Ode to What is Left Behind  

July 11th. After the tenth day,
In unanimous spontaneity,
The cows and newborns vacate the calving grounds,
Beginning their journey southwards once more.
And the bodies of the stillborns, no longer
Protected, are strewn across the tundra
Like the clothes of newfound lovers. But that
Points to the wrong emotion, doesn’t it?
On the drive back to Calgary, as day
Collapses, the prairie highway offers
Up its bodies: high-beams tracing fireflies
And full moons; silhouettes of fenceposts.
On a wide turn, with the windows rolled down,
The smell of the dead skunk on the side of the road.
And even at one-twenty an hour
It takes another ten minutes until
Distance leaves it behind. Death lingers
In the fan-belt.

The childless cows are now
Called “Unattached” and you’d think with that name
And the strike-slip within their abdomen
They’d wander lost for the next thousand years
But it’s almost impossible to tell
Them apart; the only difference: their silence.
Not having young to call, they will not groan
A sound until the rut in October.
The face of casual calamity.
In a landscape seen endless, there is no
Room for grief.

The phone’s ringing when I’ve unlocked
The front door; on the other end, my father’s
Voice. “I had to fly back, Richard, before
The Parkinson’s had conquered my mother,”
And I picture an opalescent cell
Skewering a flag in her brain stem and
I think about the flag and I think about
The skunk and I think about all that
I need to, to not think about the stillborns
Littering the tundra beneath immortal
Daylight and the Rough-legged Hawks circling
And then landing on the carcasses like
Dandelion fluff on a lustrous lake.
And I’ve done it again, haven’t I?

Richard Kelly Kemick is an award-winning Canadian poet, journalist, and fiction writer. He is the author of Caribou Run, a collection of poetry, as well as a regular contributor to The Walrus and CBC Radio. www.richardkemick.com.

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