A chinook arch, like a loose tarp,
lipped across the evening sky
while we were out walking the dog.
Muscling up to a dome of snow,
he shoved his head in past the shoulders,
pulled out something wrapped in foil.

Next morning, it was twelve degrees.
Slush splattered the curb, buds
spangled the trees, crabgrass flexed
in round sun patches. The sudden
heat was so persuasive,

even the river, celery green,
appeared between soft flaps of ice
like remorse on the bewildered
face of a forceful denier
who, beholding certain proof, whimpers
“Human, only human.”

And then, as is also human,
clamping down again, the world
reverted, cold as before, except
where, having briefly melted,
it froze harder, slipperier.

Questions and Answers

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

I just read Matthew Zapruder’s Why Poetry, and I think it’s magnificent—especially how he writes about reverie. The New Yorker’s Poetry Podcast frequently amazes me. Lyra Pramuk’s new album Fountain complicates the way I think about polyphony. I return to Joan Retallack’s The Poethical Wager when I need to feel refreshed.

As a published writer, what are your tips or words of motivation for the aspiring poet?

I believe wholeheartedly that whether or not I check my phone before I write in the morning determines whether I will write well.

I find it useful to read poetry collections instead of poems in anthologies. In turn, poring over the poetry sections of used bookstores whenever I visit new cities or towns and letting mysterious slim volumes grab my attention helps me find new poets to love. Most recently, this happened with Mark Ford’s Enter, Fleeing.

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

This poem started out as a meditation on the tension between freezing and waiting. The first drafts worked like a tiny clock or some other machine—like all of the parts fit together too well—so I put it aside for a few months. When I picked the poem back up, I wrote more of a sneer into its final two stanzas and realized the poem was more political than it had originally appeared.

What did you find particularly challenging in writing this poem?

The last line. I’ve written around twenty iterations. And that last word: I wanted it to veer away but maintain some sonic resonances with other words in the stanza.

This poem “Pathetic” originally appeared in Returns Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 243 (2020): 101.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.