M. Jay Smith is a Toronto-based but Canadian-hinterland-raised writer. After studying experimental poetry and aesthetic theory in graduate school (at the University of Alberta and York University), she has enjoyed a varied publishing history with work in various genres appearing in more than fifty different publications throughout North America, from the micro-runs of obscure literary journals (eg. Four Corners Feminist Review and Fait Accomplit, both based in Edmonton, the latter of which granted her several "best submission" prizes) to CanWest newspapers (especially the Edmonton Journal) as well as the Los Angeles Times (a creative non-fiction piece) and magazines like Alberta Views and Adbusters. M. Jay Smith has also worked as a columnist for both of Edmonton's arts weeklies and regularly reviews books. Presently, she is working on a novel, a book of poems, and trying to decide whether and how to hold down a day job.
the rise of choke cherry trees
... the rise
of choke-cherry trees I have eaten my father
piece by piece I love my cannibalism
– Charles Olsen, The Maximus Poems
no one wants not
to be native. tell that to the stones, o
the bannock makers at ft edmon
-ton make straight faces inform visitors:
they cook with only 100% pure bear fat.
the new mansion next door,
3 stories tall, very
imperial, has fucked up the wind
patterns in the crescent
the choke cherry went down 1st
i didn’t see it happen but when
the tops of the 2 spruce trees in the front
yard went blew off later, just at the height of
the mansion’s impeccable aluminum roof. they snapped with the a-
plomb reserved for the strictest incredulity a-
gainst a green sky; we thought it must have been a
tornado. & the lightening was smoking bolts thru
steaming air. a real apocalypse skyscape, it looked,
over on refinery row.
i saw that.
& i thought, yeh, fucker, next time
how you send your
storm was big & wet / put the ground to covers with hail / it looked like snow / we did not cry like pablo neruda // i was reading canto general, / & y’know, those chileans cry / they break out sobbing like big wet clichés / the melodrama we arid ones like to /fetishize: the earth / heaves / & anthropomorphism’s earthy / manifestations do / too // while tragedy here stems not / from corrupt generations of military /dictatorship. / no, wait, it does look like that / but they don’t wear / uniforms.
& we’re talking about storms
Anyway not the impressive ability to
characterise the small cee in
conservative electing the same junta
every electoral season like planting crops or
having to hack down the new infringement of
contrary species the nettle the bastard toadflax
the fire weed the way that nature damns the
farming man thinking like
what my grandmother told me about choke cherries:
do not eat the choke
cherries. you will
if you do.
(we ate them
(they tasted bad so we
didn’t eat a
no, i mean:
(now, i read, y’re supposed to add
sugar & cook them into
jelly. the books add:
pitting is the real bitch.)
bear fat =
they hide the safeway pkg of
lard away from the visitor’s curious
eye. slice it into the skillet in big thick slabs of
white. watch it melt, say, transform. smile. sizzle. wipe
hands on vintage apron. wait. flip. put on plate. offer. eat.
they took a chain saw, sawed it to bits &
hid the pieces under a blue tarp in the back
yard. future* furnishing**.
* or, the persistence of depression-
era thought, a use for everything &
everything in its use†.
** the wood is also oblivious to
rot, an antidote in turn to
† “Choke cheery bark was traditionally made into tea to treat colds, sore throats, pneumonia & diarrhea. The bark tea was also taken by women after childbirth as a strengthening tonic. Mashed choke cherry seeds were used as stomach medicine, and the branches were taken as a laxative, for influenza, and by nursing mothers to pass medicinal quantities to the baby.” p 86. Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada. Mackinnon & al. Edmonton: Lone Pine Press, 2009.
i lived in my grandmother’s house for nine
years after she died.
the 1950s did not ask for transcendence,
not even of the architectural variety.
draining lakes for housing made
maleable the lay of the land.
(technically, i think you could say we
are the original inhabitants here.)
the same shitty contractor did
all the bungalows in the crescent.
thereby, he ensured “home” was a maleable
concept, with porous foundation prone
to cracking, reversion, to seeping back
to the original contours of lake.
belonging is a wet feeling, an over-
whelming, a flooding,
the power went out, the rain
descended, & the lake remembered
how to be a
neighbours paddled their
& we were
( our artefacts floated a-