Two Poems from The Burden of Gravity

In her debut collection of poetry, The Burden of Gravity (Caitlin Press), Shannon McConnell takes an in-depth look at New Westminster’s Woodlands School, a former “lunatic asylum” opened in 1878 which later became a custodial training school for children with disabilities before its closure in 1996. McConnell recalls a dark time in BC’s history to give poetic voice to the many forgotten residents of the infamous Woodlands School and challenges us to consider how we, in the aftermath of deinstitutionalization, choose to remember troubling and erased histories. Read on for two poems from McConnell’s collection — “The Burden of Gravity” and “Miss Taylor.”


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Two poems from The Burden of Gravity 

The Burden of Gravity
From behind the pane
of his ward, Paul watches
a colony of seagulls glide
up from the Fraser. Their mocking
scatters. Paul longs
to detach from the burden
of gravity, hollow his bones,
sprout dark feathers all over
his smooth adolescent skin.
He’s eager to join
the other birds on the green
sun-bleached shingles outside
his window; silent
and crouching between
folded wings, waiting
for freedom’s lifting breath.
 Miss Taylor 
The hot lights of Hollywood don’t
shine in these halls. Elizabeth insists
the nurses call her Miss Taylor. She
makes them coffee, always takes hers 
black. Red stains pressed
against the lip of her mug. They don’t 
know where she gets the lipstick. She won’t speak
of the trail of men she’s left scattered
along the coast nor the films
her face has graced. No, she won’t
bore the nurses with Hollywood
gossip. They prefer their balding husbands
and afternoon soaps to illuminated marquees.
She tells the nurses that she’s shaken
out the names of past lovers,
lurking in her hair. She’s grown
tired of the big screen, no longer wants
scripted words in her mouth. Her own 
are stronger proof than in the drinks sipped
with Hudson or Dean. She hears the nurses
behind half-closed doors share
that Miss Taylor has a face only
the blind would pay to see. She brushes the wrinkles
from her dingy black dress, adjusts her fading pearls,
she’s never been one to give a damn.

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Shannon McConnell
is a writer, educator and musician originally from Vancouver, BC. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in untetheredThe Fieldstone Review, Louden SingletreeIn Medias ResRat’s Ass ReviewThe Anti-Languorous Project, and more. She holds degrees in English Literature and Education from the University of the Fraser Valley and Simon Fraser University, respectively, and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan’s MFA in Writing program. In 2018, she won second place for the John V. Hicks Long Manuscript Award for Poetry. She is completing an MA in History at the University of Saskatchewan. Shannon previously lived in Saskatoon, SK, and now resides in Kingston, ON. The Burden of Gravity (Caitlin Press, 2020) is her debut collection.

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Thanks to Shannon for sharing two poems from her debut collection The Burden of Gravity with us, and to Monica at Caitlin Press for connecting us! For more poetry samplings,  click here.