smsteele is an award-winning poet/writer
(Scottish International Poetry Award, Short-list Robert Louis Stevenson
Award for Literature, National Library of Scotland/Scottish Arts Council),
member of the Scottish School of Poets, Edinburgh, Banff Writers Studio
2006, and St. Peter's Artist Colony.
"Begin/The Year" is
the opening piece in her novel/collection written in mixed form. The
novel records a year in the lives of the "last peasants,"
the last generation to fully live and work on the land at the turn
of the twenty-first century and examines place, loyalty, family, loss
and ultimately redemption.
smsteele is one of five artists nationwide, and
the first poet, to participate as a war artist in the 2008-2009 Canadian
Forces Artist Program. She has lived and worked on sheep farms on
the west coast of Canada and the isle of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides,
photo of author and her dog Freja, by EJM Speckeen.
In spring fields?
Blank, new rows we harrow,
crush killdeer's nests with machines,
hang dead crows from rafters,
slaughter lame, old, weakened sheep
—this is survival-seed;
we pray-for rain
pace the desiccated earth,
scratch desire between our fingertips
—or for dry,
the opening sky to close again,
defeat the rot that creeps into hearts
with each day, each week, month
that curses crops.
Or does the year begin mid-summer
when cicadas hiss and hay crews
come lusty with bravado, youth
—rowers one year, tall, Olympian, gorgeous
—all strength and beauty
spent in one day, under the weight
of relentless bales?
Or when children sing in the hayloft
shadows, dance halos of dust
we tag, trim, inoculate,
deworm, dip, shear, castrate,
record the crawl of the year
the cloth of our lives waulked,
punctuated with a child born,
a child grown.
Some years good—a
girl child at last,
healthy flock, good weather, good wool;
other years ruthless, misfortune
—half a flock dead,
dogs in fields, lousy crops
We burn a mountain of fleece. End.
Here. Tonight, in the barn. Late
winter when yellow plum
and wild currant blossom,
shearing done, ewes labour
crunch bucketfuls of sweet molasses mash,
the night cold and crammed with stars;
this is where our year begins:
awake late into the night, I lie
beside the sleeping, peaceable man,
a wound clock, my hands
eager, itch to stretch,
to catch, to hold the first
bawling, bloody lamb. Begin.