The First Step

The First Step



About the book

"Strangely secret!
They will last longer than our oblivion.
They will never know that we have left."
- from "Things" by Jorge Luis Borges

Like one of his heroes, Borges, Michael Pacey is fascinated by the everyday objects which surround us. He evokes the essence of these handy familiars, thus capturing the magic within the fabric of day-to-day experience. The poet looks at these objects from odd angles to first defamiliarize the reader; the objective and the subjective become mutually interpenetrating, there's a reciprocal "opening up" on the part of the poet and his subject. The collection begins by focusing on significant objects in the author's backyard and in his garage: a crowbar, a ladder, a stack of berry boxes, a compost heap, the burrs entangled in his dog's fur. The tour continues inside the house: a pair of gloves, an old pot, an ironing board and medicine cabinet become his muses. Pacey then turns to the tools he uses in his writing room: pen and pencil, eraser, typewriter, drafts, and finally the writer's essential tools — the words he chooses, (including his signature which stamps these words as his own), and magnifies these words to study their component parts — the letters themselves: such as X,Y, and Z, Q, and S, before taking us outside again for a detailed study of the language of honeybees and the iconic character of larks, doves and hummingbirds.

These poems seamlessly combine realistic narrative and description with fantasy and imaginative projection. Ordinary places and activities become magically and exhilaratingly strange, revealing depths in the dailiness often taken to be flat or dull. Connections are made between the ordinary and art, between painstaking work and insight.

About the author

Pacey, Michael

Michael Pacey was born in Fredericton. He received his BA and BEd from the University of New Brunswick, his MFA, MA and PhD from the University of British Columbia. Pacey’s first full-length collection of poetry, The First Step, was published by Signature Editions in 2011. His work has appeared in more than twenty literary magazines, including The Malahat ReviewThe New Quarterly, Exile, Prairie Fire, and Descant. He has also published a chapbook (Anonymous Mesdemoiselles, 1972), and a children’s book (The Birds of Christmas, 1987). He was editor of Prism International and has taught at UBC and Lakehead University.



Conceived, 6th C: scribes
cutting corners, wind d round
a for ad  (L: at, towards).

Version b: born in 16th C
Venetian counting houses
short for amphora (a measuring device).

Lingered on, in bookkeepers’
ledgers: at the rate of.
Like hidden interest.

Then, ’71; re-conceived as hub
or pivot in first e-mail address
(between user ID & PC).  
Now, supernova.

With no global name:  France & Italy
call it the snail;  Norwegians, pig’s tail;
Germans, monkey’s tail;
Chinese, little mouse.
A dog in Russia,
Finns see a sleeping cat.

All focus on at; the fixed, at rest,
self-nested aspect; its new mode,
myth, needs more towards:
a head with arrow whirling out,
the lightning thoughts of a god; that spark,
that whoosh of a message successfully sent—
what else can @ be called but apollo?


For several years, more and
more mourning doves have appeared
in this widows’ neighbourhood
softening the air with their feathery keening,
the heartbeat of their heathery wings.

So now, although the broken consonants
of starlings and grackles still tick and take off
the slow hours of the afternoon—
still call out the widows’ names:
“Mrs Balch…Mrs Pritchard…
Mrs. Colson…Mrs. Pacey…”
at dawn, and twilight, murmur
vowels of grieving, their forever song:
“You…You;  You…You.”


A pair rises from the rowanberries
each evening as I walk
along the shining railway tracks;
disturbed from the bright red berries,
they yawl off in a circle
return to the bush when I’ve passed.

Always this pair;
me alone, thoughts of you.


They always pass through this time of year,
when haws and chokecherries are ripe;
small flocks stripping fruit
from the trees, passing it beak
to beak along the branches for
the last to eat, a trick picked up long ago
by fans at Fenway.
(And passed along, ballpark to ballpark.)

I always assumed you were named for Icarus,
the boy with wings of wax—
say, in a lesser-known version, he didn’t drown, but
was spared just before striking the waves,
turned into a small brown bird.  Sentenced
by the sun to endless earthbound flights
in search of food.
Reborn, like Halcyon and her husband
as kingfishers, or the sisters, Procne
and Philomela, as swallow and nightingale,
just before their cruel murder.
Eyes caught by the bright red drops
of wax on your wingtips, would recall your tale,
read a badge of lost pride.

So you fell a second time, when I found out your name
no allusion to the boy punished by Apollo;
but the colourful wax women used,  
side by side dyeing clothes
hundreds of years ago,
when birds were given today’s names.

Blake says everyone should determine
his own mythology,
“or be imprisoned by another man’s.”
Icarus didn’t die; he was transformed into
a humble bird, hard wax stuck
to his wings, so he’d never again
fly too far from the Earth;
he works his way forever north, pursuing
haws and cherries
a merciful sun slowly ripens.

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