A first collection of poems from the winner of the Cuffer Prize for short fiction
Our Gleaming Bones Unrobed is a haunting debut, a poetry collection thematically focused on discovering the structure (the figurative bones) beneath the appearance (or skin) of a situation.
This poetry is at once memento mori — a reminder and celebration of our mortality — and a lyrical exploration of the spirituality of the mundane, the possibility for revelation found in the commonplace.
Written on the door is this:
you cannot do a thing that has not already been done.
– from “On the Occasion of a Book Burning”
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About the Author
Grant Loveys received a 2010 Newfoundland and Labrador Arts & Letters award for poetry and was the winner of the Telegram’s 2011 Cuffer Prize for short fiction. His work has appeared in numerous North American and European publications. He lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Read an Excerpt
Our Gleaming Bones Unrobed
By Grant Loveys
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2012 Grant Loveys
All rights reserved.
Time in your jail passed slow, like
a lover's tongue turning
in the mouth's soft cave.
Seven digits for six escapes,
two for the first so there'd be no second.
I never wanted the parts of me you didn't touch.
Let the mask slip, but never my thoughts.
The guards put their rifles down, leapt from their towers.
They'd never seen anything like me,
deathbound, chomping for the chair,
cursing a clutch of diamonds for a glimpse of the dirt.
You tapped "awake, sleepwalker" on the wall of my cell.
My heart thumped back a few lines in code:
Release me, but incompletely.
I'll give you my life, but my dreams are my own.
The law demands we receive what we're owed.
But what of the thing we desire?
Here, let me confess my crimes.
THAT OTHER THING
Miners speak of finding frogs in stones,
emeralds bathed in mud
occupying their own perfect negative space —
nestled in as if grown there,
as if one stray cell drove itself hysterical
knitting together the most bizarre form
it could imagine.
This is what I'm thinking
with your ruffed head on my chest
smoking old cigarettes which pinch
the soft flesh of my throat.
Underneath your hair,
that big vigorous bloom,
and beneath the china plate of your skull
is everything you've ever known
or been or seen or done
twisted into the folds of your brain
waiting to be discovered,
dribbled and dappled
with the film of light
sloshing down the hollow of your hips.
I am suddenly certain of two things:
The existence of secret frogs
and that other thing
I'm about to say.
WHAT THE ROBOT LEARNED OF LOVE
The robot chewed contentedly,
hinged jaws clanking apples to mush.
When the people had asked the master
why it existed, the master had said
because it can.
They took that as a warning and
seethed in their flesh.
Master, what is love? the robot said.
The master smiled softly.
Love is weight, my son. Only weight.
The pressure of pleasure. To love is a burden.
It said, And what else is love?
The master said, The apple accepts
the pain of your teeth.
It offers itself completely so
you may be pleased.
This is also love.
The robot said, I see
and went back to its fruit.
Deep in its clockwork guts
black blood had mingled with sugar.
Grit settled like a low cold
in the greased cups of its joints.
The master closed his eyes and laid
his hand on the robot's cold, slick head.
Love was none of those things.
Outside, beyond the door, they waited for a sign.
REMEMBERING GASPS AND PLOSIVES
a peninsula in Quebec.
Think of the tides on a leash,
led by the moon rushing
along the ribs of that land.
Think of lowering your
into the gush, and of water
beating a path down your throat.
Only that water is breath,
and it's not forcing its way in —
something is forcing you
to draw it.
nuclear popcorn popping —
big flaming cotton balls.
Get yourself acquainted
with the blessings of destruction.
Think of a tiny man
offering his tiny head on
the pad of your thumb
and squeezing it until ...
Think of making that feeling
with your lips.
It's simple really. You'll probably
never have to worry about it.
But you wouldn't want
to be unprepared.
Life has a way of demanding
answers to questions
you didn't know it asked.
A THOUSAND LITTLE PECKERHEADS
Our lungs filled with
the aerosols of poverty.
dust fluttering in filmy daylight.
The crumbs of our misery
welling in undersea plumes.
We were flaking apart.
Mom cut the powder
during her lucid half-hour.
Dad drained the barrel and
tapped the dead bottom
to spout one more rotten font.
We yanked our misfortune's tail,
peppered our beast with blows,
skin too living-tough to fear fangs.
The neighbourhood dragged its
concrete over our knees, our soft spots.
He'd say, Don't worry. There's
a thousand little peckerheads
lined up for Judgement Day,
as we considered the
perfect symmetry of seconds passing
between our own judgement days.
The first night it was
of a forest of legs.
an exaggerated pirouette
atop combat-booted lumber.
The sternum thump
of mortar fire
as they thicken and clot
a lazy river.
