Two at a Time

motel corner with ginger ale, chair, and lamp, in Perth, Ontario

motel corner with ginger ale, chair, and lamp, in Perth, Ontario

walk the steps
two at a time

more the way you slide along
than the hope you have of staying up

We no longer wait on cannon fire
or the bells ringing in the distance.

Move along
— I stand at the baker’s counter
and point at what I want.
You take the cans from the shelf
put them in a cart
take the boxes from the shelf
put them in a cart
I pull the plastic packs from freezers
put them in a cart

Move along
— I stand at the teller’s window
and pass in my ticket.

Are you checking in or checking out?
The cost to stay or
the cost to leave.

I decided the bannock was the way to go.
I press the dough with my palms
hard against the board.
I nudge and punch the dough with my fists curled
and satisfy the mixture
the flour swells and spreads
breathes a sigh as it slips outward
then thins.
I swipe a slight brush of oil

more the act
than the product.

The beautiful girl
shyly
licks the jam
from her fingers.

Georgie and Cherrie

ice tree

“Are you ready?” Cherrie was standing in the doorway to his room with her arms folded. He glanced at her face to see that she looked irritated. Normal, he thought.

“What are you doing?” she asked. Her voice always sounds the same, he thought. She always sounds like someone’s trying to crawl up her pant leg.

“I need you to walk Georgie to his friend’s house,” their mother had said while getting ready for work.

“What for?”

“I won’t be home in time. After school, take him to get a birthday present.” She gave Cherrie some money. “It’s a sleepover.”

“Boys have sleepovers? Will they be doing each other’s hair and makeup?”

Georgie was sitting in a chair facing his dresser. Cherrie was standing in the doorway getting more impatient. “Really, hurry up. We still need to go get a present.”

He reached down beside him and picked up a backpack. He stood and opened the second drawer of the dresser. He moved the top two articles of clothing and pulled out a pair of pyjamas. He was very pleased with himself.

“Are you finished?”

He put the pyjamas in the backpack and walked out past Cherrie. “I’m ready.”

Early morning, the day before, he opened the blind on his window and watched the trees appear in the darkness just before the rising sun. He kept his light off. While he stared, he noticed that the trees were never exactly indistinguishable but that they were a distinct form against a background. The background is the same colour as the trees, he thought.

After the sun was up, all the colours were filled in. He wondered how he could draw something that changed colour with the light.

Early the next morning, he set up a camera to take pictures of the darkened trees. He had spent the rest of the morning staring at the black images but could see nothing. Tomorrow, he thought, I’ll take the camera outside and see if I can get something. He wondered if there was some way to turn off the steetlights.

“What do you want to get him?”

They were in the toy section of a department store. The bust ride had been short. Cherrie had spent the entire trip staring at her phone and muttering. He hadn’t been listening to what she was saying.. He was watching an old woman sitting in one of the sideways seats with her grocery bags and purse. The grocery bags were in the seat next to her, the purse was in her lap. She was wearing a large wool sweater with some odd pattern around the hem and cuffs. It also had a large collar that curled slightly as it flopped over. The sweater is grey, he thought.

He watched the old woman watching the floor at her feet. She regularly looked toward the front of the bus but he could see she was uncomfortable staying in that position. He tried to see the items in her bags. In one, he could count the number of cans that were visible through the thin plastic, but the other one was shapeless. He decided it held bread.

He stared at the grinning stuffed bears before him. He momentarily thought they would look better once dirtied and torn.

“What about Lego?” she asked. “Don’t boys like Lego? How about a Transformer?”

He picked up a pop-eyed stuffed something. It had a shocked expression on its bizarrely elongated face. It also had a tail almost as long as its body. He recognized it from a cartoon. “This.”

“That?”

“This,” he nodded.

“Whatever,” she said. “Come on, then. I need to get some stuff, too.”

They walked through the kitchenware department and into the women’s clothing department. He liked the displays of knives and other kitchen utensils; he liked the pots and frying pans, too.

Cherrie walked to the section with underwear. She started taking bras off a display and holding them up.

