A Flock of Susans

A flock of Susans descend upon the cafe
pulling tables and chairs together, disrupting the careful arrangement
the opening baristas laid out four hours ago.
They close ranks armed with lattes biscotti and well-worn pages
of Pride and Prejudice, cracked covers dotting the tables
as the Alpha Susan calls the meeting to order
and launches into a well-prepared monologue
about Austen’s impact on her,
eliciting a chorus of nods and mmhmms
from the Beta Susans.
One of them hasn’t read the book at all
and feels the full heat of the tables baleful gaze
when she confuses two of the gentlemen callers
and has to flip back a few chapters
to get her story straight.

While the quiet trial of Susan #7 begins,
life continues it’s lazy orbit around them.
A pack of Seans from the film school
read the dialogue aloud from the Tarantino-clone
they wrote late last night high on brashness, bourbon and bong hits
every verbal somersault and triple-axle spin netting guffaws
and “Fuck yeah man this is great!”s
They haven’t slept.

In the far corner
two Victors sip a silent cup
and dredge up ghosts from the sixties and seventies.
They normally don’t but they’ve got time to kill
their limps are acting up and they’ve still got an hour
until the meat draw over at the Legion.

Behind the till, refilling the scones
a freshly-single barista keeps her best face on
while inside she’s making a mental inventory
of the things she’ll need to take from Chad’s apartment
before the day is through, just the essentials
to see her through while she takes up residence on Sarah’s couch.
Maybe this time will be different, she dreams
maybe she’ll take this as a sign to get things straightened out,
and I mean really straightened out
Get those student loans, finish that degree,
quit this fucking job and stop lying to grandma
about what the city’s like.

The clink in the tip jar pulls her back.
One of the Beta Susans put a toonie in the jar marked
“It’s a party and your change is invited!”
and as she scoops up her second latte she gives the barista
the most genuine smile humankind has ever witnessed.

Yeah.
This time will be different.

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Grinning Sideways

6:30AM Skytrain:
The steady rattle of the train is punctuated by a PSSSHTCLK!
as the man behind me starts his day off with a Lucky Lager.

There’s maybe four other souls in the car aside from me, one’s a snail
with his world on his back, pine-freshly returned
from a tour tree-planting, hallowed earth still carried
under his fingertips as he sips his large double-double,
shifts the weight of his backpack bundle sideways
and squint through the cracks in his cellphone to try and tell
what his buddy meant.

One has nails clicking like talons across tile as she
finesses ferocious missives on a Macbook,
readying a full clip fo emails to fire off the second
she’s back in WiFi. Her hair’s pulled back
tighter than tuned piano strings, her rainjacket so precision-engineered
both bullets and raindroplets would roll right off it, she looks ready
to conquer a mountain because she has to conquer one every damn day,
and god help you if you don’t leave space for her flag at the summit.

One catches ten minutes of rest, leaning against the glass
as the views of the mountains become crowded out by condos.
He was halfway into the second chapter about macroeconomics
when his 2AM texting blitz with the girl from the library
finally caught up with him, so he gives himself ten
against the windowpane, assuming his body will automatically
jolt back to full power once he’s close enough to campus
to smell the heady blend of anxiety and optimism.

And the last is the man behind me,
grinning sideways at the grey skies and the skeletal outlines of new Brentwood towers
as the station lumbers into view. He tucks the emptied can out of sight
under his seat, pulls his headphones from a bulging coat pocket
and lets whatever music he has at the ready carry him on
out of the station, out of sight, hands gently thrumming
drum solos on the seat in front of him, both serene and enlivened
before the sun even had time to get its slippers on.

Brightsand

The surface is as clear and smooth as glass.
This lasts until a lone vacationer on a seadoo revs his engines and cuts an azure line across the water, from west to east.
I get buzzed by a pair of hummingbirds as I take my morning coffee on the back porch, watching the water stand perfectly still and the more ambitious residents take their dogs out for walks before 9AM.
If you walk to the waters, take the longest dock to the very edge, you see clouds of minnows darting, flowing, hiding among the reeds.
When I was younger, I’d use butterfly nets to try and catch them.
I’m really not sure what for. They didn’t taste good in the slightest.

