Thursday, May 13, 2021

Selina Boan, Undoing Hours


the plot so far

ask / what is the history / of a word / a lake of commas /
a pause in the muscle of night / a dry river and the snow it
holds / i am afraid of getting this life / wrong / a thick-

rimmed fence / coins settled in a drawer for food / eat half
a lemon and you’ll feel fine / i promise

in the dictionary / the nêhiyawêwin word
mahtakoskacikew / translates to / s/he settles or lays
on top of everything / i’ll tell you a story / i stained my

hands as a kid in the backyard where i grew / peeling open
walnut shells / trying to find the part i could eat

at sixteen / i scaled the green water tower / settled at the
top for a better view / dreamt mother wasn’t young /
driving a VW van cushioned with gas / hands on the wheel

/ wearing fire / she was / and i wanted to believe

from the ground up / growing / i never learned the
hul’q’umi’num’ name for the place i lived till i was gone /
there are earned stories / names you don’t share / i once

slipped into the bay / cracked my feet on dock barnacles
and bled / i wanted so many ways / to settle / our hearts

/ a window / a plot / a piece of land we wanted to call our
own but was / not ours to name

Vancouver-based poet and editor Selina Boan’s full-length debut is Undoing Hours (Gibsons BC: Nightwood Editions, 2021), a collection of lyrics on the intimate, the small and the immediate, writing on the “ways we undo, inherit, reclaim and (re)learn. Having grown up disconnected from her father’s family and community, Boan turns to language as one way to challenge the impact of assimilation politics and colonization on her own being and on the landscape she inhabits.” Writing in a blend of prose poems and traditional lyrics, often within the same poems, Boan’s phrases and sentences are exploratory, working to cover the ground of what she knows and remembers, attempting to work her way into what she wishes to discover and connect into, and just how much she might not realize she has already absorbed. As she writes to open the poem “my mother’s oracle card said”: “the answer is simple. take your mess, / bless it and start over.” There is a rawness to these poems; a vulnerability, writing carefully and openly, as best as possible, to reap whatever benefit might be possible. “i’ll admit,” she writes, as part of the poem “email drafts to nohtâwiy,” “i’ve been afraid to write. so here is my deflection, for / everyone to read.”

As part of an interview conducted around the National Magazine Awards, posted January 2018, Boan discusses the manuscript, which was still very much a work-in-progress: “In my work, I keep returning to and circling ideas around identity, around settler responsibility, around womanhood, and language learning.”

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