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January 29, 2015 in Celebration of Canadian Poetry

Week 5 – bpNichol presented by Chantel Lavoie

the lane

The first way out of motherhood was once a mews
behind St. Thomas’s Anglican church
which fronts Huron Street in Toronto.

Passing with longing by the silent
always Coach House Press, I pushed
the child in his stroller
for those two and a half sacred
hours (counting drop-off,
counting pick-up) before rushing
to Robarts Library
to work on the book
about women writers
in the eighteenth century—
the ones I know about
who had servants
or were childless.

I carried him into the church basement.
Sleepless and doubting as the saint
that any life could crawl
out of my maggoty heart, I thought
some piece of the boy’s body
would break off in me
if I tried to walk away.

I parked the stroller,
I left him safe in other hands.
I do not think my
feet touched the ground
moving along the lane
to the books.
Carved in the concrete
of this small patch of his annex,
bpNichol’s poem:

A Lake
A Lane
A Line
A Lone

There was no grass but I was bovine,
hauling that cart full of baby
nursing whenever he craved more;
emptied out by what Milton named
the corrupt clergy—a blind mouth—
the child who cried a lake every night
and grew restive entering a lane
knowing I would walk away,
who seemed connected to my guts
by a line. Who had made me alone.

I met bp when I was sixteen
at Qu’Appelle, in Saskatchewan
before I’d heard of Atwood, or Munro
or anyone Canadian. (It had been
the Brontës and Dickens,
Poe, and Nancy Drew).

bp sold me a book. He signed it.
He sketched a little sun.
He read.
The voice was an epiphany
space around the words
and gorgeous economy
lavishly spent.

I couldn’t pick up
a pen again for some time
without thinking of him.

At eighteen I went to Guatemala
lived in Spanish, flea-bitten
amidst disease, drunks sleeping
in the streets, fifteen-year-olds
stolen from families to soldier
wild dogs in the night
kites red in November skies
tortillas and black beans
my first avocado, my
first mango, daily mass
matins, vespers.
It was only in February
(my parents flew from Canada
with pots of jam, news from home
and bits of old mail with a notice
about bpNichol’s death
during surgery in September
at the age of 43)

it was only then
that God disappeared
as if—surely—He had never been.

It was the straw that broke
the poet’s back that broke the camel’s.
It was an un-objective correlative.

Years later, tugging small wheels
out of letters in bpNichol lane
hurrying to breathe outside of airless love,
new verse began to come
with good hard sounds that opened up the world.

And God came back.
But not a trustworthy God.

Please visit here to learn more about bpNichol.

Chantel Lavoie is the author of a poetry collection, Where the Terror Lies (Quattro Books, 2012). Her work has appeared in such journals as Books in Canada, Arc, and Contemporary Verse 2. She grew up on a grain farm in Saskatchewan, and has since lived in Guatemala (briefly), Ottawa, Toronto, and now Kingston, Ontario, where she lives with her two sons. She is an assistant professor in the English department at the Royal Military College of Canada. For more information, please visit here.

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