This poem was first published in Geist 70 and now in the 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition.
After the beer parlour, we set off for the islands
drinking whiskey from Tupperware cups. We jimmied
the radio for baseball—Expos were up.
I didn’t know what day it was, or the year.
Finally, I thought, a good-sized man, and held the wheel.
Strands of silence floated up between us
like duck shit in the lake water. It happened
right when the days held ’til ten o’clock. Fireflies. June Bugs.
Every few miles we stuck our heads into the slipstream
to whet our eyeballs. Both of us taken
with the lights flickering on the dash. We felt
ghosts hovering over the scab of last year’s abominable fires.
Have you heard so and so’s having a baby? Well no.
Well yes. I hummed my favorite Bo Diddleys,
rattled off some names of local birds. Jays
scooped it finally. When the car stopped
furs of dandelions flew around us
& we hastened like they did
into that broom.
The morning the quake hit the city
I swore I’d ride full gallop into that sea
and never look back. I listened to Jay-Z, shoved
tiny nectarines into my satchel,
and fled West past the Prime Minister
who stood at the corner of 4th and Trutch
disguised as a Dutch milkmaid with rosy cheeks.
Kits beach was furious.
But I found my pony di Esperia
standing in my dory and so put myself
upon her and we rowed—
At Howe Sound a gang of dinghies
shepherded by muscular oilers slicked up around us.
In their faces the coast was a Shrinky Dink.
Dogs and cats galore were chucked and dunked
into the floatsam. The masked activists who had lain
their bodies down beneath bulldozers at Burnaby Mountain
flung themselves straight as arrows off the Sea-to-Sky cliffs.
Pony and I, in those first days, small in our boat,
shared our raisins and stale Triscuits with pirates
from Fort McMurray who stabbed each other up for their last rails.
All of the city’s private property was now public, but useless,
floating as it was, in shit. None of it, not the iPhones or Jaguars,
the Hunter boots or toy giraffes imported
from France, now bobbing maniacally in the water,
mattered. We shared stories and whatever raisins were left.
Alanis Obomsawin, sitting around our campfire beside Pauline Johnson,
asked what colour the sky was. St. Kateri Tekakwitha,
Ike and Tina, Joan of Arc, Marco Polo, Snuffaluffagus— they all came
galumphing back. Buffy St. Marie. Neil Young. Louis Riel.
We all sat around roasting raisins—
all of us intermittently
marooned on an unidentifiable Arctic island at Great Bear Lake. The sky?
We hadn’t looked at it.
Babies cried. Laura Secord handed out milkshakes.
Georgia O’Keefe stood as still as a petroglyph, entranced
by the horizon. We’d come too seldom
to the ocean. We were too busy with the 21st century.
But eternal return isn’t infinite. Not everyone comes back,
nothing lasts. My pony refused to do the dirty work
and her brackish eyes were glassy. On her way to the slaughterhouse,
years ago, standing in a dark box car, despondent, she felt the sudden
hospitality of a man’s arms around her neck.
Turns out those arms were Nietzsche’s, crash-test dummy,
beloved by thousands of boy students of philosophy
the world over, lover of blood and birds and horses. When, after more
Arctic transit, we moved from ice cap to ice cap and watched off
the coast of Greenland the final outburst of the tide
flower up and die, we stopped
so that Pony could peer into the oily face of the sea.
Published at New Poetry