Mantra of No Return

Kaie Kellough

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my mother occupies the passenger seat. my brother and i

                     stick in the back.

   the radio babbles and sings between us. she is estranged, returning

           and we are revenants to a place                 inside a narration contrived

to read like non-fiction, a continuous telling since                                 one

mouth inside another, one word emigrating from another's vowels.

        a paper place we've glossed              in novels, in atlases

             materialized into sweltering road                printed under us, the car

horns blasting past, the black faces that map ours for relevance, the faces that

could belong to our relatives                 faces we are instructed not to trust, into

whose night we are cautioned against venturing, whose have–not we must not

tempt. my mother banters with the river                             driver, her voice

angles into         accent, some words chop            others stretch. she ent

home, but her return bends

                  here, her speech                soaks into the air near the equator

Kaie Kellough, "people arrived" from Magnetic Equator. Copyright © 2019 by Kaie Kellough. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
 
Source: Magnetic Equator (McClelland & Stewart, 2019)
Dive in: 

1. Read the poem out loud. How do the blank spaces and line breaks influence your reading?

 

2. The subject of language is important in this poem. The radio “babbles”, the mother’s voice “angles    into accent.” Do you or does anyone in your own family speak languages other than English or French? If so, what is your own relationship to that language?

 

3. The poem describes family history as “a narration contrived / to read like non fiction.” How does fiction enter into our tellings of true stories? Is it there from the start?

 

4. The poem’s title already suggests that return may not be possible. How else does the poem trouble the idea of coming home after family migrations?

 

5. What you read as this poem is an excerpt from a longer work that starts with:

this piece is / is not about the past, and it is / is not about the future, but it is /

is not about a stasis all waves syncopate. this piece             awash in ways

 

In light of this, and the poem itself, what do you think of the supposed error of writing river instead of driver?

 

6. The poem describes moving from atlas pages onto an actual road. Find a map of a place that means something to you. Perhaps it’s your current neighbourhood or region, or your birthplace, or even a map of a fictional world. Write a poem inspired by its contours, images, and place names.

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