an emergency

a fruitless pursuit –
the attempt to trace a solid line
back to when approval
became an emergency,
when acceptance

meant survival

back to what caused me, at
thirty, to sit in the kitchen of
a man making breakfast, unable to
say poached, scrambled or fried
over the sound of the voice in my head

that said

you
are not worth two eggs
one coffee
this toast

his time

then his puzzled look
as i hopped on one foot
by his frostbitten door
rushing to put on one heel
then the other
apologies tumbling from my
mouth like breath
as the voice said
you’re a joke,

leave faster.

and i recall clearly
the slap of winter air
my bare legs and how silly
the voice said they looked,
the patches of ice on the stoop
and the voice as i took each step:
you will fall
you will fall

you will fall

i went home and said to the empty room
the voice is company enough
the voice is familiar

the voice is home

at thirty i turned to greet myself,
said hello for the first time, while
the voice,
with some urgency,
said no, don’t bother

then i tried for years to discover a map
to find the voice in those who raised me
in old friends
in forgotten lovers
but it sounded like them all

and none of them at once

until someone said
there is no map
there is no memory
there is no point

there is no end

and suddenly

i heard the quiet.

for the longing

still sweetly lost on your own private breeze
the years have stacked themselves one on the other,
forgetting to tell the corners of your eyes
that they’ve done so.

i have solved the mystery,
you told me, of that perpetual
busy signal. your sorrys continue
a decade later;
my enduring standing order.

a night that saw my red flag
drenched by the storm.

dumbfounded when i
rushed to embrace you,
years since that long-gone fountain,
my bicycle guarded by the moon
beneath your hotel,
the most difficult words
forming in my mouth.

i can’t stay.

left you with your boxes of books
and polite secrets;
those we hold hidden
from the ears of our partners.

i should tell you
it wasn’t for the longing.

gladstone

we whittled it down to a sharp point called finished;
procession of bags parading down the stairwell,
plastic swishing, rushed,
last one hurled into the taxi,
and that awful breath i’d held for a year
exhaled in a wave of extra mild king.

the months that followed were slow;
a balloon full of lazy helium, drifting
through june, through july. i’d forget you
then hear your laughter
in the haze of that 3 o’clock sun
the dust flying,
little pieces of our fights lodged in my lungs,
dinner uneaten on the table.

then a new pause in the day,
an absence most welcome.

ears open to the summer;
bells, breath, bars on bank,
endless bicycle path, giant bed,
solitude so fine a wine,
disappeared behind my smile like butter.

it’s late

when you were young
you straightened your collar
fought like a man
sailed a boat, fixed a car,
and i walked laps around
van vliet and south river
til the fire died
and the game came on.

i thought of you in rome
then florence, then toronto,
crashed my dreams like a train
then you caught a plane.

i’ve snatched the keys off the table
the old snow crusted and crunching
beneath my angry feet,
car door slammed to the cold
and tires peeling on ice,
you standing on the porch in my wake
holding all this rubbish in your patient hands.

you say it’s fine; maybe it is.

so i wake you one night
to say yes, it is you
and you ask are you sure
are you sure
are you sure

well, this year has been kind
and this year has been good
i’ve consulted my bones
my stomach and my chest
and how you hand me a coffee
and say shit, it’s late,
i’ll drive you

and i am sure as the rockies
snow-tipped and sun-dipped
breathing deeply in the distance
driving west
driving home.

alice quiet and strong

alice quiet and strong
a pillar, an anchor, a beam.
crown of one inch hair
and hands forever smaller
than those that hold them.

alice alone at night
a voice that holds back a current
a phone call from the bathtub
a sigh that calls you home.

alice on the dance floor then in the bedroom
a thin sheet and prickly legs
a bold laugh and straps falling down
from the shoulders of a woman
who ought to be guarded.

alice by the candle and in the hammock
at the stove with red wine at midnight
alice in the cab, on the park bench, in a song,
alice quiet and strong.

w

oh, the voice came husked and haggard
pushed from a tired throat at the bus stop
as the old red coaches sputtered down rideau
and i clutched my coffee
like it might pull me from the moment.
i searched your face while crafting an exit,
not sure we’d ever truly shared a life.

our love was young and the days were long.
the city was vast, the hands intertwined,
the drinks stiff and plenty and the tattoos bad.
there were real books, landlines,
movie stores and compact discs.
we picked up the phone,
we spoke.

i wake up next to someone new,
i go to work. i turn thirty-two.
i drive my financed car to the market,
make lentils and think of investments.

at night he runs his finger along that phrase etched on my hip,
and he’ll never dare to ask. he won’t read my words,
won’t dig around, won’t wonder what i did
or who i loved before him, what my life was like
in tall towers or musty basements.

he will say the words i, me, and my,
and you will flicker like a fly behind my eyes –
like a light much brighter than you ever shone.

phone call

my parents and yours,
they cut us from the same thin cloth –
gave us rural ontario pedigrees.
now we let the months just happen,
passing like milkweed on the wind.
april a laugh that bubbles from your gut,
august a shadow twice your height
and december forever a hangnail.
 
now november crosses his arms
in his dark grey sweater and
stands tall before the sun.
i follow the river home each night and
i sleep in a bed that once held you like a breath.
 
i wanted to tell you about the air here
how it whistles down from the mountains
through the cracks in my window
and grabs my ankles at night
with the coldest of fingers,
how a home-cooked meal won’t warm me
and the bright lights just yellow the silence.
 
then your voice slammed all the lights on,
swept the papers from the table,
threw the curtains open
and kicked me in the shins.
 
this country is vast and 
the prairie winters long.
bring me your shoulder, 
lay your bags at my door.