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
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.
The best lesson living in the Prairies ever taught me wasn’t about tipping cows.
It wasn’t about how to fix a truck engine, it wasn’t about making do with less.
It was about futility.
The first house I remember with distinct clarity was a brown country house,
just off the highway on Maple Crescent orbiting the tiny burg of Bonnyville.
It was, as they say, kinda in the sticks.
Passage into town for school was carried out on a half-hour trip
onboard a yellow schoolbus affectionately dubbed “The Cheesewagon.”
Home had a sturdy triangular tree fort in the backyard
vegetable gardens, a toolshed under the reign of an irascible skunk living beneath,
and vast fields on all sides.
There were a few other neighbours shaken in
like grains of pepper on an otherwise plain stretch of plains, and
we relied on worn VHS tapes, secondhand toys and
the wilderness between our ears to keep us entertained.
I remember, like you remember the scent of your mother baking bread in the kitchen,
I remember the worn trails with roots jutting out from the cracked earth
we thought were dinosaur bones,
and set up an excavation camp for several days.
I remember Moose Lake, the tiny spit of water
wreathed with muddy beaches hiding sinkholes and long dead fire pits
leeches lurking just below the silvery surface.
The gravel roads crackled underneath your feet,
the clouds bellowed their arrival with gales and hammer blows to the earth below,
and the edge of your backyard may as well have been the edge
This far, and no further.
But most of all, I remember the fields.
Across an ocean of wheat that lay to the east of my house, there was a structure
I never quite figured out just what it was, just this
small dark bump against the skyline, it might have been
a barn, a shelter, something half-finished.
My seven-year old self had no earthly idea, because, well, I was seven.
I just knew that I wanted to find out.
Bidding my mother farewell on a summer morning,
I took the sandwich she’d made for me, carefully wrapped it up
looked both ways before crossing the highway
and set out into the field, carving my path
towards the Whatever It Was in the distance.
I’d told them where I was going, of course,
you have to responsible about those kinds of things,
they should know where to send a search party should things go awry.
My mother had smiled and nodded, I’m sure, trying hard not to laugh,
My father strongly suggested I be back in time for dinner,
before going back to figuring out how to trap the villainous skunk
that had been plaguing him.
So I walked, pushing onwards,
carving a solitary trail through the golden field
taking occasional bites of the sandwich to ensure
the expedition was well fed.
After an undetermined amount of time,
I gave a quick glance back, just to gage
how far I’d come.
The highway was right behind me.
Home stood tall right across from it,
and the mysterious structure in the distance didn’t seem any closer.
Parts of me wanted to double back, spend the rest of the hot summer day
cool in the basement with tattered comic books and Super Mario,
but curiosity had to be satisfied.
So I walked on, for what felt like an hour,
but with every step I took,
the structure in the distance never seemed to get closer
and home, behind me, never seemed to shrink in my rearview,
until, at last, the sandwich was gone,
and my seven-year old patience had worn paper thin,
and I had to put concede that this might better be attempted
But I never got that other day.
Shortly afterwards, my father got transferred.
We moved outside of Edmonton, to the thick of suburbia,
swapping the endless fields for arranged streets
and if you happened to ride your bike to the very edge
all you saw were construction crews building
the next Great Living Experience.
Everything was reachable, by bike or by bus,
and the strange shapes in the distance didn’t shout out to you anymore,
they were just there, and you already knew
they were oil refineries, seven elevens and new condos rising tall against a defiant prairie sky.
But in my dreams, sometimes, I go back,
and I’m swishing through that same tall field
pushing my tiny legs to carry me just a little further
just a little closer, close enough
to finally discern what was just beyond my sight.
I can hear the din of the highway behind me, and I know if I turn around
the old brown house surrounded by its crown of trees
will only be twenty paces behind me at best.
The best lesson the Prairies ever taught me was the nature of futility.
Somethings are always going to be beyond your grasp, past or present,
and today, when everything is discoverable with two clicks in a search engine,
sometimes the best thing to remember
is what it’s like not to know.
As I was getting my daily dose of gutcleansing caffeine,
I couldn’t help but overhear the barista’s conversation behind the bar
which went a little something like this;
Her parents were, like, on their way to, like, Seattle or something
for a, like, anniversary getaway. And she was, like, totally throwing a party
at her house in Maple Ridge.
And as she was divulging the street address in her loud and slightly-squeaky voice
to her two co-workers I wanted to say;
Stop, squeaky barista babe
have you NOT seen any films about youth and parties
in the last thirty years?
Empirical evidence shows that if you invite two people to a party
two dozen will show up, and among those two dozen
will be the somewhat sketchy yet inexplicably popular
bad boy who will invite two dozen of his equally-if-not-more-so
sketchy friends. And there will be drinking and dancing and bad music
and bad drugs and your crush will say something charming and your
bff’s will do something lame.
Again, I’m not making this up.
It’ll be an absolute four-on-the-floor fiasco
that will undoubtedly result in something
expensive and irreplacable being lost or broken,
like your mom’s priceless vase.
Or your self respect. Sorry to be brash, but it’s true.
The most popular dance at these parties is the horizontal mambo
and yes, everyone is doing it
But to squeaky barista babe, what I want to say most of all
is: “You should savor every second of it.”
After a certain point, college-level carousing drains of it’s appeal,
and waking up in a livingroom warzone surrounded by wounded soldiers and the walking dead just seems outdated.
And somewhere along the way, the equation shifted,
and suddenly all the bacchanalian revelry eight hours before
just doesn’t seem worth it anymore. But dial the clock back four years,
before loans and grads and Thinking About The Future
we roared like lions. Lions on DRUGS,
but only because the slightly sketchy popular guy sold them to us
and I SWEAR to you he’s on the up and up.
Now we’re shuffling cell-phone shells
texting and tweeting and crowing and bleating
but not actually DOING anything, and when we do meet in revelry
there’s an overtone of sadness, of disconnect
we’re only half-here, and our other halves are on our own personal Titanics
scraping up against the ice in our glasses
Before everything was a click away
before our cell phones were worth more than some cracked ribs
and a great story
We were fools, but god
did we ever smile so wide.
So if you can, get video evidence
no matter how incriminating it might be,
at least you’ll have some record of the rampage
to crank your heart to eleven when you need it most.