“Your sister has big tits,” Brandon K. had said. They were playing softball, standing in the dugout, Cherrie was sitting on a bench by home plate with their mother. He looked over at her. She was staring at her phone and slouching over it to block the glare of the sun.

“No,” he said, and resumed watching the batter. “It just looks that way.”

“Where does it have the size on this goddamn thing,” she muttered. He watched her turn it around and around before giving up and pulling another off the rack.

“Are your tits getting big?”

He heard a giggle from someone a couple of racks away.

He watched her face return to its normal pale hue. She scowled and grabbed his arm. “Let’s go.”

“Excuse me, miss,” said a man at the exit. “I need to check the boy’s backpack.”

“What? Why?”

“Please,” he said. His voice was serious. Georgie looked up at the man’s face. He wasn’t exactly looking at either of them. His hand was out for the bag.

“Give it to him, Georgie. You think we’re thieves just because we’re young?”

“Store policy, miss. Backpacks are to be left at the door.” He opened the bag and looked inside. He shook it and tilted it. He doesn’t want to put his hand in, Georgie thought.

“Here you go,” he handed the bag back to Georgie without closing it. “Next time, use the cubbies.”

“Fucking asshole,” she muttered, “He should stick to beating off watching the security cameras, dipshit. God!”

The night before, he’d watched the sun go down. The colours drained out of the things on the earth and drifted away in the sky toward the setting sun. But the dark that came was not the dark of a settled night. It was colder.

The night before that, it had been cloudy. The sunset was an unimpressive greying of the world.

The woman had got off the bus two stops before the shopping mall. He watched her slowly pick up her things and get ready to stand after she signalled for the stop. He watched her ease herself down the steps and walk off toward an apartment building. Then she was gone.

“We forgot a gift bag,” he said to his sister when they were back on the bus.

“Who cares?” she said.

Madness Swims

Light snow

for all the great ones

I dreamed I saw a mongoose
eat its own tail

sinking
floating
or moving something other

carry wood for the fire
heat love food love light love

I
took a trip
but never returned
yet
here I am

stack the blocks
properly
order the stones
properly
make your bed
properly

sickness love anger love despair love
carry water for the pot

I
took a drink
and succumbed
yet
here I am

be
idiotic
and shut your mouth

The Broken Key

supermug

Sunday morning –
The baby finally stopped crying and went to sleep. She felt bad for it, but she truly hated that sound. She couldn’t describe the feeling it gave her inside, the mix of anxiety and worry and anger. But when it stopped, a genuine feeling of peace immediately settled over her and she once again felt she could breathe.
She poured the last of the coffee from the percolator and sat at the table. He’d left the paper open to the half-finished crossword puzzle. She picked up the pen and filled in “bovine” for 18 down. Then she wrote “leverage” for 23 across.
Outside, the leaves were budding on the trees. She knew in a few more days, winter would seem like some foolish imagination of nature, a bare impossibility in the face of lush green foliage and life. She could feel it creeping around in her, though. A hard nugget of cold-wariness, a mild sensation of unease.
She drank her coffee.

Sunday afternoon –
The baby liked to be bounced gently while she walked. Few people were in the park at this time of year. The wind carried a mild frostiness with it that was pleasantly uncomfortable.
She could see her neighbour Barbara walk to her car. She stood a while at the door and then turned around and went back in the house.

Tuesday afternoon –
“I think he might have the beginning of a cold,” he said. He moved the auriscope to the baby’s other ear. “Has he been feeding normally?”
“If by normal, you mean all the time.”
“You should try a schedule. Babies are actually happiest in a routine.”
He sat behind the desk. “I don’t think he needs any medicine. Just keep him well-watered and watch for a fever.”
Like a plant. Keep it out of direct sunlight.

Friday morning –
2 down: ambiguous.
1 across: fatality.

