Editor’s Note: Sharon McCartney’s poem “Katahdin” (below) has been selected by Carmine Starnino for inclusion in The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2012. The series advisory editor is Molly Peacock.
Sharon McCartney is an old friend, one of the Fredericton, New Brunswick (the centre of the universe—let’s be clear), literati, also a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, also a prolific, prize-winning poet. These are poems about the body and transcendence, about the contradictions of love, about flying yet being buckled down—the normative tensions we all feel, in spades. Sharon is the author of For and Against (2010, Goose Lane Editions), The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder (2007, Nightwood Editions), Karenin Sings the Blues (2003, Goose Lane Editions) and Under the Abdominal Wall (1999, Anvil Press). In 2008, she received the Acorn/Plantos People’s Prize for poetry for The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It’s lovely to have her poems grace these pages. (Author Photo by Gabriel Jarman)
Antiques Road Show, Kathadin & Other Poems By Sharon McCartney.
Antiques Roadshow, Katahdin & Other Poem
By Sharon McCartney
The dog’s crushed mien, ears underslung, brow
low, as if he anticipates a cuffing, so mortified
by his unbidden inner turmoil, intestines bubbling.
He refuses his meat, corkscrews his torso, nose to ass,
as if to ask, Why? What does this mean? Or simply
to snap away the itching chigger of ignition. But
the root’s too deep, the inbound cysts redoubling
in subdermal subterfuge, his bowel’s womb warmth.
Poor sad thing. Empathy won’t cheer him, but I do
know how it feels, pain without meaning. Nowhere
to look but within. Whatever the cause, the impurity’s
source, he took it in, bad river water, morsel of carrion,
just as we all ingest delusion, denial, self-deceit,
the insalubrities that corrupt our gut and send us lurching,
chest-clutched, to the nausea of defeat, unmasked,
that demon in the mirror who points a digit and laughs.
Nearly prone, heels pushing ceilingward,
then ceding to gravity, to fear, knees descending
to sternum, a worthwhile grind in the hamstring.
The new pain is all self-inflicted, like gouging
a wound, a willingness to suffer and in that
extremity, transcendence, freeing oneself from
triviality. The bodybuilder says, pain is weakness
leaving the body. Each day a different muscle group,
yet always seeking symmetry, balance. He knows
it’s not what you lift, how many pounds, but how
you lift it, that the range of movement is what
quickens the muscle to consciousness. The bulge
of the quadricep surfacing like that awful awareness:
my love did not have to die, but I had to kill it.
Gravity’s the man beneath me, anchoring
me to the up-tilted bench, seductive, sweat-
beaded embrace that engages the rhomboid,
the rear delt. Not the weight, itself, but the force
that bestows weightiness, disheveled hombre
whose romantic fantasy feeds me, who would
drag me down if I did not resist, 17.5 lbs. in
each fist, straining back and away. Gravity’s
that urgency, the abyss of desire, divine madness
somewhere within that makes me not only gasp
for his illicit kiss in the dark, husk to husk, back
to wall, but also to beat him off, to disever.
Not the struggle, but the strength unearthed,
molten matter of nickel and iron inwardly spinning,
adamant and unrelenting, endless and unfathomable.
Why couldn’t I love him? He was all good morning
beautiful and you deserve to be spoiled, bringing me coffee
in bed, balancing the cups in that prissy way. Why couldn’t
I ignore that? His air of resignation, slumped behind the wheel,
always just under the speed limit, docile yes officer at the border.
Nothing on him to give those in authority what they want.
To my, this isn’t going anywhere, he said, well, I like what I see.
His respect for social order, corporations, the business section.
Not rights, but responsibilities. His regret for the years I spent
smoking dope. A whiz with engines, quadratics, but not overly
analytical. Something about beer, pizza and women, he said.
And mountains, escorting me to the top of Katahdin, a mile
high, on a lucent autumn day, a small Gore-Texed crowd
dazzled at the summit, taking in Chimney Pond, the knife
edge. But all I wanted to do was get back down.
First Flight in Five Years
No need for fear, nor hope, flight’s
timelessness coursing through me,
humming with the engine’s overture,
acceleration fueling euphoria as I dare
myself to look down, all of the paralytic
restrictions of the past, my anxiety of
incompleteness, grasping, as far away
now as the frost-heaved tarmac below,
wings tilting, banking, that wonky view
imparting a new perspective. Free of the
binary logic of groundedness, the be or
not be, pull and release. Yes, I’m buckled
in, book on my lap, as caged as the flock
of finches stowed, oddly, in the cramped
aft of this commuter aircraft, but I’m also
out there, aloft in the thin air, the updraft
of ambiguity, delimitation, giving in and
giving up and the transcendence of that,
birdsong, enginesong, dermis and hull,
indivisible as we ascend and turn.
But for his pearl buttons, he’s a dead-ringer
for my long-gone father, silver mop swept back,
comfortable paunch, blue hint of bemusement
in the iris. Arrives with an old Indian blanket
he’s slung over the back of a rocker forever.
Says it belonged to Kit Carson once. Dignified
in his discomposure, shifting on his toes.
He’s pleased to tell the story, his link to immortals,
but too proud to grasp. The appraiser’s apoplectic,
choking, his voice cracking, “Did you see my face?”
It’s a Ute “first phase” chief’s wearing blanket,
the purest form of Navajo weaving. Priceless
in its simplicity, yet the bidding would start
at half a million. More if the Carson link’s proven.
It’s like glimpsing my father crying in the garage
so many years ago to see this man’s unconcealed
confoundment. Overwhelmed, he confesses,
“There’s never been any wealth in the family.”
Now there is and all he can do is weep.