break through they will be pulled down
by the weight of their clothes,
and if they climb out, they will freeze, unless they
let us build a shelter to warm them and make Red Rose tea.
They have misjudged the wind. Uh.
They don’t hold onto the ropes
we string from house to house in a blizzard.
They could easily wander away onto the Land
and lose themselves in snow that blinds,
with no chance of finding the inuksuk
welcoming strangers to our village.
They have misjudged the hunting season. Uh.
They stagger in the dark, without a gun or knife,
proper supplies or clothes, and walk out so many days,
they will starve or freeze in the open.
They have forgotten all we taught them. Uh.
How to watch for she demons, like Kajutaijug
who makes thunder and devours souls.
widow will tempt them with seals
so far out on the water, they will never find home.
, the great white bear, will not recognize them
if they sniff gasoline. He may kill them
and become half-human, and then,
we will have to shoot him.
do not respect our way of life,
and are trying to become unreal
like people on television.
They stand in a circle like elders,
but speak with words that say nothing. Uh.
The snow pack looks safe today—solid and old—
no rollovers, wind-loaded areas or shaded aspects,
no evidence of young faceted snow, although,
it can fool you and slide away from the weight of just one skier.
I’ve checked alpha angles and fracture lines for run-out distance,
just in case. The weather report sounds good—
no recent avalanche activity, whumping noises or shooting cracks—
but, even so, I hammer on the snow pack and
ski test a couple of small slopes.
For the first run, I choose a line off to the edge,
rather than centre punching the path, so I can jump to the side,
if the slope cuts loose. I’ve ridden the dragon and
know he likes the straight line down the middle.
The straight line—I always skied it.
Hell, I was invincible, and nothing could touch me,
although I wouldn’t say it to just anyone.
You know, when I look back now, I see young fools,
with a “travel to die” attitude. We didn’t even
carry beacons or wear safety straps on our skis and poles.
We’d carve the new snow like it had been laid down for us alone.
God, it was beautiful to see—our two lines intersecting in a serpentine braid—
white marble with blue veins. Have you ever seen Michelangelo’s David?
It was like that. You could see every vein, every curve of pale flesh, and
feel it pulsing, although it was cold, cold as stone.
Jim’s hand looked that way. It was sticking out of the snow pack
like it belonged there—a disembodied hand reaching for the clouds scuttering
across a shamefully beautiful sky. The roar of the avalanche had long died,
leaving the sheered edge of a silence I never want to hear again.
I was carried down slope, out of control, trying to avoid trees and rocks,
clinging to the back of a howling dragon, but, he rolled me into his coils,
and buried me under twenty feet, or so. I was lucky. My hands instinctively
protected my face, creating an air space, and I was able to breathe.
I drew in air and screamed. I screamed and was glad for it.
But we were alone. I’d never felt an alone like that, although now
it often comes on me, even when I’m in a crowd. I didn’t know whether
I was planted head up or down, but knew to let spittle run from my mouth, and
it ran down. I dug--my hands metal tools, my mind a machine.
I could tell you I never felt so alive, that this was
the moment of clarity I’d always been reaching for, but I’d be lying.
I dug Jim out. His mouth was full of snow and his eyes were open, shot through
with a startling dark blue. His face looked like marble, veined white marble.
I just sat there rocking him, rocking myself. We sat that way through the night—
me rocking us and talking. The next day, a rescue party found us, and
that’s pretty well the end of the story. I ski alone now—an old fool. Sometimes,
I feel a cold breath blowing off the edges of the cornices and watch it curl into
white tongues lapping at my knees.
2004-2006 the Dublin Quarterly--to see familiar things with unfamiliar eyes!