Spotlight series #98 : Kim Fahner

rob mclennan
5 min readJun 3, 2024


Curated by Canadian writer, editor and publisher rob mclennan, the “spotlight” series appears the first Monday of every month.


I’ve been a fan of Nick Cave’s music for a long time, but I hadn’t read this particular book. My friend Tara is one of the few people I know who reads as much and as feverishly as I do, so we have been exchanging books over the last year or two. She let me borrow this book and I was totally drawn into Cave’s imagery. The image of the little girl appears and reappears throughout it, and she wouldn’t leave my mind, so that was the impetus for me writing “Ode to Nick Cave’s The Sick Bag Song,” I love what Cave is getting at, in terms of how it feels to live in the world as a creative, how it can feel oppressive and sterile. I’m fascinated by the creative process, and by how creatives interact — and create! — in a world that doesn’t always properly respect or value their work. The dissonance is something I think about a lot.


The poem “None of this had to happen” is written in the style of Jane HIrshfield’s poem, “Day Beginning with Seeing the International Space Station and a Full Moon Over the Gulf of Mexico and All Its Invisible Fishes.” I recently took an online poetry course with Victoria-based poet, Yvonne Blomer, and we studied Hirshfield’s work. This piece, borrowing Hirshfield’s first line as a title and following in the style of her poem, emerged from that class in April. I also wanted to play with a poetic structure that was made to make the reader feel breathless when they read the poem out loud — to feel the intensity of the layering of images of things that aren’t comfortable — so I experimented with punctuation, enjambment, and line length quite a bit.


Ode to Nick Cave’s The Sick Bag Song
(for Tara)

There’s a boy who is not what he seems —
but, rather, who is just the blurred-out memory of a boy.
He has grown up to be a man haunted
by the image of a little girl in a star-spangled
mini-skirt — one who hangs out, prophetic and bohemian,
on the too narrow lips and tall edges of grey concrete bridges
that overlook highways, rivers, and ravines all across North America.

There are angels who meet the man on the highway
outside of Nashville, urging him to take
the first step alone — to write down the words,
then sing the song. Tom Waits wanders in
without warning, growls out whiskey-soaked lyrics
that immigrate to the east coast of Newfoundland;
some fortunate ones serenade seals and icebergs in early June,
knowing dissolution is a part of this grand equation.

It doesn’t measure out — how we gather, gain, and lose
places, people, memories. And time. The equation bends,
breaks under pressure. Try to do the math. Count out loud:
there are the nine Muses, and then nine choruses of angels,
and the disposable pen that runs out of ink when least expected.
There’s the North Saskatchewan River, running through Edmonton,
and the singer sits on its glacial bank, seeing the ghost girl
in a star-spangled skirt again, the very one who is always perched,
a bird about to fly, on the sharp and unforgiving edge of a high bridge
that peers down — all concrete certain — into icy cold waters.

That man, he writes down some words, then makes them into a new song.
Remembers sitting on the downcast banks of the Detroit River,
seeing that same girl on yet another too tall bridge,
thinking about how those ordinary angels, along with loneliness
and loss, arrive even when not summoned. They are always drenched
in Budweiser, tarnished haloes and wings wreathed by clouds
of stale, outdated cigarette smoke. Just outside the battered front door
of a downtown Detroit dive bar, checking their wristwatches,
crushing butts under their boots, and waiting impatiently
for that one promised clarion call that never really
comes down from an apocalyptic Michigan sky.

(The italicized phrases in this poem come from Nick Cave’s The Sick Bag Song.)

None of this had to happen
(after Jane Hirshfield)

Not the eclipse, or the Kodachrome aurora borealis
that could best be seen through a cell phone camera,
or the 9 a.m. lineup at the methadone clinic downtown,
or the field of crosses at the intersection near the theatre
that marks the number of opioid overdoses in a mining town,
or the etched high-water mark on the black rocks edging the shores
of Lake Nipissing’s narrows, or the envelope left haphazardly
in the mailbox without a stamp or return address written on it,
or the neighbour’s attempt to return an abandoned robin’s egg —
pale blue and incredible — to a spring nest that can’t be found
in an overgrown cedar hedge, or the ghost of the one-legged crow
that still haunts the place where a melting snowbank once cradled
its jet-black wings back in March, or the squirrel scratching madly
under the bedroom extension at 1 a.m. on rainy nights in late April,
or the insomnia that denies satisfaction when the overstuffed pillow
only wants to seduce the sleeper, or the melting of polar ice caps,
or the wildfires that smoke out whole cities thousands of kilometers
south of their origin, or the genocide in Gaza, or the kid who is a tsunami inside
because schizophrenia doesn’t play fair, or the knife in your back
that you can’t reach around to pull out, or the end of the world as we know it.
This did not have to happen. No part of this had to happen.

(The poem was inspired by Jane Hirshfield’s poem, “Day Beginning with Seeing the International Space Station and a Full Moon Over the Gulf of Mexico and All Its Invisible Fishes.” The title, and the italicized lines, are from Hirshfield’s poem).

Kim Fahner lives and writes in Sudbury, Ontario. Her two most recent collections of poetry are Emptying the Ocean (Frontenac House, 2022) and Fault Lines and Shatter Cones (Emergency Flash Mob Press, 2023). Her next poetry collection, The Pollination Field (Turnstone Press) will be published in Spring 2025. Kim’s first novel, The Donoghue Girl, is being published by Latitude 46 in Fall 2024. Kim is the First Vice-Chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada (2023–25) and can be reached via her website at