Reaching V is from Guernica Editions (2014).
“Reaching V” occurs when geese find perfect formation–riding on air, sharing leadership, and honking encouragement on the journey. These poems explore moments of epiphany, when, like a skein of geese, things align. They investigage moments when supports crumble, and new patterns must emerge. They seek the spark in the ordinary, meaning in loss, and circle back to nature.
Whether exploring her own vulnerability as a mother and friend, or playfully delving into the mysteries of the quicksilver realms of science, philosophy and dreams, Kate Marshall-Flaherty’s luminous, refreshing poems are imbued with a sense of reverence and a hard-won faith that we can trust in our own wingspan. – Donna Langevin, author of In The Cafe Du Monde
Flaherty ‘s vivacious writing blends earthy zest, wholehearted generosity and rare compassion with artful aplomb. Her phrases leap, jostle and swerve as they graze the heights and probe the depths of experiences that become ours. Whether in childlike wonderment, familial devotion, or mature sorrow, she unfailingly gives us a poetry of discovery, that reveals the extraordinary in the commonplace, evokes the spiritual through the physical, and accesses worlds within worlds. — Allan Briesmaster
You took me on my first portage
through Magnetawan and French River.
We packed trail mix, coffee, hunks of cheese,
matches and a map in plastic
flattened across the top of our pack.
I loved your canoe’s birch ribs.
You taught me to craft
j-strokes, slides and dips
with my smooth wooden paddle.
We lurched in gentle unison on the river,
watching the droplets make v-trails behind us.
I remembered school words: drumlin, esker, delta, fault,
and felt a deep relief within me
as I became part of the legend on this map.
I watched the contours become rock lift, cliff,
or a stand of leaning jack pines, remembering
the Group of Seven’s tree silhouettes.
I breathed in sulfur match-strike, wood-smoke
and damp watermarks on the map
we’d fold and unfold ’til some creases became slits
we could see the river through.
We caught the scent of bullfrog and sweat
as the sun baked our back-skins
and bounced off the river in bright sparkles.
When I feared we were lost
as one scraggly pine in rock island
looked like the next,
you pointed at the paper –
creased and grease-marked from travel –
and announce to the mighty Magnetawan:
“We are here.”
and you might see the farmer,
his pails set down, gazing up
at the arrowhead flight-pattern of geese –
the precision-point leader heading
two lines in his wake.
The farmer rubs his sore muscles,
tight from the pull of pails, and marvels
at the grace of wings, communal flight.
His shoulders drop as he watches the perfect point
glide through the sky.
He thinks the word wedge.
A random shot
rips the silence,
then he witnesses the spiralling down –
one goose plummeting from its place
like ripped tar paper,
a ragged valkyrie
before the bird smacks the stubbled field.
A second goose pulls
from formation, spears
down to the mark.
Now the taste of storm is in the air.
It leads the farmer to the field
with a crate, water, his wife’s wool blanket
for the grounded goose.
Her mate tenderly strokes
her splayed wing
with his beak.
The farmer cradles the wounded goose
in a sling of blanket
and carries her to the barn.
He looks back to nod at her partner,
who follows at a distance, blinking his bead eyes.
In a depression of hay,
her life-mate leans his curved neck onto her breast.
It will be only a day
until the she-goose expires.
After a night of nuzzling her dead body,
the goose flies away at dawn
to catch the draft of another V.
But years later the farmer still tells his wife:
I swear that goose
pecks for a moment
at my barn window.”
Triptych for One Loon
Loon on lapping Georgian Bay,
past the salt docks and raked sand.
Suddenly there, the bird
has bobbed up further
from where it plunged – further
than imagined breath could be held.
Alone under the mid-day moon.
Loon stays under so long
you almost forget he descended at all.
You turn back to your book on the beach
and then, like nostalgia, he comes
far from where you expected
he could go.
Loon tilts his straight beak
and tucks his webbed feet for take-of –
flaps rhythmic wings that slap
down and up – loon and his wavy mirror-twin
a lean V trail.