— 2017 Prize Judge

Michael Harris was born in Glasgow, Scotland and grew up in Montreal. Harris has written seven books of poetry, won several prizes, and has been published in leading journals in North America and Europe. He has given over 200 readings throughout Canada and around the world and has translated the complete poetry of Marie-Claire Blais. Harris is also the founding editor of Véhicule Press’s Signal Editions. He has edited over fifty books of poetry by over thirty-five authors. In 1994, he edited The Signal Anthology: Contemporary Canadian Poetry. His most recent book, Circus(2010) was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award.

Here’s one of Harris’s most lovely poems, “The Gamekeeper.” A book of selected poems by the same title is due to be launched in October 2017.

 

 

 

The Gamekeeper

 

The salmon is still

in the noiseless black; she was quick-silvered

star to the ship whose hull

has sunk below the bottom of the lake.

The weeds stand stiff

in the shivering dark, and the gamekeeper’s gone

 

whose bears are now shadows

long done with their powers

in the mud-and-cold land.

The vixen’s neat paws print

the news in black stars

but the secret’s gone quick

and dug deeper. Autumn’s hold

has been broken

a million times over

and it’s snowing.

 

The bright hummingbirds flew

to find their hearts in

a frenzy, for the sky was a flower

that had lost its center

and the swarms in the air

were snow. Now they know all there is to know

of dark. And the gamekeeper’s gone

 

whose crow’s a tattoo

at the top of a tree, losing his grip

at the too-thin tip

of the cold that is pricking him bare.

He thinks war

and it’s war though the summer’s surrendered

and raised its white flag

a million times over

and it’s snowing.

 

Now the waddling porcupine’s swaying his quills

all at sea in the swaddle

of his winter fat;

he is slow in the sudden

and no match at all

for the silk and soft skins

of winter. He chews bark,

for the gamekeeper’s gone

 

whose snakes took green with them

and wove it in a bundle

and buried it under a rock,

for the earth had stopped in tatters

and lay down dead-white

dead-skinned, belly-up

and not right. Then the wind coiled hugely,

struck and coiled and shed its white

a million times over

and it’s snowing.

 

Plump rats and grey weasels channel blindly

their fright, clawing squealing

at their tunnels: to core them, seal them, escape

from the light, from the ache

of a world wide with snow; but their black brains

are caught, are furnaced with the spark:

the gamekeeper’s gone

 

whose starving, still hopeful, pure panic of deer

tiptoe the brittle-twigged landscape to silence

to a deadhalt

at the appletree; and the appletree’s victory stays

stiff-necked, full of thrash

in its iron-bare head of black antler,

in the slow-moving barrens of its branches

where the sky falls to pieces

sinking deeper and deeper

a million times over;

 

and it’s snowing on the otter

whose eye is a film of ice.

It whispers blessing the shivering field-mouse

whose heaven is black with snow.

It is snowing on the hare

whose fur is a layer of winter.

It falls against the houses,

against the drinkers in the bars,

a million times over. The gamekeeper’s gone.

 

The fields harden fast

around their stone.