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Maggie Helwig
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The Burnt Lands

Relict, postglacial. The retreat of the ice
carving across the limestone pavement.
Disjunct in time, land curves its hands around adversity
and flowers. Early saxifrage, asphodel.

Dryness leads to natural fire.
Scour the rock with flame and the hidden worlds
will replicate. Conifer. Austral and boreal elements
on the open table.

Roadways entangle in
the butter and honey sun. The complex
human names of small rivers, irregular grass.
This is itself, narrative
waiting elsewhere. Dragonfly.

Scour the self with fire.
It turns to orchid.

Slight creatures fly over the alvar, illusory.
Frosted at the wing’s brown margin.
Psyche in the asphodel meadows, precise,
a dry place ringed by water. Imagining story, imagining
lightning on the burnt lands at midnight,
the curve of flight, wind on a hill, this language.

Scour the dark with fire.
It turns to freedom.

Russell Creek/lost rivers

In the dream it is a night in summer,
and we walk by the low wall, speak in soft voices, safe.
A thin river curls behind Dundas Street, the scent of water,
cool in the darkness, hidden.
It was good, I am saying. It was
a human thing, and imperfect, and kind.

Pale wafer of the moon.
The air is falling, sweet on skin,
and the vigilant nerves are still.

In the dreams there is always water, the small waves moving.
In dreams I am patient, unfrightened,
at ease in time.

Bicycles cross through the walls of silence.
A waterfall, clear as the air,
awaits return, the green bank in the woods.
This present, this future, contained as a pendant in silver.

The scent of smoke and memory clings.
The human voice. Night falling
on the hot street, in the rain.
The only and logical promise – conversatio, always returning.
That I will be, as it lies in me,
accurate and uncertain.
If nothing else, this word.

Night-blooming jasmine, imagined
near to the ward of souls.
Under our feet, the creek still turns
towards the greater waters.


Maggie Helwig is a writer, human rights activist, and Anglican priest. She has published seven books and three chapbooks of poetry, three collections of essays, and three novels. Her most recent novel, Girls Fall Down (Coach House Press) was shortlisted for the Toronto Book Award, and was chosen by the Toronto Public Library as the One Book Toronto in 2011. She is the rector of the Church of St Stephen-in-the-Fields in Kensington Market, Toronto.

Photo credit: Sarah Virag


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