McKay, Don

Canada, (b. 1942)

I Scream You Scream

  1. Waking Jesus sudden riding a scream like a
  2. train braking metal on metal on
  3. metal teeth receiving signals from a dying star sparking
  4. off involuntarily in terror in all directions in the
  5. abstract incognito in my
  6. maidenform bra in an expanding universe in a where’s
  7. my syntax thrashing
  8. loose like a grab that like a
  9. look out like a
  10. live wire in a hurricane until
  11.  
  12. until I finally tie it down:
  13. it is a pig scream
  14. a pig scream from the farm across the road
  15. that tears this throat of noise into the otherwise anonymous dark,
  16. a noise not oink or grunt
  17. but a passage blasted through constricted pipes, perhaps
  18. a preview of the pig’s last noise.
  19.  
  20. Gathering again toward sleep I sense
  21. earth’s claim on the pig.
  22. Pig grew, polyped out on the earth like a boil
  23. and broke away.
  24. But earth
  25. heals all flesh back beginning with her pig,
  26. filling his throat with silt and sending
  27. subtle fingers for him like the meshing fibres in a wound
  28. like roots
  29.  
  30. like grass growing on a grave like a snooze
  31. in the sun like fur-lined boots that seize
  32. the feet like his nostalgie de la boue like
  33. having another glass of booze like a necktie like a
  34. velvet noose like a nurse
  35.  
  36. like sleep.

© Don McKay. Camber: Selected Poems, 1983-2000. Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart (2004).

Setting the Table

  1. 1. Knife
  2.  
  3. who comes to the table fresh
  4. from killing the pig, edge
  5. of edges,
  6. entry into zip.
  7. Knife
  8. who can swim as its secret
  9. through the dialogue or glimmer
  10. in a kitchen drawer. Who first appeared
  11. in God’s hand to divide
  12. the day from the night, then the sheep
  13. from the goats, then from the other
  14. sheep, then from their comfortable
  15. fleeces. Nothing sinister in this except
  16. it had to happen and it was the first
  17. to have to. The imperative
  18. mood. For what we are about to take
  19. we must be grateful.
  20.  
  21. 2. Fork
  22.  
  23. a touch of kestrel,
  24. of Chopin, your hand with its fork
  25. hovers above the plate, or punctuates
  26. a proposition. This is the devil’s favourite
  27. instrument, the fourfold
  28. family of prongs: Hard Place,
  29. Rock, Something You Should Know,
  30. and For Your Own Good. At rest,
  31. face up, it says,
  32. please, its tines
  33. pathetic as an old man’s fingers on a bed.
  34. Face down it says
  35. anything that moves.
  36.  
  37. 3. Spoon
  38.  
  39. whose eloquence
  40. is tongueless, witless, fingerless,
  41. an absent egg.
  42. Hi Ho, sing knife and fork, as off they go,
  43. chummy as good cop and bad cop,
  44. to interrogate the supper. Spoon waits
  45. and reflects your expression,
  46. inverted, in its tarnished moonlight. It knows
  47. what it knows. It knows hunger
  48. from the inside
  49. out.

© Don McKay. Camber: Selected Poems, 1983-2000. Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart (2004).

Nocturnal Animals

  1. Another cup of coffee. Southern Ontario
  2. surrounds this kitchen like well-fed flesh.
  3. If I had
  4. a cigarette right now I’d smoke it like an angry campfire
  5. burn it into the unblemished body of the night.
  6. Lonely is a knife whose handle fits the mind
  7.  
  8. too well, its oldest and most hospitable friend.
  9. On Highway 22
  10. a truck is howling for Sarnia or London.
  11. In my garage
  12. the aging Buick is dreaming the commercial
  13. in which he frees my spirit into speed while an eagle
  14. in slow motion
  15. beats applause above our heads.
  16.  
  17. Another cup of coffee.
  18. Two years ago the wolves took shape
  19. in Lobo Township, lifting the tombstone of its name
  20. to lope across these snowy fields
  21. between the woodlots
  22. spectral
  23. legless as wind, their nostrils
  24. wide with news of an automated pig barn
  25. waiting for them like an all-night restaurant.
  26.  
  27. Shot, their bodies wisped away, their eyes
  28. stubbed out.

© Don McKay. Camber: Selected Poems, 1983-2000. Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart (2004).

The Dumpe

An old dance of which no one knows anything except that the word is generally used in a way that suggests a melancholy cast of expression.
— The Oxford Companion to Music

  1.  
  2. No one remembers what is
  3. danced to the echoless drum one
  4. one
  5. one
  6. one or you can simply
  7. slam the door.
  8. When you feel the spirit move you
  9. plant your foot. Stamp each
  10. butt into the pavement,
  11. Close your right hand loosely
  12. round a disconnected gearshift.
  13. You never asked for this. This
  14. is what you got. Forget
  15. “refining figuration of the human
  16. form in space” and other psychosomatic noise.
  17. Wear your luggage.
  18. Get in line.
  19. Think of the alligator and the pig.
  20. They never asked for this.
  21. Drop the disembodied body. Stamp.
  22. Forget.

© Don McKay. Camber: Selected Poems, 1983-2000. Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart (2004).

About the Poet:

Don McKay, CM (b. 1942) is a Canadian poet, editor, publisher and educator. McKay earned his PhD in 1971 from University of Western Ontario and the University of Wales. He has taught at the University of Western Ontario, the University of New Brunswick, The Banff Centre, the Sage Hill Writing Experience, and the BC Festival of the Arts.

McKay is the author of twelve books of poetry. He has twice won the Governor General’s Award, for Night Field (1991) and Another Gravity (2000). In June 2007, he won the Griffin Poetry Prize for Strike/Slip (2006).

The co-founder and manuscript reader for Brick Books, one of Canada’s leading poetry presses, McKay was also editor of the literary journal The Fiddlehead from 1991-96. His book of poetic philosophy centers on beliefs in metaphor, wildness, and the homing instinct. In 2008, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. [DES-07/14]

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