Doing the trick by Chris Pannell

by Steven McCabe

totemic one

There’s a breach

in the line, where the soldiers have fallen back

and my mother has fallen back on her bed too

her face out of sight, she can no longer speak.



This opening might do the trick if anyone could muster

the steps to walk through, but

we’re so exhausted, it would be a mercy

to die here and now, be done with palliative care —


totemic four

embrace the rifles, the bayonet

instead of living on a breath, on a breath, on a breath

for tomorrow.


re 2

I pray to her heart, her body’s on/off switch —

as unreachable as my own heart, that pounds in the shadow

of her departure.

wall 9

Skeletal face and meandering hands —

her nose cannot be cleared: her anguish and cancer and dementia

have blurred everything into neverendingness.


God, show me that trick again: how to sleep, how to evade the openings in


how to reclaim the night itself.

wall 4


Leave behind this



pale vase

“All I ever wanted was to do the right kind of work,” said Chris Pannell.  He lives in Hamilton, Ontario. His most recent book is A Nervous City (Wolsak and Wynn, 2013).

totemic two2

This poem does the hard work of grief. I remembered the way Joseph Cornell’s boxes memorialized moments, which led me to work with a grid. I wanted images that felt like markings…solemn.