Signs of Subversive Innocents

Signs of Subversive Innocents



About the book

Signs of Subversive Innocents travels the depth of human experience from the celebratory to the delusional. This debut collection by Cora Siré tells of characters and realms, both distant and familiar, with vibrant intensity and lyricism. The poems speak of physical and metaphysical signs—omens, gestures, creations, and other markings or traces of human existence—and the impulse to subvert destiny, the tension between actuality and desire that underlies beauty, terror, desperation, and triumph. Uniquely structured around a quartet set in an abandoned marble quarry, the poems resonate for their ingenuity and range while evoking the search for connection in a complex world.

About the author

Siré, Cora

Cora Siré writes poetry, essays and fiction. Her poems have appeared in Descant, the Literary Review of Canada, The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2009 (Tightrope Books) and Sus huellas son letras (Éditions Alondras, 2011). Born in Canada, she often writes of elsewheres, both real and imaginary, drawing on her encounters in realms ranging from Argentina to Vietnam and her family’s history of displacement. She lives in Montréal.


Before Leaving Hué

On the Thien Mu Pagoda sacred grounds
a young monk sits in the frangipani shade
where songbirds harmonize the afternoon’s
intense humidity. And stirring from
his meditative trance, he addresses me,
his voice a gong’s lingering vibration
his English soft yet penetrating,
“You must visit Thúy before you leave Hué.”

I’m walking to the relic on display
a rusting blue car driven by the monk
who set himself on fire in ’63.
Tomorrow’s my last day in this city
devoted to its poets, their verses
woven into conical hats that shield
the scars of mines and agent orange.
I follow the bleached path back to the piers
to board a blue and yellow dragon boat
as sunset streaks the Perfume River sky.
The boatman steers through swirling currents
then cuts the motor to save gas.  We float
with purpose, direction, but in no rush.
He docks, I rise to disembark and pay.
Ten thousand sorrows map the boatman’s eyes.
“Please visit Thúy,” he says, “before leaving Hué.”

I savour my last night’s meal in Hué
seated on wicker by riverside lights,
not a pinch of the vague in the chillies,
turmeric, fish sauce, roasted cashews
balanced by sweet, potent café glacé.
An ancient woman, frail yet dignified
in her white silk ao dai, slips me Thúy’s card
with a whisper, “Il faut la visiter.”

Under the hammer of Hué’s morning sun
my xich lo driver pedals the labyrinth
of streets and alleys, past shaded shops
where raw silks hang inert, dazed by the heat.
We swerve and skid on tracks of pebbled ruts
and I gesture, “Let me walk the rest” but
he cycles on, eyes glazed, body bent by
psychic will that I visit Thúy today.

I find her inside a one-room shelter
seated in a dome of lemony sun
shafting sideways through a paneless window.
In a slow-motioned circle around her
women prepare palm leaves, cut threads and twill,
smooth back loosened strands of her fine black hair.
I’m seated on a stool in the corner
as if awaited by Thúy on my last day
as if she understands that all of Hué
has sent me here to witness the making
of a poem, a sacred act in this land
where suffering spans centuries of stanzas.
She bows over the work between her feet,
images and words cut from black paper.
Among layers of translucent palm leaves
Thúy weaves her cosmos, weightless yet concrete.

Hours of sweat before she’s satisfied
and the poem is offered into sunlight
revealing silhouettes of lovers lost,
songbirds and a riverside pagoda,
six lines of verse in Vietnamese.
She points with her one handless arm
at the embedded name I won’t forget,
Thúy, the poet I met before leaving Hué.


Cora Siré well expresses the chosen journey into the unknown of current Canadian poetry. Her work takes us on a descent into reality with its inevitable dread and then rewards us with the lift, an exhilarating release that surprises and… >>

— A.F. Moritz, author of The Sentinel

The work in Cora Siré's debut collection exhibits an impressive range geographically, emotionally, formally, and acoustically. Consider the lushness and richness of such poems as 'Her Human Voice,' 'Étapes (décembre,' 'Reprise,' and 'Before Leaving Hué.' >>

— Steven Heighton, author of The Ecstasy of Skeptics

Cora Siré’s outstanding debut has material for several books. Her subjects include travel, exile, geology, works of art, and Latin American history. The travel poems are not quick tourist snapshots: she has an impressive knowledge of Vietnam, and her poems about… >>

— Bert Almon Montreal Review of Books

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