"Poetry", "King Canute", & "Dominion"

Derek Webster

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Is a yearling a perfect metaphor for a poem? What is to be said about the doppelganger in your reflection? How does one break the spell of all that is left unspoken? Although Derek Webster’s three poems may differ in style, they are unified in the way they gently ask the reader to pause, take a breath, and, with this, a moment to consider questions larger than oneself.

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Yolk began as an electric conversation around a picnic table in Saint Henri Square.

Our scruffy pioneer and present prose editor had previously approached each of us with an idea, a vision: We would establish our own literary magazine in Montreal. And so it was, or so it would be. After that original encounter, eight individuals devoted to the word resolved that they would gather bi-weekly, on Sundays, and bring something new into this busy, manic world—something that might slow its spin down somewhat and cause its patronage to say: “You know what, it ain’t so bad, is it, Susan?”

We are undergraduate, graduate, and graduated students of writing. Some of us learn our craft formally from accomplished authors in seminar courses, and some of us learn by looking out the window of the world and onto the streets that sing below. Some of us learn from screaming squirrels, old curtains, departed grandfathers, and bowel movements. We learn from old lovers, long winters, imperfect mothers, and from the deep internet where a musical genius remains entombed.

Yolk is cold floors on Sabbath mornings, home-brewed ginger beer in the endless afternoon, and downpours of French-pressed coffee in assorted artisanal mugs. Our first official gathering was scheduled for a duration of two hours; most of us remained for six, departing only to attend to the summons of our own beckoning realities. Together, with time suspended, we talked endlessly of contributing something to disrupt Montreal’s literary ecosystem. Something unparalleled, something true.

But what? There was nothing to discuss. There was everything to discuss.

We volunteer our time, hounding some elusive beast composed of combustible words and works. We are hopeful, truly hopeful, that we can give something new, a new way, a new light, and that if we cannot, we might at least uphold the traditions of our predecessors, cast star-wide nets to capture their echoes. We are a thousand decisions. We are a sanctuary for the orphaned word, the solitary writer, the cereal-eating artist who yearns for company, for the comfort of a like mind; we sit together with them at foggy dawn, it rains a baptism, with our arms and hands intertwined, we form an umbrella—underneath, they scribble madly, the perfect picture.

Yolk in no way presumes to be superior to its contemporaries, but its contemporaries should not presume yolk to be anything other than loud—quite, quite loud. We are yippidy jazzed to address the oh-so-technicolorful magnificence of the human experience, but we are prepared also to address the ugliness, to stare at its wet, hairy snout and into its square depth and to roar in return at the things that yearn to devour our skin, beset our ethos, and dig graves in our own backyards.

There’s so much to say, there’s so much we don’t know, but together, with you, we can placate that ignorance, render it peaceful, tolerable, and perhaps even, fucking beautiful.

And Susan says, “Amen.”


                                           No longer mottled, driven off,
the yearling makes a new path through forest—
                                going left, going right, snorting at
                                                 nosed branches which invite
                                                                                             its body
—we will forever
be finding our own ways to it—
                                                a stubborn, wet stump                   
across the bog, the scattered bones,
back to its grazing art, each spring
                   a tired, brown line.

                                            Born to green, yearlings
                                                                          to a musky vim,
                                               creaturely sound, unseen
emerging from the crackling canopy
                            or passing unheard
                                                                        —and bow heads
                                                              and kick alive—
                                                                                     and gone.
                                           Ancient, unnamed,
                                                        a humid bubble
                             leaves our mouths to hang
                                          among the bulrushes, heavy, glassed
                                                                         with ice, leaning into the road.

King Canute

We are debating the limits of power
late one night at the kitchen table.
“He told his soldiers to attack the waves–”
says my father
                           “—and there his reign ended
but for the crying,” I cut in, mocking.
He looks surprised. I am thirty-one, tired 
of the wise king’s lessons. He sighs,
says the king was trying to say something.

In the window, reflected, our deaf-mute
alternates swing mythic objects, stabbing
at doppelgangers in silence.
by a gopher’s den, furred shoulders shiver
and crows blink their third lids. Under the grass,
water marches, slaughtering the hills.



At the cabin door
                             spring wavers.
Undressing, sighing

seal mitts
              great coat
                                              beaver hat
a gaunt figure
                 unwound, the tartan scarf
                                       revealing a face—


Birch creak and deer bark and
                                            other alarums.
They come
                               wrapped in rabbit hoods
with spears.
come wrapped
                                               in sheep’s wool
and Christian fervor.

In their ordinary desperation
                                            they know why
not what
                                  they are accepting—


Drive by your old life—
               the hills produce shadows
               the future buries

and the birds sing oblivion
               estranged from all things

as you follow an old Abenaki trail
               through ghostly thick-rumped horses

past the grey-green, half-forgotten monuments
               mottled by pigeons
               imperial in their silence


Our canoe keeps sinking.
Something inside remains too heavy,
flowing in and out when seasons change,
escaping all our frantic bailing.

Who stands vigilant on the shore?
What animal calls from the ripening wheat?


Northern fields
                            depend upon
blackened snow
              the mud glistening
with pure             cold water
beside a fawn’s


My mother sings along to the radio
                                                         looking back
over the car seat, smiling down—
                                                         she knows
how to draw a protest
                                           a grudging laugh
out of me.
               And in that moment
                                           a grain slips
to mind, and the heart
                           starts to itch
and lacquers itself
              by accident
into memory.


Let the spell of unspoken
                                           be broken.
Let the spoken be acted upon.

Rightness cannot be inherited.
If you want it
                              you must
obtain it by great labor.

Dominion                 help us
                                 love you
for new reasons.

Derek Webster’s Mockingbird (Signal) was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book in Canada. He received an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis and was the founding editor of Maisonneuve magazine. His poetry and prose have appeared in many publications including The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, Boston Review, The Walrus, and recent work appears online at Columba Poetry, Font, The Honest Ulsterman (Ireland), and Pulp. He lives in Montreal.

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Additional reading


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