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.
John Steffler served as the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada from 2006 to 2008. Though he was born and educated in Ontario, Steffler spent many years in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, as a professor of English at Wilfred Grenfell College.
John Steffler’s books of poems include That Night We Were Ravenous (McClelland and Stewart 1998), The Wreckage of Play (McClelland and Stewart, 1988), and The Grey Islands (McClelland and Stewart, 1985), among others. His novel The Afterlife of George Cartwright was shortlisted for the 1992 Governor General’s Award for fiction and won the Smithbooks/ Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award.
These excerpts were drawn from Waterfront Views, Contemporary Writing of Atlantic Canada (http://waterfrontviews,acadiau.ca/flash/steffler/steffler_bio.htm) and from the University of Toronto Libraries, Canadian Poetry Online (https://canpoetry.library.utoronto.ca/steffler/index.htm) For additional information, see also the Atlantic Canadian Poets’ Archive (stu-acpa.com/john-steffler.html). For a more complete list of his poetry books, see Penny’s Poetry Pages Wiki (https://pennyspoetry.fandom.com/wiki/John_Steffler).