Tuesday 5 May 2020

5 Poems by P. C. Vandall

Waste Not, Want Not

(For Sherin Mathews who was found dead in a culvert
after her adopted father force-fed her milk)

Consider everything —the small spaces

between bones and teeth, cracks of light, hollows

of darkness, calcium and cartilage.

Contemplate whether the clouded glass

was half-full or half-empty. Should we weep

if milk spills like moonlit rivers across

cold granite tables? Somewhere a stove pot

is frothing at the lip and boils over,

and somewhere it’s soothing a wee one’s cry.

Perhaps, if the cup had been brimming

with twilight then the stars could flitter

like fireflies and burn holes through the blackness.

Maybe someone thought the milk was spoiled

and poured it down the drain, not knowing

it might get caught in the pipes and clog.

If the milk had been left to stand awhile,

it might've grown skin. Even something

seemingly sour can be turned sweet again.

In the dead of night, I hear coyotes

taking nips at the moon and the details

film over like a half-digested dream.

It wasn’t so long ago that missing

children could be found on milk cartons

and folks knew better than to dispose of them.

 (Previously published in Prism)


You were a good dancer, knew all the steps

until we ended up in the back seat

of your father’s Fairlane and I forgot

who I was and became the huntress,

forging ahead through the velvet brush

down the fuzziness of your soft navel

to the golden warm undercarriage

of your body. I could smell the sharpness

of leather mixing in with the mustiness.

It was hot that night like the summer

the air was thick with flies and manure.

I had gone to the cellar to cool off

among the jars of peaches and apple sauce.

The peaches were sweet and firm, delicious

and cold. The cellar was ripe and heady

in the sweet-sickly scent of nectar.

Peaches bruise easily when plucked like that.

With you, it was more like applesauce.

  (Previously published in Prism)

Salmon Run

I never told you but I left you once.

It was September, and I packed the kids

in the car, caught a boat to Nanaimo,

and checked into the Coast Bastion hotel.

It was there I pondered leaving for good.

No one stays here for long. Even Salmon

know when it’s a good time to run, to take

that leap up freshwater streams to migrate

to their ritual spawning grounds. They`ll risk

life and fin for their unborn children

before rotting into ocherish dust.

All night the fog horns wailed in the harbour

like women in mourning and I felt numb

as I sank into the soft-red ashes,

the sweat and dander, the microscopic

bits of love left on the pleated sheets.

There’s an emptiness that will reel you in

like a riptide, a vacuum sucking you

inside while the blue-silvery light swims

out into the tapering darkness.

In the half-light, I bundled up the kids,

followed the long-narrow halls past vending

machines and ice and then crossed the lobby,

vast as an ocean with no ships in sight.

 (Previously published in 3rd Wednesday)

Three Minutes

The time it takes to make the bed, grab

a hot shower, boil an egg, or fold

a paper airplane. Three minutes. The time

it took my mother to make up her mind

to leave my father. I can still hear

the cap popping off of her Final-

net hairspray, the spurts of air hissing

out and freezing her blond curls into place.

Sometimes winter scars the land, conceals

the lesions and diseased tissue below.

Everything appears so spotless and clean,

almost beautiful in its rebirth

but If you pull the snow back like a scab

it will bleed. I wonder if the earth aches

when it thaws. Three minutes. The time it took

the doctor to uncross my legs, grab

the cryoprobe and shoot a steady stream

of arctic-blue liquid nitrogen

against my cervix. Three minutes

before a glacier unearthed my body,

once beautiful as unbroken black ice.

 (Previously published in 3rd Wednesday)

Ode to a Poem

I wrote a poem Neruda would blush at,

Blake would find innocent and Ginsberg

would howl at. The poem was bathed in the plum

shade of a Georgia O’Keeffe flower.

Imagine, blooming a poem like that,

words perfuming the body in one sweet scent-

ence after another. I wrote the poem

last winter before the snow or perhaps

it was September, ripe and red as the wood

stove pushing heat up the smoke stack to pant

hot spurts into the starry sky. The poem

had no heart, soul, or glass to shatter it.

There were no carnal apples or oranges

sliced but it quivered like a grove of aspens.

No poem --not even the sallow sunflower

dripping seeds from its black eye or the weight

of a song could compare. The poem –not

this one, was the best poem ever written,

and when I read its sublime words out loud,

there was a silence that was unheard of.

I wish you could have heard it. The poem

fractured time and space and each word splintered

the bone white page. The poem rose like a ghost-

ship out of water, breaching the surface

like a whale caught in a bohemian fog.

I wanted to share that poem with you

today, but the poem had a previous

engagement and sent me in its place.

Great poems can do that. Poets can’t.

(Previously published in The Stinging Fly)


Pamela is the mother of two children and the author of three collections of poetry, all of which she considers her babies. She has babies forthcoming from Oolichan Books and Porcupine’s Quill.

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