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CBC Literary Prizes: Great Aunt Unmarried

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. Throughout the year – this month as well as in our April and August issues – you can read the winning works of the country’s leading established and up-and-coming writers.

1st Prize, Poetry: Great Aunt Unmarried

By Sadiqa de Meijer

camera, film

Upright sentinel of order among forty-three
third graders. War is over.
It's all over their faces. That boy
in breeches! That waif seeking cover.Great Aunt Unmarried


One year, we drove the long, fogged seawall
to see her sisters

in their province, which had its own language, and was known

for stoics, though it flew
a flag of hearts.

Pastures etched with narrow roads.

I saw her shrink
behind the steering wheel. A dandelion shuts for rain

like that. She spoke to me by accident

in the dialect, and blushed – not far now,
I guessed, a tinge

of bovine melancholy in the vowels.

Someone had stitched the earth and sky together
with dim rows of poplars.


Embedded in the strata of that visit, under the wallpaper's beige umbels, the severe ancestors framed in ovals, deep in the woods on the hooked

tablecloth, where boars foraged knowing the musket shots of conversation could not strike them, the youngest sister, newly octogenarian,

pressed a rock into my hand. Kandij, a fragment from the dark sugar they had stirred into their coffee. I could tell the protocol

was to skip through the uncurling ferns, licking merrily, but I was
seventeen, already I carried a furtive notebook in the pocket where the shard

dropped, almost weightless. Their spoons with schooner handles, clinking, and the glazed brown cups, and the round tray with a landscape.


We went for a drive in nature. Two of them tied ivory
kerchiefs around their home permanents, while the third
muttered a curse on vanity, and we folded into a sedan,
automatic for the rheumatisms. At the speed of a procession,
to the dissolution of chalk peppermints. Here, the middle sister
nodded to the shoulder. Lawn chairs emerged. From the ditch,
the road was hearsay. Buttercups towered over a far spire.
The three in bifocals, their hands on their slacks
trembled like the grass. To the south, the air force was practising.
Whether that haunted or comforted them, I couldn't tell.
On the drive to the house, the silence had a grander shape,
like a bell that fits over fields and villages, schoolhouses
and sugar beets and people.

Great Aunt Unmarried

camera, film

The light of television. Sunk in a dark
chair, glued to the Brandenburg Gate
or Rwanda. Just before ablutions
and half a sleeping pill. Late.

Great Aunt Unmarried


Calls orchestrated over the clock-warp
of Greenland, underwater cables, constellations.

Static was a constant breaker, traversing
an endless beach.

Calvinist, so every word had to outweigh
the coin that was its counterpart, but not too nakedly.

Often, delays in the line made our voices collide: I saw
a skunk do you dream under the dumpster in English now? You go.

Or another conversation crackled in the background,
obliquely urgent, on the verge of clarity.

Later, she called at odd hours, her greeting as close
as the pillow, bright as the blood-red numbers.

Some nights, she mislaid the horn.
So then it was me and the sea.

Photo: Kara Schleunes (Julie Bruck); Art: Randy Grskovic (Promised Land, Untitled Landscape 25_0025 [detail / detaille], and / et Unknown Landscape, 2012)

Sadiqa de MeijerSadiqa de Meijer has seen her poetry, short stories and essays published in a number of literary journals, including The Malahat Review, This Magazine, CV2 and The Literary Review of Canada, as well as in the Best of Canadian Poetry in English series and in the anthology Villanelles. Born in Amsterdam and raised in various cities around the world, she lives with her family in Kingston, Ontario.

The owner of Good Luck Art Gallery in Vancouver, artist and curator Randy Grskovic has exhibited his own work and curated exhibitions across Canada, including at Centre A in Vancouver and at Eastern Edge Gallery in St. John's.


Patrick LanePatrick Lane has published more than 25 books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, including the 2011 Collected Poems, which contains the poet's meditations on nature, human frailty and love gathered from his 50-year writing career. Lane, who has won many awards and prizes, lives near Victoria with his wife, Lorna Crozier, and their two cats.

Dennis LeeDennis Lee, a poet, teacher and editor, can take credit for more than 20 published books of poetry for adults and children, such as Testament, out earlier this year, and Alligator Pie, a collection of children's rhymes. Toronto's first Poet Laureate, he is currently a resident artist at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.

Julie BruckJulie Bruck has published three poetry collections, including Monkey Ranch and The End of Travel. Her work has also appeared in many Canadian and U.S. magazines, from The New Yorker to The Malahat Review. A Montreal native, she has lived in San Francisco since 1997.

Poetry Readers

Oana Avasilichoaei (Montreal)
Jen Currin (Vancouver)
Katia Grubisic (Montreal)
Ray Hsu (Vancouver)
Dave Margoshes (Saskatoon)
Sachiko Murakami (Toronto)
Billeh Nickerson (Vancouver)
Matt Rader (Cumberland, British Columbia)
Jennifer Still (Winnipeg)
Bruce Taylor (Wakefield, Quebec)


The views expressed by the writers do not represent the views of enRoute, Spafax or Air Canada.



Comments… or add another

elizabeth tanner

Friday, February 1st 2013 15:15
what pleasure to see the aunts sitting together in the sun, their golden wrinkled faces reticent, their minds at peace, resolved to wait for what is to come, the inevitable, the only question now being who goes first; like a competeion that has no winner.

As disruptive as an alarm clock the calls may be the authur shows us that they are not just tolerated, no, but rather treasured like a family religious heirloom of little value but sacred.
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