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Poet Laureate Poem Prompt—Spring 2021–John Steffler
We hope John Steffler’s poem, “That Night We Were Ravenous” will inspire you, as a reader, to discover a feeling you hadn’t named before or a resonance you hadn’t expected. For the writer/artist, let the poem- as-prompt carry you to some place new in your work.
That Night We were Ravenous
Driving from Stephenville in the late October
dusk — the road swooping and disappearing ahead
like an owl, the hills no longer playing dead
the way they do in the daytime, but sticking their black
blurry arses up in the drizzle and shaking themselves,
heaving themselves up for another night of
leapfrog and Sumo ballet — some
trees detached themselves from the shaggy
shoulder and stepped in front of the car. I swerved
through a grove of legs startled by pavement, maybe a
hunchbacked horse with goiter, maybe a team of beavers
trying to operate stilts: it was the
landscape doing a moose, a cow
most improbable forest device. She danced
over the roof of our car in moccasins.
She had burst from the zoo of our dreams and was
there, like a yanked-out tooth the dentist
puts in your hand.
She flickered on and off.
She was strong as the bible and as full of lives.
Her eyes were like Halley’s Comet, like factory whistles,
like bargain hunters, like shy kids.
No man had touched her or given her movements geometry.
She surfaced in front of us like a coelacanth, like a face
in a dark lagoon. She made us feel blessed.
She made us talk like a cage of canaries.
She reminded us. She was the ocean wearing a fur suit.
She had never eaten from a dish.
She knew nothing of corners or doorways.
She was our deaths come briefly forward to say hello.
She was completely undressed.
She was more part of the forest than any tree.
She was made of trees. The beauty of her face was bred
in the kingdom of rocks.
I had seen her long ago in the Dunlop Observatory.
She leapt from peak to peak like events in a ballad.
She was as insubstantial as smoke.
She was a mother wearing a brown sweater opening her arms.
She was a drunk logger on Yonge Street.
She was the Prime Minister. She had granted us a tiny
She could remember a glacier where she was standing.
She was a plot of earth shaped like the island of
Newfoundland and able to fly, spring down in the middle of
cities scattering traffic, ride elevators, press pop-eyed
executives to the wall.
She was charged with the power of Churchill Falls.
She was a high explosive bomb loaded with bones and meat.
She broke the sod in our heads like a plow parting the
earth’s black lips.
She pulled our zippers down.
She was a spirit.
She was Newfoundland held in a dam. If we had touched her,
she would’ve burst through our windshield in a wall of
That night we were ravenous. We talked, gulping, waving
our forks. We entered one another like animals entering
That night we slept deeper than ever.
Our dreams bounded after her like excited hounds.
“That Night We were Ravenous” from THAT NIGHT WE WERE RAVENOUS by John Steffler, copyright© 1998, 2007 John Steffler. Reprinted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. All rights reserved.