Richard Sanger

Funeral Home


(shortlisted for the 2015 Montreal International Prize)

Across the street from the hospital,
so obvious and faux-respectable
we paddle right by it, like a frog
on a lily-pad, biding its time,
waiting for flies, for us, the funeral home–
that’s right, just across from the hospital,
and the paramedics and the hardcore cases
dragging their drip-trolleys out
to sneak a sad, defiant puff.
Just going in for a spell, we thought,
a night or two to get our counts back up
before winter, and our energy,
but some of us, well, never step back
through those revolving doors again.
We end up down a different corridor
dealing with another order of business:
Imagine the owner going in to discuss
his start-up loan, the site picked,
glossy business plan in a binder,
the phrases he chose to pitch it
–steady earner, constant influx–
and the bank manager, nodding, nodding,
lunch coming up, some old friend
who’s been sick, say, she stands up,
ignoring the fat package, all that work
this guy did, the surplus apostrophes buzzing
around his laborious words,
ushering him out, yes, already decided, yes,
with a hand that might be shooing a fly away.
Then months later, it’s summer,
a cruel twist, sudden choices
to be made, and here she is, a new customer.

Paper Boy


To the family home’s warm flannel and snow
Spilling cold from my windowsill, I woke—
To work, to the pre-dawn January dark
And the dark felt liners of boots
I planted on fresh snow-paved sidewalks,
To trek trudging to the bundle my numb digits
Struggled to untie and then deliver,
Block after block, to each sleeping house,
Bringing the Glebe the Globe, its sorrows and joys
Through the slowly brightening streets,
And the names of all the places the news came from,
Places I would, years later, go and call home
And, one nameless morning, in some great café,
Think of the day I might return,
Arriving with a thud on the untrodden porch,
In words, in print, in the paper I had still to read.




from Calling Home

Madonna of the New World


God the Father has skipped town
And left them, homeless and frozen,
Two figures caught in the family snap,
Immigrants to a cold zone.
They could be waiting on the doorstep,
Passports in hand, him in swaddling clothes.

She’ll never really learn English.
He’ll go to school and work on Sunday
And the background will darken with varnish,
The shadows growing in Umbria
As the sun coasts above the yard in which
He hurls a lunch-hour snowball.

But the target here is him, his face turned
To face us, vacant as a goldfish.
Beware, though, that arm raised to prime
Her breast, the fingers
That can’t quite grasp the point
Of such bounty, such emptiness.

from Shadow Cabinet (1996)