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?

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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.

The Internet (Poetry from Spam Email Subject Lines)

Stop-Spam

The fake internet is coming!
They want to sweep this under the carpet
Here’s how to pay it today…

Can you have all night long joy?
Your profile caught my attention.
Record it all on a spy camera,
you will LOVE the results on your organ.
Give her the best of you.
Educate the young on ways to have fun.

YOU HAVE ONE LOST MESSAGE ON FACEBOOK
This is not a myth.
Stop being a nervous wreck, there are
Highly active girls craving for
Individuals devastated by personal issues needing support
and Jailed Because Of Skimpy wear, booze, babes and more!

Have a passion for design?
She will surely pounce on you, so
PROTECT against Bed Bugs!
We consider new variants, no regrets after doing this.
Can I trust you with The Answer To Everything?
You don’t want to pass on this.
Be the perfect size gentleman and
spend time with me.

Yes, it happens to you.

Across the Field

Photo courtesy of Wolf Mountain Writing Collective
Photo courtesy of Wolf Mountain Writing Collective

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
of civilization.
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
another day.

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.

We Thought We’d Be Astronauts

When we were young, we thought we’d be astronauts,

had comets and starships orbiting our cradles

we were the centre of this diaper-clad universe,

and our parents were suns and moons,

keeping us warm, guiding the tides

with divine consistency.

Until the moon started working late

and had arguments with the sun in the living room

about mortgages and missing glances and

Who The Fuck Is Gloria?

The solar flares carried on well past your bedtime,

and you decided maybe space wasn’t all that friendly,

and sailing the stars could be left to someone else.
When we got older, we thought we’d be explorers

striking out from the motherland across oceans and jungles

driving handmade flags into foreign soil

that had been erroneously claimed

by the kid next door.

(What a jerk, right?)

There was always new continents to conquer,

a fresh playground, an undiscovered shortcut,

the secret tree-fort you cobbled together

that would stand the test of time…

until it didn’t.

The hidden paths were bulldozed to make room

for new subdivisions,

you tree fort rotted away, exposing tetanus teeth

And when the neighbourhood bully made you

eat dirt and worms as punishment for trespassing

you decided exploring the undiscovered corners

could wait until you came back later

with a proper expedition.
When we grew older, we thought we’d be knights

charging down windmills and wizards without

the slightest concern for our safety

cause we were the good guys,

and good guys never got hurt, if there was one thing we’d learned

from comic books and Saturday cartoons,

it was that everyone but us has terrible aim,

and all explosions reach out in slow motion

too slow to catch us. There was nothing to fear, so

we flung ourselves from the battlements howling like lions

until we tripped over our pride and limped back home

with skinned knees, broken arms,

and memories of the one kid who danced

too closely with the freight trains.
When we grew older, oh man, we wanted to be cool….

…whatever that was.

It felt like the greatest bonfire party of all time

except instead of wood, they were burning

all the things you used to love, throwing your wide-eyed self

upon the pyre, adopting a smoothness

reserved for fighter jets and dreary-eyed dolphins

performing backflips for strangers just to

feel some kind of love again, and either

it ate you whole

or it left you cold, shivering on the outskirts,

broken toys by the donation bin.
And when we grew older, older still,

old enough to take the long view

atop a mountain of late nights and rocky days,

maybe we climb down back to that bonfire, the heat

long since off the ash, sift through with weathered fingers,

trying to find a remnant of a storybook we once held dear

fragments of fantasies, the scrap of a blanket

we clutched like a shield,

the compasses that guided us through foreign fields

the spaceship pieces we stole from the garage

it’s not just a nostalgia trip, not just an homage.

To hell with the rent and the job and the cars

We were supposed to be astronauts,

now we can barely put our eyes to the stars

like fingers to the most painful braille,

that jabs “We let go.

All of this was just letting go.”
So if you still have that smouldering scrap of yourself

that you pulled from the fire of your youth

lock it tight in your lungbox

swallow the key

and shout out smoke signals into your sunset skies

They all made a damn good case for letting go.

Doesn’t mean we have to.