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If I Stand Still

If I Stand Still

by Kirsteen MacLeod

“One can’t begin a poem without some scrap of error about oneself and the world…”—Rene Char

The world’s ending, the billboard says. So I walk on red, ignore the laundromat sign, and my clothes burst into flames.

There’s a beaver dam that can be seen from outer space. It can only be detonated by words.

How else to speak of crows that hold black rituals in the hollow birdbath stone? The territorial woodpecker that answers my axe blows?

How like it I am. I trawl the milk for butter. Seek the lily with the stamen, with the pollen, that stains forever.

I do yoga for backache and get mental illness. I slip into corpse pose attended by timeless consonants, the slosh beyond vowels.

Light and shadow play and the duck becomes its true self, artfully posed driftwood. The straight stick in the water bends, and the snake is a root.

The deer skull of violent death has a bitten-through fontanelle. Snapped jagged like delicate tracery that knits my thoughts.

I pack damp holes with bee balm and stones, stars and moss wherever sun can’t dry up the wet residue of grief.

Spooked by the creeping unseen, I flee wind-chimes and the anguish of chickadees — at not being it, just in it.

I trip over thresholds and fall down wells — and drop fast, like autumn leaves that swallowed ingot.

Groundhog in the graveyard, I move in short bursts; unwelcome, unearthing amulets and bones, tongues best left buried.

I misread signs: when the white coriander flowers go to seed, tomatoes sag and dark currants weigh down the bough.

If I stand still too long in the yard, grapevines coil around my ankles. Birds fly in and out of my hair and honeybees drone a dirge, carry me down to their deep queen.

Underground, in catacombs, the lizard-hipped, bird-hipped, human-hipped rest together: extinct, silent. We are all students of earth.

About this Poem

A slightly different version of this poem was published in New Quarterly: Canadian Writers & Writing (No. 30, Spring 2014: 132-133), which you can download a PDF sample of online.

About the Poetry Blackboard

The Poetry Blackboard showcases poems curated by Kingston's Poet Laureate and written by Kingston poets. There's a new poem every month, written by poets living and dead, historical and contemporary, published and unpublished, adults and children, giving full range to the cultural voice of Kingston. Started in 2015 by Helen Humphreys, the Poetry Blackboard has been continued since 2019 by Jason Heroux.

We wish to thank Helen Humphreys, Kingston's second Poet Laureate, for her generous support of emerging and established poets in Kingston through library programming and our Poetry Blackboard project. Throughout her four years as Poet Laureate, Helen curated a digital collection of poetry to showcase the talents of local creators of all ages, both historic and contemporary. Helen also offered several opportunities for emerging poets to develop their craft, offering group workshops and one-on-one mentorship. Her active engagement with the library and community has been greatly appreciated.

In 2019 we welcomed the incoming Poet Laureate, Jason Heroux, who continues to curate the Poetry Blackboard and to develop new community programming.

Previously Published Poems