Brenda Niskala

Brenda Niskala

Brenda Niskala works in the cultural industries in Regina. Most recently, she has published poetry, How to Be a River (Wild Sage Press, 2013) and the linked short story collection For the Love of Strangers (Coteau Books, 2010), which was shortlisted for a Saskatchewan Book Award and top of the votes for the CBC Summer Reading list that year. Niskala has also published a novella, Of All the Ways to Die (Quattro, 2009) and is currently working on her next (well, first) novel, which will introduce the pirating adventures of a Viking ship in about 1065.


Cleansing Breath

It’s the way you take off and land
that matters most.
The flight itself a non-event
unless you hit a storm or
suck in a bird.
Have mechanical failure.
Run out of fuel or suffer
passenger problems. All of which take you
back to the question of how you land:
on an island in the water
in the snow (see how it flurries over
the wings as we bank in).

If there’s a problem in the air
you’d better be clear. No games.
No twisting of intent. As if you are afraid
of rejection. Maybe you are
asking for the right things
in the wrong way. Wheedling
like the unentitled, as if the only way to find money,
friendship, love, oh hell, drugs, booze,
sex and old clothes,
is by trickery.
You will never fly like that.
The sky cannot be conned.
The earth is a final arbiter.

No one deserves or earns the right
to fly. No one flies long by sorcery or charm.
It’s a simple mechanical thing you learn.
The only expectations: the engine will start,
the runway is clear.
Just the facts.

Your need and the guilt you have for needing
wash away as you climb the wing, drop into the cockpit
check the gauges, run the checklist.
You are suddenly beautiful in your focused earnestness
You want this baby to fly.
You want us to take off and land intact.
The engine revs. The pressures check out.
You lift the stick, pull back and up.

Like a deep breath held,
a diaphragm expanding,
it’s the biggest blue
you’ve seen since you were a kid
lying in the grass, face to sky.
And it’s all yours.

  • Brenda Niskala from How to Be a River, Wild Sage Press 2013