Caribou Moss

Growing in hot and cold climates,
as if the earth had no say
in what we can and cannot be.
Its body, a symbiotic weave
of fungi and algae, hardly needs rain
or dirt and knows the modesty
of not living outside yourself;
spreads three millimetres a year.

Touch it. Grow your hand across.
The coil of frosted wire that fits
within your palm lines
has been crawling over tundra
for the longer part of a century.
Even the smallest things seem to be
so much older than we are.

Without a root system
to tunnel away from light,
every part of it can be seen:
the offering of its entire self
into the vast mouth of sky,
its pronged reach growing
into a million small antlers.

Questions and Answers

Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g., books, film, art, websites, etc)?

I use Wikipedia alot. Alot, alot. Especially when I am writing about things from a scientific angle, I find that the website strikes a wonderful balance between exoteric language and the intricacies of the material. Furthermore, because each article has to a million different links to other articles, it is a great lens through which you can see the interconnectivity of things, how a dune buggy race in Romania relates with the last of the Passenger Pigeons.

For an aspiring writer, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?

You can totally do it. Read until your eyes bleed. Then get someone else to read to you.

How did your writing process unfold around this poem? How did you write, edit, and refine it?

I wrote the bulk of it over an idle weekend. I kept coming back to it later on to delete words and lines. The poem originally was about three times this length. I brought it in to Douglas Glover who was the Writer in Residence at UNB at the time and he gave it a healthy bath in red ink. He helped me reorder and focus the piece so it moved cleaner and more efficiently.

What did you find particularly challenging in writing this poem?

I wanted the poem to have sentimental elements without being sentimental. I really appreciate what Sue Sinclair does in being able to personify inanimate objects without turning them into cartoon versions of themselves. It’s tough to strike that balance but Sinclair seems to do it so effortlessly.

This poem “Caribou Moss” originally appeared in Recursive Time. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 222 (Autumn 2014): 51.

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