Donnelly Corner, 1976

As she moves forward, the horizon recedes
She stops at Donnelly Corner, pants
Nothing, nothing except 40 kilometres of asphalt pointing due North
Looking South, same landscape; East and West are no more reassuring
Forty kilometres of blacktop as far as the eye can see
Acres upon acres of homesteads and quilted fields at 90 degrees to one another
Even the wind has trouble catching its breath
It hardly dares caress the stalks basking in the sun
That same wind that fills a sky bigger than anywhere else

Elsewhere, trees stand on guard
Hills punctuate the landscape
Hide their most intimate secrets from passers-by
Elsewhere, brooks interrupt roads, trout shimmy wildly about
Wave their tails at surprised travellers
It’s like that over there
Here, it’s flat, flat, flat
Oh my God! The world really is flat!

Where can one create a haven
Hang up the memories tumbling through one’s head
Twisters out of control over a crazy quilt landscape
Nothing but suspicious looking vistas as far as the eye can see
In the sparse villages, women dress in shades of brown
Sisters of the Sacred Order of the Gumbo, the Order of Gelatinous Earth,
That umber crazy glue sticks to humans, to animals, to tractors
To brown speckled indoor-outdoor carpets in prefabricated houses

Men and women at the wheel of trucks trace zigzags in the muck
Along the highway that stretches to infinity
Tall or short, thin or portly, the men’s eyes are all veiled
By a baseball cap permanently girdling their heads
Walking talking billboards: Wheat Pool, John Deere, Falher Alfalfa
The brown sludge passed off for coffee at the corner gas station
Unable to mask the magnesium in the water
Brown roads, brown rugs, brown water, brown pant suits

The newcomer stands out in the décor in her leather high heels
The flair of her oceanic dress shot with imported pistachio
She stares out at this strange landscape, memories dancing like a ship at sea
Breathless, she drops one, flails about, tries to bring it back to her
The memory weaves about, a kite over the grain fields
It dips and swirls, comes to rest on a wheat shaft
Weeks later, grains become cereals
The stranger makes friends with the shameless hussy of a landscape
Her faraway eyes, once shocked by the endless expanse
Gaze openly at the endless possibilities of wheat, oats, barley, and canola
Make peace with the patchwork prairie of the Peace Country

~ Jocelyne Verret

Jocelyne Verret – a published novelist, poet and playwright – was born in Québec City and raised in New-Brunswick. She made Alberta her home in 1976. Home and Away is a theme that resonates throughout her writing. Jocelyne is currently heading a collective work in French, 4 Voix, 4 Voies, as well as working on a solo book of poetry in English. In 2007, La Coalition des femmes de l’Alberta commissioned her to write the story of Francophone women building their Alberta communities. Jocelyne has also presided over the Stroll of Poets of Edmonton and instituted the Stroll’s readings in French. She has worked with many musicians, most recently with Marc de Montigny, a big band saxophonist.

“‘Donnelly Corner, 1976’ is a poem that reflects my reaction to the prairies upon arriving from New-Brunswick, and shortly before that, a 3-year stay in the former French Congo, or République Populaire du Congo. It is about my making peace with a landscape and culture that were as foreign to me as the African savannahs and jungles. It took me 30 years to write this poem. It has had many versions.”

Editor’s note: This poem is from Home and Away – a sequel to the bestselling Writing the Land (2007). Look for one poet to be featured each day as Alberta poets ponder the question “what is home?” and explore our complex relationship with working on, living with, exploiting and protecting our land and our home. For more information about the project, click here.

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