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.

North Van Adventures, January 2016

There’s a bone-white piano lingering on the skeletal steps of a two-story home hugging the curb next to a car cleaners, a Shell station and a block of Lego-brick luxury condos snapping higher every month.

Chartered busses bearing bearded boarders haul them from hostels heavenward on clouds of leftover cocaine from the last DJ set from that brokenjaw East Van special, six Saturdays and a Sunday thrumming arpeggios on their heartstrings, waiting for the day gravity finally pulls its pants on, catches up, and force-feeds them black diamonds of their own making.

The air feels less encumbered here, doesn’t carry notes of rush-hour arguments, alley-piss accents, staccato secondhand cigs. Instead, if you breathe deep enough, hold it just so on the tip of your tongue, you can pluck out an older strain, mountain-filtered, in stone tones that says

“Oh.

You’re still here?”

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. 

Miscellaneous Thoughts Whilst Fending Off A Fever

You find yourself with not a lot of glasses in the cupboards; they’re by the sofa, on the table, near the desk, at your bedside, all half-full and abandoned because you forgot they were there in the first place and went to get another because you’ve already sweat out your body weight trying to find the optimal amount of blankets that will keep you from shivering so hard you fall apart. After awhile, you realize that you’ve been mimicking the little girl from Signs in your water-glass distribution, and you’re really not sure what to make of that.

You find yourself watching Signs again, because what else have you got to do?

You find yourself staring at the fridge wondering if you have the strength to actually combine the various ingredients into a proper meal, or if you’re just going to grab the first edible thing and skulk around the house in your housecoat, trailing cracker crumbs and dribbles of orange juice as you pace, pace, pace. There’s a brief moment where you consider going out for more supplies until you consider this would require both appropriate clothes and exposure to the noisy, clamorous, germ-riddled outside world. Delivery it is.

You find yourself wondering just how you’d fare amidst an alien invasion.

You find yourself rotating between the bed and the couch, between attempts at tackling the stack of projects that need tending to and wishing that all the garlic you ate would both cure you of all ailments and grant you potent superpowers. A day trip on DayQuil knocks you flat on your ass because you haven’t taken cough syrup in forever and even though they insist it’s non-drowsy you feel like you could Rip-Van-Winkel the hell out of your couch half an hour after taking an extra large gulp (which, in retrospect, may have been a mistake.) You only occasionally reach out to work to let them know you’re still right proper out-of-commission, and to the checkout clerk when you groan and grumble and hand over your debit card for the assorted scraps you managed to scrape together while you were dragging yourself down the aisles of the nearest grocery store.

And eventually, you break that fever over your leg like so much kindling, find the wherewithal to drag your carcass back to your desk at work, blink wearily at the sluggish startup screen.
Congrats, you made it through, you survived where centuries ago others would have perished and been left in the gutters of whatever medieval hamlet they called their home.
Here’s three pages worth of unread emails, two meetings you missed, and the distinct feeling that the world got on just fine without you, thanks.

Something In The Woods

IMG_1165As far back as I can recall, my father has always been telling stories.

There were the ones from his own childhood, the details patched together or overwritten in favour of something leaner and cleaner. There were a fistful of Hardy Boys Mysteries in weathered hardcover he’d read to us, chapter by chapter, until we fell asleep on school nights.

And then there were the stories about the woods.

Behind the family cabin nestled deep in the wilderness of Northwestern Saskatchewan, there was a thick, nearly impenetrable growth of old trees ringing a bog, ones that had resisted the axe for decades since the first few people bought lots around the crystal clear waters and started cobbling together summer homes. It’s a half-hour drive from the nearest town, off a series of dusty gravel roads, and the only line of contact to the outside world is a beat-up payphone lingering near a power line. The television offers seventeen different channels full of snow and static, and the only voices you can find on the radio dial are the local community talk shows and a buzzy CBC station on the AM side who give out the time signal every morning at eleven o’clock sharp.

Everything else is… silence. And when you’re used to the buzz of the city, your brain doesn’t handle silence all that well. It needs something to fill in those gaps, the spaces between the trees, something to slip between the waves of that azure lake. And after years of being propped up by television and video games, when you’re left without so abruptly, like a smoker quitting cold-turkey… things can start to get a little fidgety. A little unusual.

“Did I ever tell you the time I saw the Beast?”

It’s 1996. I’m ten years old, sitting on the floor of the cabin, my meagre supply of comic books exhausted and the rain outside showing no signs of abating. Every other breath out of my body was an indignant sigh of boredom, delivered right where my parents could hear it best because they had insisted no, no, bringing a television up to the lake was a bad idea. My mother was napping on the couch, the book she was reading half-held in her hands. My father was planning out renovations, as he always did.

He asked again,

“Did I ever tell you the time—“

“What, dad?”

“Have you seen it?”

“Seen what?”

“Just in the woods out back? Looking at us?”

It was over my head. I didn’t have a clue. He set aside his pencils and rulers and joined me on the floor by the wood stove.

“Well, when I was a little older than you, back when we were first building the cabin with your grandpa, we had to stay in trailers just where the tool shed is now. And while we were sleeping one night, the dog started letting off this huge howl, barking like mad. And I thought to myself, you know, it must be raccoons or maybe coyotes. So I go out to calm him down…”

“Uh-huh…” I wasn’t buying it. I felt like I’d seen this movie before.

“So I’m out there, with my flashlight, and the dogs at the end of his chain, yapping his head off, pointed like an arrow towards the treeline. And sure enough, you can hear the coyotes chatting amongst themselves, they’re a regular fixture around these parts. But then I hear something else.”

“A monstrous roar?”

“More like.. more like a moan. A low moan, coming right from across the road there. Right from the thick of the trees. And I see something… and I figure I ought to follow it, see what’s what.”

The trees in question linger across the dirt and gravel road behind our cabin, like a crowd of bystanders gathered to watch something unusual unfold in swaying silence. Somewhere within them was a slew, where hordes of frogs teemed and croaked, giving soundtrack to the otherwise silent nights. Tall reeds and berry bushes and an infinite supply of mosquitos were there… it’s supply of bogeymen was far less certain.

“…Right dad.”

He’d go on to tell me about how he’d ventured out, deep into the woods that night, searching for the source of the noise. What he found, at the end of an overgrown path, was a beast, eight feet tall, covered in wiry fur and with features so plaintive it looked, in the right light, like it was the saddest creature on Earth. It didn’t react in anger when my father approached, according to the tale he told; it just sat there and moaned louder, looking him straight in the eye, unwilling to hide it’s melancholy.

It’s 2015 now.

The nearest woods have been cut back, allowing new cabins to take root behind our own lot, upon which the old ramshackle pea-green cabin has been replaced with a replanted Calgary home with a dishwasher and real doors that close. It’s all comfortable now, more so than it has ever been before, and the surrounding environs are no longer boredom-inducing to my mind; after almost three years in the belly of Vancouver, the idea of being able to see the stars without the din of city lights and opening the window without catching a siren’s blare is heavenly. Late at night, after my parents have long since gone to bed, I sit outside alone and listen to the chatter of crickets and frogs, the occasional rapport of fireworks from the more party-oriented vacationers down the shoreline, and the metronome-like thrum of waves against the sands.

And I’m still listening for the Beast, alone in the woods, watching us all with some kind of mournful curiosity, wishing he didn’t feel like he was the last of his kind; a solitary entity, staring through windows at happy families listening to stories on the radio, wishing he could come in to warm himself up.

Almost two decades later, I think I’m finally starting to get the story.