Mary Trafford | BORDER CROSSINGS, 2nd Place Winner of the 2020 Vallum Award for Poetry



Crossing the border used to be fun, sort of,
hide & seek, little white lies, us trying not to
laugh, Mum swatting us from the front seat,
crossing from rural Maine back to
rural New Brunswick, the Presque Isle River
barely a creek alongside the one-hut
customs office: it was all small-potatoes.

Mum once hid an entire dress
in her purse, the border guard asking,
Do you always carry a dress in your purse?
and she gave him that look we all knew,
that steady, firm gaze, said, Yes.
He backed up a step, as if chastened,
then waved us through.

Dad always declared his quota of liquor,
except for that one hidden in the trunk,
desperate to hustle those bottles across,
save the precious cents he so coveted
every day, all life long, insistent he
do all the talking, joshing the border guard
as if they were old friends, then waved
on through: satisfied, even smug.

Those were lighter days, no nine-eleven
to cloud our judgment, make almost anyone
suspect, not being white the crossover crime.
We did not yet know, being white, how
smuggling a dress, being black,
could cost so much,
how hiding liquor, being black,
could mean jail or worse.
We know now, as TV news flashes
its pornography of exclusion,
its ranking of humanity, placing
brown children in chain-link cages, their
mamá and papá God knows where,
residue of FOX News, bad politics,
of simply being brown in an alt-white world.


Author’s Bio

Mary Trafford is a retired speech writer and medical illustrator, and longtime riding instructor. Her poetry has appeared in several publications, including Contemporary Verse 2, Arc—Canada’s National Poetry Magazine, Canadian Woman Studies, Corinthian Horse Sport magazine, Feminist Flavours, Gone Dogs—ales of Dogs We’ve Loved, (muse) Letters, “Verdant,” a 2020 anthology from Truth Serum Press in Australia, and several charity-fundraising chapbook projects. A recipient of Arc Magazine’s inaugural Diana Brebner Prize, Mary lives with her partner in Chelsea, Quebec.