What is a desert? This grips the machete that cuts the cane.
What is smoke? Hoisting the basket of coal to the head.
What are liberties? They pull on the tall boots that protect
What is a wage? In the vapor of sulfur fields it brings the sarong tip
to his mouth.
Where is the lake? Cut through to the tendons.
How many are killed? They hoist bales of sticks
onto their heads.
What is the market? Laying each brick for the canal walls.
What is a home? When the wellhead blasts gas, he holds
one in front of his face.
What is the reason? It picks the broad leaves from the bottom
of the stem.
What is the reason? It knots the cloth that ties the baby to her back.
[from the series 43 Work Songs Ending In the Palm of Her Hand]
Shane Book’s first collection, Ceiling of Sticks, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize and GLCA New Writers Award. His second, Congotronic, won the Archibald Lampman Award and was shortlisted for the Canadian Authors Association Award, Ottawa Book Award, and Griffin Poetry Prize. He is the 2016-2017 Writer-in-Residence at the University of Calgary.
To view other poems published in our upcoming issue, please visit Vallum’s website.
Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!