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Air Canada’s 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, August and October issues, you can read the winning works of the country’s leading established and up-and-coming writers.

Tar Swan

By David Martin
Photo by Fiona Annis


As I've told you tide and tide again,
you're not the first to strike the bell
under toe. I witnessed a single cygnet,
abandoned by cob and pen, fending
in the lichen. His sobs skip-dripped
from sockets and slithered into deep
pools of felicity. Doodle-buggers
and orange-worms will soon mine his
blistered lore. He busked his flags,
heralding a black egg along slipshod
Athabaska, spit the yoke, and under
my fluted lip, a tar-cleaned tongue.
Hold, before your handmade eyes,
I offer a soup to eat your reflection.


Say Alexander Mackenzie once
netted an elephant by the jugular,
a vein he blotted ashore, and ashore
he cajoled a catheter up its trunk,
a trunk that smelled of sea coal.
Believe me, he never imagined
his dead mammal would tender
its supreme body as petroleum.
We are bitumen farmers, gleaners,
and I wield the wide metal plough,
a plough with ragged furrow-slice
my coulter's wake. Wake, and never
again will Virgil warn, "Let the horns
of the moon govern a Soiler's work."


All magicians know stubholders
double watch: convincing heart
that behind the trick is trick,
hoodwinking mind-be-body to lunch
with wonder. It's simple then:
Threshing bitumen is the Devil's
Handkerchief followed by a Question
of Sympathy. Suckers agog, exposed
by boreal thugs who conjure a terrible
prophesy, stringing out Dionysian
muck to smear on highway blacktop.
Finally, by sleight of hand, they
sluice foaming shades from the body,
as the stage manager skins his take.


Behold, the Plant is alive! I give you
the loafing-crunch of Draglined Sand;
the shut-eye-beak-oool of Feed Hopper;
the scheming-sheaths of Toothed Rollers;
the rumen-torque of Pug Mill;
the pupa-soup-gyrate of Separator;
the moulted-scales of Tailings Pond;
the magpie-appraisal of Settling Tank;
the shadow-tailed-cache of Elephant Storage;
the nagging-scent of Water Drained to River.
I submit Nature's Supreme Gift to Industry.
Muskeg, glacial tills, sandstone and shale –
all useless like a turf cutter's scraw,
for we are gouging at a forest sea.


As I slept, a creature brewed for me:
head a white-tongued lion, body
the blood of a cinnamon hermit, feet
the sheaths of a fire moth – and as I
pounced, flailing hands, hurling clods
of black sand in its mask, biting
out eyes – nothing would cripple
the monster, no wound appeared
on craning form. At last, I choked
its throat with heavy stones, crushing a
gaunt neck, peeled back layers
of rotted cloak to find brittle feathers,
no bulk beneath, but a black egg –
a single black egg wrapped in moss.


Broken-teeth roads disappear where
photographs split by half-dash light
and make this quickening my home.
Peel back overburden, lie down in
elephant drool like a swan that sinks
into song. Wheels turn, and I'm the
undercarriage. Children with trowels
excavate my flesh. They clutch feathers,
demanding I give back the nest egg
wrapped in moss, rotting moss held
in a deer-skin sack, the sack sewn
in my chest, chest bearing me cusp
to cusp on river taunts, taunts that turn
wheels and pull me into the undercarriage.

David Martin

David Martin holds degrees from the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta. For the past seven years, he has worked as a literacy instructor at the Reading Foundation; he is also a board member for the Single Onion, Calgary's longest-running poetry reading series. Martin's poems have appeared in such journals and magazines as The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, Event, Filling Station, CV2 and Alberta Views.

Fiona Annis is a Montreal-based visual artist whose practice embraces the use of photography and other time-based media. She has exhibited in Canada and internationally, including at the Art Gallery of Alberta and the AC Institute in New York.


Katherena Vermette
Katherena Vermette is a Metis writer of poetry, fiction and children's literature. Her first book, North End Love Songs, won the 2013 Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry. Her work has appeared in several literary magazines and compilations, such as Manitowapow: Aboriginal Writings from the Land of Water. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and lives in Winnipeg.

Rachel Rose

Rachel Rose has won awards for her poetry, fiction and non-fiction, including a 2014 Pushcart Prize. Her most recent book, Song and Spectacle, won the 2013 Audre Lorde Poetry Prize in the U.S. and the Pat Lowther Award in Canada. Rose has collaborated as a songwriter and librettist with musicians and composers in the U.S. and Canada. She lives in Vancouver and is currently writing a book about police dogs. 

Roy Miki

Roy Miki, a Vancouver poet and writer, has published widely on Canadian literature and culture. Surrender, his third book of poems, won the Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry. Recent publications include Mannequin Rising, a book of poems and collages, and In Flux: Transnational Shifts in Asian Canadian Writing, a collection of essays. Miki received the Order of Canada in 2006 and the Order of British Columbia in 2009.

Photos: Lisa D. Meiler (Katherena Vermette); Benjamin Fieschi-Rose (Rachel Rose).

Poetry Readers

Jordan Abel (Vancouver)
Jenna Butler (Edmonton)
Margaret Christakos (Toronto)
Brad Cran (Vancouver)
Cyril Dabydeen (Ottawa)
Marilyn Gear Pilling (Hamilton, Ontario)
Jason Guriel (Toronto)
Lorri Neilsen Glenn (Halifax)
Tanis Rideout (Toronto)
Matthew Tierney (Toronto)

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




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