Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Modest Portraits of My Mother

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Kim Thúy, Ru
So perhaps my mother doesn’t need to be my queen; simply being my mother is already a lot, even if the rare kisses I place on her cheeks aren’t so majestic.
  —Kim Thúy, Ru

As a statue:

Bootprints and woollen snags corridor toward a clearing in the brush—columns of birch circling a flat white glade and two benches made of stabs of stone. It’s a long walk from here back to town, so if a mother and daughter were to sit, each to a bench, bench facing bench, who’d stop stillness from settling in? Straight-backed, hands braced against seats, they stare each other down. Even cold, they do not falter from their pose. Immovable, they endure long winters that crumble the leather tongues of their boots, winds and sleet that scrape the coats off their backs. Chickadees claw what remains for nests.

As a maverick:

Her short skirts turn on men. She wears underwear to match and becomes a nurse just like her older sister. They share a bedroom even after leaving home, small town not big enough for her big mouth. The younger sisters hear rumours that she posed naked for old men from the nursing home. Truth is, she doesn’t balk at sitting spread-legged in the highschool hallway to lace her tall boots and when anyone asks about that talk she laughs. People say there isn’t a scrap of dignity in her because she’s loud and mean and keeps outrageous company. When she meets my dad, she’s living with five girls in a two-bedroom apartment, bare mattress on the floor the only furniture. For breakfast, one of the girls’ boyfriends steals the hand-delivered groceries from the neighbours’ porch. She owns two fur coats and only dates men with nice cars.

Any woman on any bench may or may not be your daughter.

As an agriculturist:

She sells funerals. Before that, she owns a daycare. Before that, is a farmer. Pigs she considers smart but hates the damned vacuous cows’ eyes, all reflection. Learning to drive the tractor, she pops the clutch on purpose just to see Dad lurch out of the stooker. But those days when he pumps the pit, methane fumes that once killed a sow and litter, she lectures me about perilous stunts, vanishings. She worries. I see him as a hero, braving a pit that seems a toothy hypnotic maw. There are corners of this farm that plot against us. Bertha worms, the electric fence. Even the Siamese cat is vicious, but Mom loves anything that fights for a living and then curls up in her lap at night. Maybe that’s why she plants marigolds, those stinking flowers that line her garden. Their crowded orange and yellow faces—abrasive, vibrant.

As a precipice:

White grass, anomalous colour in the forest moss. Anomalous mood, white, in early spring’s coming open, white’s refutation of grey, dun, green, black. The mule deer path, rank with scat, has headed now for water. They don’t all turn that way. One or another gets tangled up in the bramble before it hits clearing. Fur and tree scrapings, bush, deer, crow. The nearly mechanical roar of bear. But nothing stops the river being heard; every competing interest will tend toward its whiteness, the whiteness of eroding cliffs stiff as effigies.

Place a mother and daughter in those same cliffs. Place them, already rock, in those same white cliffs.

Pockmarked rock falling toward the river’s dead light.

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Brecken Hancock

Brecken Hancock's poetry, essays, interviews and reviews have appeared in Event, CV2, Grain, The Fiddlehead and Studies in Canadian Literature. She is Reviews Editor for Arc Poetry Magazine and Interviews Editor for Canadian Women in the Literary Arts. Her first book of poems, Broom Broom, was published by Coach House Books in 2014. She lives in Ottawa. Visit for more information.

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