2010 Poetry Contest Winner: Anthony Caleshu
Nov 1, 2010
These playful and plaintive addresses to the ever-absent Victor read like pings to a god who never shows up when you really need him. It’s impossible to pin down where this Victor is, or even who or what he is, but it’s clear that his greatest victory is in having made the speaker believe in him to begin with. Victor is the principle that holds things together for the speaker, and when he realizes that Victor’s effectively gone, their once beautiful routine collapses into the tragically mundane. We are delighted in the artistry and in the substance of this unforgettable and important work.
The Victor Poems
1. Calling Victor
Victor, we say, where are you? The wind has a mind of its own.
It has corrupted the dogs who refuse to mush but sit lazily head in paws.
It has whipped the snow like a dairy treat but we are allergic to dairy.
Do not look us in the lips, which are chapped and cracked where our smiles used to be.
On account of our beards, our wives wouldn’t kiss us . . . we wouldn’t let them come with us.
We are now more alone than ever, and we’ve never been good at being alone: ask our bosses, our neighbours, our former amours.
Friends like you Victor, especially in the fresh air, will always be a breath of fresh air.
We follow the long horizon to where the blue of the sky meets the white of the ice.
It took a turbulent plane journey for us to get here, and it took for us to get here to pick up our phones.
We cry to our wives, who cry to us, and so on.
Our need to find you got us into this mess, we know; but knowledge was never our goal.
We’re the heroes of an empty drama: involving no terrorists, nor crash landing.
We’d take comfort in Aurora Borealis, if there were any Aurora Borealis.
We’d find joy in penguins, if there were any penguins.
Victor, we say . . . Victor, can you hear us! But there is no response.
We tell ourselves about your pioneering ways with GPS and GLONASS, even though our signal is weak, and we are weaker.
2. Round After Round
Victor, to be so many friends to so many people.
You’ve always been one of us even though you were never one of us.
The last time we saw you . . . when was the last time we saw you?
We’d all gone skiing in Canada, but you’d gone to Cancun; the postcard read “see you soon.”
We never saw you soon.
We looked to the moon while tuning our guitars.
It could have been the drugs—we were all on drugs—you never did drugs.
There was the time you saved us from the guy whose girlfriend had a guilty conscience.
There was the time you woke us to watch the sun rise when it was setting.
Once, you sponsored a Christmas Swim for those of us who could not swim.
Somebody has to teach you, you said, pushing us cold and deep into the wake of the lake—and that someone isn’t me.
For so much of our adult lives, you’ve avoided us, disappeared, just when the rest of us were trying to appear to the world.
Out of the lake, we paddled until we shivered on shore . . . but you were already, someone said, out the door.
For so long, we’ve chased you—shot after shot at the bar.
Even in absentia, you put your credit card down.
It’s all paid for, the bartender said . . . round after round, after round, after round.
3. Victor’s Arctic Tours
Victor, we’d blame you for this tour, if only this were your tour.
See for Victor, the possibility of authority; white flecks through a white beard.
When unions ground you, call Victor.
Where weather prevents you, call Victor.
Victor, we would look for you in the trees in the air—if there were trees in the air.
The only air here is for bear and walrus.
To our chagrin, we are getting as thin as the air.
This sort of lean is no good for anybody.
Our heads are lost in blue skies, without even a broken cloud.
We drift in high winds.
When melting occurs, call Victor.
When war prevents you, call Victor.
We cross this single season of ice via snow-cats.
15 kilometers of visibility and still we can’t see Victor.
Short of cache positioning, short of personnel logistics, we await you like a star across the sky.
We need re-supply.
Victor, your breath is not our breath.
Breathe in Victor.
Warm us Victor.
If there were trees, we’d be climbing them.
If there were trees, you’d welcome us within their white globe of flowers.
4. The Hours Go By Like Days
The days go by like weeks.
The weeks go by like years.
And so on . . . and so on . . . and so on.
Once, you stole a coat. Once, we stole a coat.
We stole it because we were cold.
Or if not cold, drunk.
We’re not drunk now because we have nothing to drink.
But if we had, say, a keg of beer, we would drink that keg of beer and then we would steal that coat.
The coat hangs on a coat-rack at a nightclub too dingy to have a coat-check.
The coat is hung by its sagging shoulder.
It’s a navy pea coat, heavy wool, double-breasted.
There are black buttons, which (if it were our coat), we would replace with gold buttons.
After dancing all night the cold freezes the sweat in our hair.
After dancing all night, it’s not capitalism, but communism.
Victor, does this sound familiar?
You went back inside to get our coat.
It wasn’t until the next day that someone banged on our door.
No amount of abuse could rise us from under the duvet.
Only the abuser could . . . and would . . . if you didn’t occupy the door-frame with your name, newly embroidered on a shoulder.
You lemon. You meringue.
Let me show you which is worse, he said, the cold or the pain.
5. Victor, Just Before Leaving Home
The home, you said, is our only cause.
We lived neither quarantined nor condemned.
We harvested root vegetables from lumpy couches where potatoes took root in loamy soil.
We sipped at mugs of thick tea steeped from mushrooms sprouting in the tub.
To be at home is not just a metaphor, you said—citing everything from inspiration to bowel movements.
We hopped with the rabbits grazing on leafy mold around skirting boards in the den.
We scraped morning cigarettes from ceiling resin and brewed beer from carpet yeast.
We held our bowels, observing nature from within.
Throughout the day, you cooked while we cleaned until we all played at puzzles, at ping-pong.
We made our own sun and shade.
We smelled of smoke and sweat, shit and sea-salt, and potpourri.
We watched our nails grow well past the quick.
Home is where the—Home is where the—Home is where the . . . the stereo played, over and over, our considerable conversations.
Though our door was on the ground, our home floated just shy of the sky.
Remember, how leaves fell inside us?
In the colours of condiments, we squeezed our night’s dreams from the lazy arms of chairs.
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November 01, 2010