poem index

Travelling Against

Karen Houle
Give me the common or the rare, as they roll

We are mistaken in what we survive, 
in what we must eliminate.

The ladies at the plate glass persist, 
reviving their brutal martyrdoms, 
worn thin by the abuse of soap, 
the contour of teacups in unison

against smallpox, cosmetic agriculture, 
and wartime rape. And a woman

they believe unrecognizable
as such.

She is given to volatility around faith. 
Faith in where the unlivable gathers

like thistle,
like wild yeast's affinity for chance

where sexual impatience bursts from the sudden rise 
like malady. And it is knee-deep

in mustard, in scattered hybrids
of deliberate imperfection.

Slice through against chronicle. Slip your thumb 
under the seam where the signal tugs 
forward. Pain,

where you grasp it, 
is not what you don't want 
any more

than an uncontaminated vat remains sterile, 
and cannot

Be treated better,
Or promoted across palate.

Be perverse in your indifference to recommend 
a local history. Keep the virus for study, 
keep this loss of mime. I know

so little,

my arts are often mistaken 
in their assemblies, their lambic filiations 
among grain and tool. But

it is such hands
as mutate all along the breed,

And travelling against,
And loud.

From Ballast by Karen Houle. Copyright © 2000 by Karen Houle. Reprinted by permission of House of Anansi Press. All rights reserved.

Karen Houle