My father’s never caught a fish at this lake in sixteen years.
I’ve never gone out fishing with him here either, I was
usually too busy with comic books and teenage sulking,
never really took an interest.
The first time we went out, as he was teaching me the finer points of casting out,
he flung the five-of-diamonds lure idly off the side of the boat and was
about to start elaborating on how fast you should reel in,
when a three-pound jackfish abruptly became
more gullible than usual.
He barely looked like a meal, so my father and I
threw him back in, assuming lightning would naturally strike twice.
We spent the rest of the week pulling in nothing but seaweed
and nobody believed us (we didn’t bring the camera.)
But we knew.

That said, the size of the fish grows by about a pound each time
the story gets retold around the campfire, over Coors and cocktails and
misshapen s’mores.

The baritones of the CKUA radio hosts slinks
through the walls, rumbling about thunderstorms
and community events
and abbreviated national news,
the glut of details left to clickbait articles
and in-depth analysis nobody out here
has any use for.
Slowly, your eyes stop searching
for the refresh button
and the iPhone chimes are buried
under birdsong, tall shoreline reeds
played by offshore breezes
and the hundredth retelling of
your favourite ghost story.

“This one time, while I was in the woods…”

Out West

I told you I was going out West to make things right
Said don’t worry, they said the land
has enough for everyone, we just
have to shake it out.
We cracked her open like an egg and then
for good measure
we cracked the whole carton
because what good’s the yolk in the shell, you know?

I told you I was going out West to make things right
Sent you back everything you’d ever need
No hungry lullabies, no rent-cheque bruises
We were never going to wait in the Wednesday line again,
never have to bum a dart, never have to let go.
And your mom, god, how her face turned
when we took all she ever said about me
fed it right back to her.
“He’s done good,” you said,
“He’s done so good.”

I told you I was going out West to make things right
and I made things right, kept my nose
cleaner than your kitchen counters,
never missed a day,
never crossed those lines we talked about
and then
they all called us into the big room,
gave us the news in asphalt tones,
some fellas started crying.
Never seen a fella so big
cry so hard.

We go any further West,
we might fall into the Pacific.
So what now?
So where next?

Colours

The red
is the colour of the coat
you wore when we were in Halifax
visiting your older brother.
He went to art school there;
tattoos running rivers up and down his arms
the fold-out couch he had for us reeked of pot
and paint.
Rained half the time
Red rainjacket.
Stop signs.

That was the first one to go.
That’s why I sold the Pontiac
and take the metro to the specialist
the Yellow line underground, across town.

The yellow
is the colour of the Warhol Banana
on the cover of the Velvet Underground record
we listened to ad nauseum.
Heroin angel lullabyes
to drown out the grunting of my roommate
and the false cries of passion
of his weekend lovers.
The record didn’t survive the migration
across the mountains in the Pontiac’s trunk
you said we’d buy another
in case we needed Nico to howl down
a neighbour’s yapping dog.

I still catch glimpses of it
but only in the corners, the periphery
of the right, the left
is a lost cause, but I still can’t help
but try while I’m in the waiting room
because really
what else is there to do in a waiting room
but catch up on fifty different sex positions to drive him wild
and casserole recipes for under ten dollars.

The green
is the colour of the dollar bills
I pressed into the hands of the cabby
that got us through the winter’s worst blizzard
to the theatre, only for us to find
we were five minutes late
and the usher was a tyrannical bitch.
You said it was okay,
King Lear was lousy anyway,
you just suggested it because you wanted
to look smart.
An hour later, corner booth at a greasy spoon
lousy coffee, apple pie, secrets and lies but you’ll never tell which is which
three hours later, you’re wearing nothing but my UofS hoodie
marvelling at just how fat I used to be
claiming the better of my two pillows, and telling me
that you’re not normally like this on first dates
but damn, I like your kind of crazy.
Green dollar bills.
Green lights.

