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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Moving Water; Until Snow or Spring

By: Susan Burns Yao

Moving Water

The trees bow to the river

as if by its movement

they too are moved

(I can't die)

Waters drip and push

and pull their way—

silent and sure

(I am too young)

or rushing and turning,

pushing sand and mud

and leaves

(This is such a surprise)

pulling rocks and trees

and the bodies of

small birds

(I could die)

Fish lay their eggs

beneath the water’s current

and birds of curving

talon reach beneath

the surface to

claim their scaly prize

(I lost my mother)

Reflections of snow, mountain,

sun, cloud, tree

spring and dance

from smooth

surfaces that keep

a tumult below

(I lost her)

But rain and snow


(I have never seen anything like this)

and waves wrap mud

around the rot

of drifted wood

Until Snow or Spring

There has always been the wind,

and trees to sway,

leaves to be swept away

there has always been

a quiet place

away from cold

a nesting space

from which to watch

the swaying trees,

the swirling leaves

the wistful honking

vees, heading

south, departing


but still the swirl

of leaves, their

crisply blushing


to dance

across the streets,

drifts for small

burrowing things

to find temporary

reprieve from


and winds that shake

the trees, branches that

let loose their


they will

fly and leave

the nakedness

of branches until

the grace of

snow or

the sudden

green leap




Susan Burns Yao placed second in the Canadian Authors–Metro Vancouver 2017 Story Contest for her story “The Last Opera”. She was shortlisted for the short fiction contest for “This Magazine” in 2007. She holds a degree in Microbiology from the University of British Columbia, as well as a teaching degree and diploma in Special Education from Simon Fraser University. She has attended the Women’s Writes Workshop at the University of British Columbia. When she is not teaching or being a union activist, she writes short fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry about the strange, absurd and small moments of life. She lives with her family in Ladner, British Columbia.

"The first four lines of Moving Water came to me in the backseat of my father’s car as he, his girlfriend and I drove east from Vancouver to Regina—Queen City of the Prairies! The trees did indeed bow to the river in the mountain-scapes through which we travelled—was it their own worship of the river’s life-giving waters or was it soil erosion from the river’s flow around the trees’ roots? I was nineteen and liked to write the occasional poem or thought into a journal. Fast forward twenty years to 2004: a snowstorm in Vancouver necessitates a drive to the North shore of Vancouver’s Lower Mainland to pick up my mother for Christmas dinner and a mysterious urge to add to my four original lines, a poem begun half a lifetime before. My spouse is driving and I am free to focus on thoughts of water and its force to move.

Was it snow drifts that inspired vital images of water and mud and rot? Having just finished scribbling the words when news breaks on the radio of a tsunami in Indonesia. The lines of Moving Water with words contained in brackets and containing strikethroughs are the words of survivors of that event. Unbracketed lines are the forces of water and land colliding, the push and pull and the effects above and below the interface of water and sky. Natural forces regulate so much of what the living face—drought, flood, fire and death in its many forms. This poem depicts the water cycles we are familiar with as well as the experiences when humans are caught in those cycles. And what part do we play in that eternal cycling of birth and death and rebirth? We are here, for now. Until we too bow our way out.

Until Snow or Spring was written two years ago in the autumn, a month after my daughter totalled her car and walked away with nary a scratch but with some deep tissue issues and a damaged psyche. My own reactions went into my rage rant diary: Never have I been so scared of losing someone precious to me as at that moment. I am still feeling resonating waves of it two days later and keep returning to that feeling of that feeling. I feel like I have just come through a long illness. There has always been the wind, and the natural world that is the antidote to our own personal griefs and challenges. This piece is about refuge and shelter, and the great shake of the seasons that take us to the next thing and whatever comes after that."


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