M.J. Oliver

Slaughtered by Mistake & The Homecoming 1935
January 24, 2019 Oliver M.J.

Slaughtered By Mistake


The huntsman, having no need of me

leaves me lying on my back, staring at the sky.


My silent belly slit open

I smell entrails spilling out of me

blood leaking into the grass

shit dissolving into the earth.

As my cough’s last echo

fades into the night

I hear a scream hurl itself

out of my wolf’s clothing.

The smooth form of a naked woman

steps out of me

tall, black and stinking

of anger.





The Homecoming 1935


I get back to Saskatoon with $80 in my pocket for Lizbietta but she is dead, it’s 40 degrees, the curtains are drawn, she died five days ago, Valentyna tells me, we buried her by the river, tuberculosis, post-partum haemorrhage, I don’t know, I don’t know, but bleeding, unstoppable bleeding, Valentyna’s sobbing, I shake her, she falls to the floor, I pull her to her feet, the baby, she says, they put the baby in an orphanage, they say you can’t see her because you’re of no fixed abode, I’m running, Valentyna follows me, down Queen Street, to the Bethany Home for Unmarried Girls and Illegitimate Babies, I hammer on the fortified door, women in uniform push me down the steps, slam doors, yank bolts, I break a window, blood and glass, I’m handcuffed, in the North Battleford Hospital for the Insane, in a strait-jacket, my mouth so dry I can’t speak, Viktor arrives, I weep, come on Jim, he says, don’t die in a lunatic asylum for Christ’s sake, for her sake, would she want you to die in this hell-hole? come on, Valentyna told me to tell you that when the baby’s older, we can adopt her, come back with me, Jim, we’ll go east, we’ll get mining work, if you can only pull yourself together, the barbiturates wiping me out, he asks a nurse, can’t he be discharged, no, he’s a danger to himself and others, to be detained indefinitely, Viktor sits on my bed, holy smoke, Jim, he says, I won’t be able to come again, you’ll have to get yourself out this shit-hole, he puts a packet on my chest, you’ll want this, he says, look after it son, just get out of here quick as you can, he’s gone, I sleep, wake up, the packet, still lying on my chest, Jesus, it’s Lizbietta’s diary, I focus, I read, I’m sane, I creep round the ward past patients sleeping two to a bed, too comatose to care, I steal a pair of trousers from one, a jacket from another, but there are no shoes, I escape through a back window before dawn, the night’s warm, I’m free, walk barefoot to the train-station, hide in a tunnel till dark, hoist myself up onto a long-distance boxcar slowly passing through, swallow a handful of pills, wake up, a day, two days later, sprawled in a siding, beaten up by bulls, can’t stand, can’t open my eyes, holes in my mouth where my teeth should be, can’t remember, Toronto Jail vagrancy, Toronto Jail drunk, August, September, October, November, I don’t know, one night, so cold, in a restaurant, pork tenderloins, a bottle of wine, I tell the waiter, call the police, I can’t pay, instead, he calls an ambulance, I wake up, find myself here

M.J. Oliver’s background is in the visual arts but for ten years she has concentrated on writing.

During this time she has been working on a memoir which is being published by Seren Books, UK, in September 2019: ‘Jim Neat, The Case of a Young Man Down on His Luck’ – a long narrative poem about a Hobo in Canada during the Great Depression.

Her poems have appeared in many periodicals and anthologies in UK and US. Competitions won include those judged by Paul Muldoon and Ruth Padel.

She edits Piccolina, a Poetry Newsletter promoting live-poetry events in Cornwall, UK and is currently running a reading group which enjoys tackling the poetry of Anne Carson.