At Midnight Talks Fail
And here we are: herded into a ragged string
burdened with signs, wrapped in scarves
against sunrise cold. They chivvy at our heels,
bark us into motion—colleagues, familiar
from a morning hello, a shuffle of paper,
are suddenly strange, imbued with command.
I thought they were sheep like the rest of us shufflers,
but, heated by conflict, they’ve shrugged off wool,
become dogs or mules who snap at intruders,
nip us into strength.
And we, are we still sheep for the shearing?
I glance at the tower where I stabled for so long,
at the stall where I nosed and snuffled for hours
clocked by the tick in a well-lit box.
Beside me, my fellows lift their heads
to scan the horizon, breathe the air.
Cut off from feed, barred from warmth,
we’ve pulled on coats over shorn shoulders,
jumped the fence. Here, on the loose,
the sky is our cover, legs our heat.
The wind grabs my sign.
I leap to hold on, leap like a goat
kicking its heels
at the arc of the sun.
Susan McMaster’s “At Midnight Talks Fail” was published in issue 68 of the minnesota review as one of the winners of the “Being at Work” Poetry Challenge. Since “At Midnight Talks Fail” was published in 2006, McMaster has published two books, Crossing Arcs: Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me (Black Moss 2010), which was a finalist for the 2010 Acorn-Plantos People’s Poetry Award, the Ottawa Book Awards, and the Archibald Lampman Poetry Award and Paper Affair: Poems Selected & New (Black Moss 2010), and was included in the anthology Pith and Wry: Canadian Poetry (Scrivener Press 2010). McMaster is also the Past President of the League of Canadian Poets and the founding editor of Canada’s first feminist magazine, Branching Out.