Later, on hospital TV,
a show about lizards,
their tails sacrificed
to a clinging enemy.
Images of regeneration,
new flesh sprouting
in excruciatingly slow motion.
One afternoon there's
a magic show in the cafeteria.
Never imagined it would
hurt that bad
to see a smiling lady
sawed in two
and made whole again.
Pass time with the kids,
try not to think about metaphors
as they struggle with
square blocks and round holes.
Last night it was
soft and stupid as a newborn,
wandering a sandy corner
of the earth
on broken, blackened legs.
They said you get used to it.
THE ICEBREAKER CAPTAIN LAMENTS
Ice choked in the harbour mouth
like slabs of scar tissue
grown thick over an old burn.
Some nights the captain imagines
himself as a virus run riot
in the blood of the earth.
Something vicious, undiscovered.
A destroyer in miniature
terrorizing the placidity of the body.
Tonight the pilot of his own
giant form shuffling along the sea floor.
A monstrous sharktoothed head
chewing its way through fields of glass.
Weather balloon eyes brimmed with bottled moonlight,
seagulls lazing in the beams.
A losing bet, icebreaking,
pyrrhic victory at best.
More ice destroyed
than God ever hoped to create.
Oh to dance flatfooted
in the ballroom of an ice palace,
steps timed to the backbeat of shotgun cracks.
Heart steaming behind an iron prow,
course punched in for bathwarm water.
History's black-eyed us all,
so just pass the afternoon with popsicles
and wait for time to take your Reagan away.
Listen, it's not the metallic praise
of an American hum through the radio,
it's grain pouring from stuffed silos.
We invented a formula for steel
a few decades ago: progress by
materials plus cash.
So don't tell me how it's
supposed to sound.
By now Lincoln would've changed
his name to Turner or Humphries and fled
to France with a book full of good poems.
And it's the Fourth so the rain licks its fingers
to pinch out every firework it sees. The
lawnpeople snap shut their lawnchairs
and adjust their lawnmemories accordingly.
Half drunk on moonlight
like froth from a dish of freezing milk.
Oil moving overland, these wolves.
Coal, iron, plugged nickel made flesh.
Noses up, drawn along a ribbon of scent,
the air shimmering with it,
blood dust peppered on leathered snouts.
In a field of ice,
the ewe huddles her hind leg close
to the heat of her belly,
bonesplinter steaming in the cold.
Silhouette through the trees,
barely there, just a flutter of movement
at the eye's corner
or an itch at the back of the brain.
A fresh spurt of blood like gold thread on the snow.
The biggest makes his move.
The moon knuckles a skin of frost from its eye.
NEW ELVIS MOURNS HIS DEAD HIPS
White smoke rises over Graceland
into a brass sky sewn with lightning
the exact shade
of the brain's hidden pulp.
New Elvis mourns his dead hips,
still useless after thirteen weeks
of shimmy lessons.
His domesticated lip shrugs
a kittenish half grin.
There's more curl in your toes.
But with the dowsing rod
in his throat he could find
melody in a shopping list.
holding off storms
with the strength of their nudity.
One of many favours.
Who'd want fried sandwiches
and who'd want to
die as an undignified duty
in fifteen years?
But, also, who wants to be loved?
BASIC. SECULAR. BLOODLESS.
Found scrawled on a napkin, afterward:
We'll not have another night like that again.
She and him, her lacy skirt,
his black suit and family —
both ugly sides
corralled in the VFW hall.
Castles were seized with less force.
A kiss to seal it, too hard, too long.
Two fathers mime shaking hands
on a drug deal.
Two wardens on a last shift.
This grand transfer, this cold caught.
This was where the chairs squealed suddenly,
where liquor turned to fuel in the gut —
heat in the hall enough to turn anyone savage.
Even the women; hanks of hair
swept up with the streamers and rice.
Bloodless. The exact feeling
in the feet after a day-long drive
away from here
to a warm place where blood
can fill you up again.
Gently, at its own pace.
AFTER DARK IN THE ENGINE ROOM
Black birthday cakes of oil stand thick
and still in catchpans, and the sore-throat fire
ferrying the ship along dwindles
to an ashy sniffle.
A man drags a woman
off the port side, honeymoon drunk,
Olympic in their descent, two stars falling
straight into the moon's eye.
After dark in the engine room, the captain
perches on an upturned lard bucket,
his things laid before him: eighteen faded
Parisian postcards, a big key labelled "GO,"
a cracked shaving mirror in which a momentary
lipsticked face appears and disappears,
quick as a sneeze.
It's so quiet the sea stops
slapping the hull,
hides its reddened face.
All things on course.
Excerpted from Our Gleaming Bones Unrobed by Grant Loveys. Copyright © 2012 Grant Loveys. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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