Mercury Dangerous – The Quicksilver Wit & Click of Micheline Maylor


Canadian Poet Micheline Maylor

Canadian Poet Micheline Maylor

What I would give to you

are secrets told in textiles,
pillows for your sofa made of clothing
slid from my body on sultry afternoons.
Are you thinking now of hands and buttons?

Are you thinking of Fridays?
These are impractical gifts now that you are alone.
A roaster oven would serve you better
than some erotic reminder of me
fashioned of gold silk, and piped with lace
propped in your living room.

This is the thing I now want to do with my fingers
as idle as they have become
without the thread of us, without the needle.

Michelene Maylor from WHIRR & CLICK, Frontenac House Poetry, 2013

For many years I have enjoyed being part of a tribe of poets whom I have met through Patrick Lane’s retreats held on Bowen Island, and on Vancouver Island near Sooke and at Honeymoon Bay on Lake Cowichan. There is nothing like having to write six poems in three days to create life-long friendships! It takes a certain kind of person to enjoy or should I say, endure (sometimes) that pressure.

One of the poets I have met through these retreats is Micheline Maylor, a self-described “certified poetry fanatic”. It makes sense: she is editor of FreeFall literary magazine, teaches literature and writing at Mount Royal University in Calgary and has published a poetry chapbook and two full length poetry collections including WHIRR & CLICK in 2013 which was nominated for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. These are all reasons why I take serious note of Michelene Maylor but it is an unforgettable line of poetry written at that Patrick Lane retreat that has engraved Maylor permanently in my memory: Rabbit, you fucker... Don’t let the obscenity throw you off. It has at its heart an existential complaint that echoes through her poems. Gives them such resonance and bite.

Here is Part 1 of a subsequent version of that poem I first heard in Honeymoon Bay:

from Rabbit


Rabbit, you fucker, comets past view
snuffles for dandelions
dog frenzies at window
barks and barks me out
from remembering your nipples
that blue night when you taught me
to love myself again.

Micheline Maylor, ibid

Who the heck is Rabbit. Surely not the poor creature Maylor might have spied on the grounds of Honeymoon Bay. In her poem he becomes this mysterious presence of some other that stands in for a god that she can lash with her words in Part II: …I’d like to think/ he is a mistake./I’d like to think/ he wasn’t meant to be here,/ there is no underlying order in the universe. In Part III the narrator says: Rabbit, you fucker, I have a faulty Shaman/and you’re no spirit animal.…yet by the time the poem ends I don’t believe her. Rabbit seems to have become some confidant, a comfort, someone other she can question with unexpected shyness:


No mistake that blue night
when all the people disappeared
into the trees, left us alone,
all the words whirr,
wings at our fingertips.
Rabbit, were you there? Did you see
love being born in me
one wing at a time.

Micheline Maylor, ibid

Maylor has a fierce intelligence in her poems combined with what I can only call a slow eros that charges her images and make her poems seem saturated with more colour, more intensity. At times the intensity becomes deliciously overpowering as in her sestina Mercury which has been made into a video poem. To see the video please Click here. Here’s the print version:


When Rob said, look at this,
he snapped a glass thermometer.
Mercury bled into his hand
while downstairs adults chattered.

He snapped a glass thermometer.
Ebb and flow in laughter
while downstairs adults chattered,
he whispered, quicksilver.

Ebb and flow in laughter,
down his heart-line, up his life-line,
he whispered, quicksilver
until his hot fingers tipped the ball

down his heart-line, up his life-line
into my palm and I felt it slide
until his hot fingers tipped the ball
down my life-line, up my heart-line

into my palm and I felt it slide.
It’s poisonous, you know.
Down my life-line, up my heart-line.
Get it in your mouth and it can kill you

it’s poisonous you know.
Then he darted his tongue
Get it in your mouth and it can kill you.
He tasted his skin where the mercury had been,

then he darted his tongue
his eyes moving from mine.
I tasted my skin where the mercury had been.
I let the ball roll into a pop-bottle cap

his eyes never moving from mine
did the same with my own tongue.
I let the ball roll into the bottle cap
in my own hand.

I did the same with my own tongue.
Certain death never came
at my own hand.
He and I. eye to eye

certain death never came
in the bedroom.
He and I, eye to eye,
my first dangerous man.

Michelene Maylor, ibid

The music and motion in this poem is exemplary. She captures a driving musical beat I associate with poets south of the border such as Tim Seibles and Patrick Rosal. There is a hypnotic rhythm to this poem with the echoes the sestina brings and she accentuates by adding similar lines that get repeated again. The poem with its rhythms feels like a one dangerous dance. So many ominous overtones Maylor captures in this most scarily atmospheric poem! A love dance with a dangerous difference.

Over the years I have talked a lot about the particular quality of paying attention that defines a great poet. Using expressions of this from other poets I have called it variously seeing with unusual eyes (John O’Donohue), or have posed it as a question: what eye is wide enough (Greg Orr). Mary Oliver adds a lovely nuance to this idea of paying attention when she says: Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report.

Maylor in her poem Apology to Water captures this idea of paying attention so beautifully. Her poem is no mere report:

Apology to Water

The last day of summer, already distracted, I stood
in the lake, thought about September, assignments,
the new semester, thought of India, somewhere else,
becoming Lakshmi. Twenty-fingered wanting.
My toe skimmed the lake. Absentminded.
The sun already legendary above.

I want to apologise to you, ripple,
you were yielding when my lack of presence was offensive.
My violating foot ignoring your unforgettable touch.
I want you to know, I am sorry I did not bend
reverent to you, goddess of the element.

And if you let me back into you,
all attention will be on the wet, slow slosh of the swim,
the lap of your exhale will be all I hear. Your
ever changing skin, all I see.

I promise to remember you on my way out of here,
on the day I die.
And when I am crisped to the bone will you welcome me then?

My ashy bag.
                          I will come again to beg forgiveness.
I will be present,
                               all of me,
cinder and soot,
                                   my  sorry, sorry,
                                                                 dead, dead tongue.

Micheline Maylor, ibid

So many notable moments in this poem for me but especially this: I want to apologise to you, ripple. A simple enough line but with concussive impact. All that we ignore. What happens if we apologise to it? Then the Mary Oliver feeling enters at once! Today in a family program at a recovery center I used this line as a prompt. Well, the things apologized to: a Bose speaker, an eraser, a piano, a pebble, a cedar tree, a silver necklace with a blue stone, a maple blossom and many more. The poems astonished me in their freshness and their double-wide seeing. Thank you Micheline.

The poem’s end has such a cadence. Such sonic impact. Just read it a few times. The stresses, impeccable. And what a line: My ashy bag. Unexpected. Fresh. Vintage Maylor. This woman’s tongue is anything but dead.

And my happy, happy,
attentive, attentive ears.






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