From The War Years by Samuel Mercier

Part Two: Rivière-du-Loup in the Dust of Kandahar

some years later
I still haven’t forgotten the smell
of the cafeteria

in the high school hall
the recruiters had placed
brochures on a table

once night had fallen
the names of the dead soldiers
were recited
at Hockey Night in Canada

I remember having seen the recruiters again
in the parking lot of the shopping mall

and having considered throwing
a snowball at them

I didn’t end up doing it


the corporal Martin Dubé
came from Fossambault
like the poet
who died going up river

there is no point
in waking the dead

whether they were famous
or they were blown up
not far from Kandahar

yet I have the memory of happy wars
and of their statues in parks
as proud
as Saint-Denys Garneau
laid down in the middle of his field

I would like it to have been
in the middle of a field

his gaze turned up to the sky
like the national poets
know how to do

when their bodies marry
the native land

of which we are gently aware
like the brightness of telefilms


A city, a city like any other
with its shopping mall, its Tim Hortons,
its McDonald’s, its Dixie Lee, its Walmart,
its pots of begonias in the center of boulevards
a few schools, some green spaces, an empty skating rink,
policemen, firemen, postmen,
a hospital, a town hall, a town like any other
with a main street
its regulars at the bar
some sidewalks, a few old garages
and a bridge to jump off


they had built a city on a swamp
knowing that one day it would end by sinking
Pompei of sheds and above-ground pools

along the railway there is a place
where children lie down on the rails
to feel the shuddering of the train

the neighbor drank all the nail polish remover
and wrote her last letter

in a courtyard, a bastard dog
gnaws at the rings of his chain

an owl screeches
the neighbor wakes up in a frenzy
of veins and arteries

creased paper and creaking blinds
the shadow is there at the top of the larch

the cat should not have been let outside


in the motor
of the mowers

memories melt away
like urinal cakes

they built a mini putt
on the Indian cemetery

before the lawns
there were beaten paths
from many footsteps

your eyes had the color
of all the railroads
your fingers sank in
like barbed wire
on the prairie

but our ability to forget buries everything
even death

thus what remains
is only the vague anguish of a golfer
before the totems


even if they were let loose on us,
the dogs of torment
we would have to go to
the far corners
of savagery

through order we have found
the millennial shoreline in order to see
what others had seen
and sea spray that sticks to clothing
like a second skin

on the cliff they had painted
the face of an Indian chief
and lying next to trailers
a giant resin bear statue

he watched over the campers
so that they keep memories
beautiful as the twilight
of leaflets


they lived sheltered from bombs
in the basements

without thinking of rationing
nor of the lineups growing
in front of the new hardware store

the darkness of curfew
was cradled by the glow of cable channels
before which they made dreams

of pieces of flesh
glimpsed through
scrambled porn


in the foreground of fallen geese hunters pose
with their eyes scintillating like the dress of a graduate

the fanfare still echoes
but we have forgotten where the border is
Hadrien builds his wall in front of the shopping mall fountain
that smells of chlorine and rusted pennies

in the dead gazes we read only what we can invent
large sail boats and endless tundra
or the steps of legions at the limits of the empire
crisscrossing the beauty extended
on the yellowed October lawn

although Rome burned for millennia
its ashes are the still-warm color of blood
that flows between the eyelid and the bench of white feathers


they almost escaped
there, where the river and the wind break the ice floor
to make them look like the very hands of winter
that will snap in the troughs of the waves

in the distance the smoke of the paper mill
rises toward the plane-streaked sky
in which the stewardesses
gesture toward emergency exits
as if praying

while the air of the shoal
stiffens with flocks of snow buntings
they could believe
just by raising their eyes

they could believe
in spells cast

by the traced-out formula
of intercontinental flights


they will grow older, leaving behind them
that which had basically never been

here the past only exists to be covered

yet her skin had the pallor of ruins
and her nails scratched at the salt
to dig out Carthage

they will grow old
under the benevolent gaze of drones
already far from those days, buried away

without even taking the time
to mourn their dead


the whitish houses on the edges of highways
all have a car that rots
at the back of their badly mowed lawns
an old yellow dog at the end of its chain
and the sound of tires on asphalt
to break their solitude

we finish, perhaps, by getting used to
the weather over time

by convincing ourselves we are seaside
with waves like cars
and sprays of diesel

perhaps also the children
end up making dreams
of cruise ships
of sail boats

dreams of being swept far far away
in the hold
of a freightliner


she had long dreamed of setting fire
to the peatlands surrounding the city
to finally eradicate the light

she was night itself
forgotten by the Lifestyle section of the paper
and the evenings before the flat screen

lost in the idea of cliffs
of which she knew, beautiful like
the explosion of a pressure-cooker
in the middle of a crowd

there is no time to die
when the blood fades
in all the shades of forgetting

the nights pass, the centuries,
but the peat
once set aflame
never goes out


she enclosed herself
in the bathroom
and said I am going to slit my wrists

she did not do it that day

there are still all those stories to tell
from the smell of new books
to the soap powder on the floor
when a student vomited

she had arrived at school
with a flute and an island accent
but that means nothing
to those who haven’t been there

you would have to have seen her
with the color inherent to memories


Samuel Mercier

Samuel Mercier was born in Rivière-du-Loup, Eastern Québec, in 1986. He started publishing poetry online with Poème Sale, and has since been published in Nouveau Projet, ArtPress, Spirale, and elsewhere. He holds a BA in literature from Université de Montréal (he also studied at the Sorbonne during his baccalaureate) and an MA in French literature from Université de Montréal, and he is currently finishing a PhD at the UQAM while teaching classes there and at the Ahuntsic Cegep. The War Years, his first collection, was published in 2014 with l’Hexagone.

Virginia Konchan

Virginia Konchan is the author of the chapbook Vox Populi (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and a collection of short stories, Anatomical Gift (Noctuary Press, 2017). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Best New Poets, The Believer, The New Republic, and Boston Review, and her translations, in Asymptote and Circumference. She is co-founder of Matter, a journal of poetry and political commentary, and Associate Editor for Tupelo Quarterly.

Les années de guerre. Copyright (c) Les Éditions de l'Hexagone, 2014. English translation copyright (c) Virginia Konchan, 2017.