Skip to Content (Press Enter)

English / Français

CBC Literary Prize Winner: String Theory (Poetry)

Air Canada enRoute is a strong supporter of Canadian arts and is once again proud to be a sponsor of the CBC Literary Prizes. Each year in our April, October and December issues, you can read the winning works of the country’s leading established and up-and-coming writers.

1st prize - poetry

String Theory

By Mark Wagenaar

The views and opinions expressed by the writer do not represent those of Air Canada enRoute, Spafax or Air Canada. Some readers may be offended by the content, which is intended for mature readers.

You should know how to jump a car,
& how to change a tire, my father once told me.
To that I’d add where to buy the best shine
in town, which is always out of someone’s trunk.
In Oxford, look for an ’89 Cherokee,
rust-mottled white, & tinted dark as ink,
because a woman named Chaz will sell a jelly jar
with hardly a charcoal speck. She’s an adherent
of string theory, not the one that says strings
send their 2-D worldsheet through spacetime
– one candidate for the Theory of Everything –
but the shine version: She plays an old violin
in a barn to the sealed jars, & a horse, Bill.
They don’t have ears, she says, maybe the vibrations
soften the shine some. She’s got her own set
of must-knows: how to make an easy grand
hauling cigarettes across state lines, how to grow
your own blue corn for the stuff. How to kick
the other stuff, blue flame, burn spoon, dying horse
or heroin, the appetite goes first, she says.
You should know what it’s like to bury
a horse, to spend a morning digging a piano-size
grave, for twenty cents. Three jars in, she tells me
something. We wrapped chains around one
that got stuck in a drinking hole. Her rump in the air,
chunks of horse flesh missing: the coyotes
we’d hear at night as we drifted off to sleep.
When the chains tightened as the tractor heaved,
the mare’s belly gave, & her body was pulled
from a womb-wet colt. You should know
some things stay with you the rest of your life.
I even saw that colt as I held up the ultrasound
the first time, she says. The birth of your first-born
will wreck every part of you. And I know this.
I’ve held that picture in my hands. I’ve even heard
that heart, that stunning wingbeat on the speaker,
that otherworldly whistling, an ambulance passing
by you, if you’re stretchered out in the back
at the same time. Like hearing a helicopter
underwater, or talking to a friend on the phone
when he’s in freefall. I should know by now I’ll never
know all the strings that pull me this way or that.
I mean thirst, & history, mistakes & all, I mean
the way we become our parents, so I know enough
to know I don’t know shit, but that heartbeat,
that heartbeat did to me what the late train horn
does to the empty plains, what the blood moon does
to midnight. This week of her first dreams, fingerprints
spiral galaxied into place. Her body in Golden Mean
proportions already, like Chaz’s violin – even in her
impossibly small foot, four phi lines fall at the arch,
ball & base of the toes. Zeising once divided the body
into four zones, & found 3:2 proportion in length,
which is a Perfect Fifth on a scale. So who sang us
into being, who first struck our hearts into rivering
with a few slides along the strings? And this beauty
is an eyelash next to the end we share, so all I see,
& all I hope to see, is a length of days beyond
my own when I look hard at the ultrasound clouds,
at the face upon the waters. The way Chaz looks
at the sun too long sometimes, so the burnspots dance,
then coalesce, until a blue-black colt walks out of the sun.

piano photo by Ryan Walker

A former player in the Canadian Professional Soccer League, Mark Wagenaar is the 2015 winner of the Juniper Prize, from the University of Massachusetts Press, for his second book, The Body Distances. His first, Voodoo Inverso, won the University of Wisconsin Press’ Felix Pollak Prize. He is the 2015–16 Halls Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a doctoral fellow at the University of North Texas.

Ryan Walker is a Toronto-based photographer specializing in social documentary, editorial photography and visual advocacy. He holds an MFA in documentary media from Ryerson University. His work, which attempts to blur the boundaries between photojournalism, documentary and art, has been exhibited in Canada, Australia and the U.S.


Shane Book’s poetry collection Ceiling of Sticks won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize as well as the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award. His second collection, Congotronic, is a finalist for the Canadian Authors Association Award, the Ottawa Book Award, the Archibald Lampman Award and the 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize. He’s also a filmmaker whose work has screened in film festivals and on television around the world.

Karen Solie’s third collection, Pigeon, won the Pat Lowther Award, the Trillium Poetry Prize and the Griffin Poetry Prize. A volume of new and selected poems, The Living Option, was published in the U.K. by Bloodaxe Books in 2013, and her latest, The Road In Is Not the Same Road Out, was published this spring. An associate director of the Banff Centre’s Writing Studio program, she lives in Toronto.

Fred Wah is a native of the Kootenays and lives in Vancouver. He was Canada’s fifth Parliamentary Poet Laureate and is an Officer of the Order of Canada. He has published and edited poetry, fiction and criticism since the early 1960s. Recent collections include Is a Door, Sentenced to Light and Scree: The Collected Earlier Poems, 1962–1991.



Please leave a comment

HTML tags will be removed
Web addresses starting with http:// will be converted to links