With that one gone,
the rest went quicker
and the specialist says
I will have to adapt
my future rests in my fingers, he says
and I have homework again for the first time
in years.
Big blue binders, thick books
slabs of dots, stuffed into backpacks,
studied on busses as the daytime
gets darker.

The blue
is the colour of the dress you wore
to my sister’s wedding.
The band was great
the speeches were lousy
and I had trouble finding the microphone.
I had trouble finding everything,
I felt like an infant, my hands
were not ready for this.
The knots in the tablecloth,
the thick cardstock, the slightly raised letters
celebrating the new Mr and Mrs.
The soft sponge cake, the cotton of my tie,
the blue dress.
We tried a slow shuffle to a U2 crooner,
and I couldn’t lead without stepping on toes.
You said you didn’t mind.
I didn’t believe you.
And then all the colours went
and there started being less of everything else
like a pen, stuttering out of ink
one letter at a time.
The lines, the shapes, the curves and contours
The whole world retreating to the edges
and then falling off
and falling off

and I’m angry
not really sure at who
because I only had time to gather up
a finite number of paints to recreate
the person in my bed beside me
every morning.
Every morning, rebuilding
tracing the outline, shading, drawing you out
like a constellation along my empty-lot irises.
And I wish I had more.
But I think this will be enough.

Five Rituals

One, the alarm clockbeaten bloody and blue.

I keep diving back in ten-minute attempts

to recapture the high of dreaming

something for the first time.

It just leave me groggy

but I’ll never learn.
Two, the coffee. Four minutes to steep

give or take. The tiny timer that accompanied

the french press took a swan dive off the countertop

during a house party. Now it just blinks

a nonstop series of eights at me,

occasionally chirping for no reason.

One milk. One sugar. Stir.
Three, the news. On a screen. Over breakfast.

Bombings and bad news stuck between

clickbait and cat videos so close together

they start to blur.

“You won’t believe how many refugees

fleeing certain death in Syria scrap by

just by following this one weird trick!”

I used to read the news for inspiration,

now it’s another bad habit

like my coffee addiction, or telling the truth

at the wrong times.
Four, the walk to the station, past houses

that have glimpsed a century through weary windows,

under twisted Tim Burton trees crawling skywards

like slow lightning in reverse. Same route every time. 

Round the corner of the coffee shop, a breath of fresh grounds

bleeding into half smoked cigarettes, the wet fur of dogs

Waiting patiently, throwing side glances

at the produce stands outside the next-door grocer 

Quietly praying dog prayers for a runaway tomato. 
Five, the train. 

I always take the last car. 

Couldn’t explain it if I tried. 

Witching Hours


The air hangs like a finale curtain
a flag at half mast
ghost lights adorning leafy streets, trees
dangle like marionettes
left to their devices.
The world is a breath held
tight between the ribs,
and through all this
he swims up to you.

Waving his hands like he was
warding off mosquito-spry spirits
old limp gnawing off his heel
carrying history in the jukebox
between his teeth.
Give him a sliver of silver
and he’ll spin a snarl of steel-stringed
sadness so sharp
it’ll cut your eyelids off,
so you can see the whole picture 24/7,
like you really did live inside your phone
instead of clawing at the windows with
starving Christmas orphan desperation.

Thing is, though, he doesn’t care how deep
you need to hide, he’s hunting for a witch that can
set his hexes straight
align his stars and unwork
the whiskey curses he breathes
like a bone thin violin
singing like a ghost razor through nights
like this.
It always comes out on nights like this.

But your pockets are empty.
You can’t pay his ferryman
and so he lopes off down the block
swinging at the air, a boxer
in a perpetual prizefight with himself.
In the suspended midnight, all that is heard
is the distant grind of the last train headed homeward
and his morse-code footfalls trailing straight for dawn.