Friday evening –
“I think we should go see grandma tomorrow,” he said to the baby. “We can make a trip out of it.”
“You mean just the two of you, right?”
“You don’t want to go?” He held the baby on his knee, hands around the ribs, and bounced him lightly up and down. The baby gurgled.
“He’s gonna spit up on your pants.”
“Oh no no,” he said as he stood and lifted the baby to his shoulder. “You’re gonna puke on Daddy’s shirt, right?” He laughed. The baby rubbed his face against his father’s shoulder and said, “Sheesh.”
“I could use a day to myself, actually.”
“Oh,” he said. She could see the uncertainty cross his face. She knew he was wondering if he could take care of the baby for a day. “I guess we could do that.”
“Here,” she said, “Let me take him.” She held out her arms.

Saturday early morning –
“You know,” she whispered to the eyes staring up at her, “You could sleep for more than two hours. I know you can because I can. And anything that’s good for me has to be good for you.”
The baby’s face wrinkled and his head turned away from the bottle. “Done, are you?”
She stood up and lifted the baby to her shoulder and rubbed his back lightly. She walked over to the window and looked out just as her neighbour’s porch light came on. The old woman came out of the house and walked down the steps to her car. She stood a moment by the car door and then said something and went back up the steps to her house. The light went off.
“Strange old bird.”
The baby burped.

Saturday morning –
3 across: madrigal
42 across: carp

Saturday noon –
She decided to eat her sandwich and drink coffee on the step. She’d spent the morning cleaning up the flower beds at the sides of the walkway from the drive to the porch. She liked small colourful plants more than the disorderly shrubs her neighbours seemed to like. Perhaps they don’t like them, she thought. Perhaps they don’t care.
The chill was lifting as the sun gained power. It felt good to be outside and in the air. The past seven months had started in a wet end to summer and a soggy autumn that dragged into the worst winter she’d ever experienced. Or that was how it felt at times. She knew everything was askew because of the baby. She was under the influence of a maleficent master. She knew she needed to take charge but she was so tired most of the time. When a break came, when the baby would sleep or be happy for a few minutes sitting in his own chair, she felt so very good for a moment. She felt almost as enslaved to the tiny respites as she was to her tiny tyrant.
Today, however, she felt useful and good on her own and not at all like a servant.
She heard the creak of screen-door springs from across the yard and looked to see her neighbour step out onto the porch. The old woman turned and pulled the door shut, then let the screen door swing closed as she walked down the steps. She walked to her car and stood at the driver’s side door motionless.
“Hi.” She waved from her own step. She put the last bite of her sandwich in her mouth and stood up. “Nice day, isn’t it?”
“Oh, it’s lovely,” said Barbara. Her voice sounded like ice-cream melting. “Say, can you come look at this?”
“What’s wrong?”
She walked around the car to where the old woman was standing. For a moment, she could smell tea and onion.
“I can’t get my key to open this darn door. I think it’s broken.”
She took the key and looked at it. “No,” she said, “It’s just bent.”
“Oh, is it, now?”
“I can probably straighten it. Give me a minute.”
“Oh, I’d love you forever.”
She took the key back to her own house and around to the garden shed. Amongst the garden tools was a rusty box her father-in-law had given them when they bought the house. “I know you two don’t have a clue how to do anything, but you’ll always need a few basic tools.” So far, they had not needed any of them. They had only needed a plumber when the toilet would not stop running, and a plumber didn’t fit in the box.
She took a hammer out. She put the key on a patio stone and tapped it a few times until it looked straight again. She brought it back to Barbara.
“Here, try it now.”
Barbara took the key from her outstretched hand. She could once again smell tea but no onion. The key went in and the door unlocked.
“Thank-you, dear. I was losing my mind about this. You saved my life.”

Saturday late night –
The baby’s crying woke her. She fought back against the feeling of despair that seemed to creep out of the centre of her body. She didn’t move.
“The baby’s awake,” he said. He rolled over and looked at her. “Are you gonna get him?”
She didn’t move. He started to get out of bed. “No,” she said quietly.
“What?”
“He’ll go back to sleep.”

I am on the earth

sun

I am on my back

the clouds are unintelligible

I roll to my left in the grass
to feel cool on my left side
but only feel the air on my back

wet air on my bare back

I look toward the road
where heavy trucks carry loads
to places I will never see
or know

wet air on my bare face

I am on the earth

but I am in the sky

Soon, I will be called
and order and duty will bring me up
I will eat my vegetables
I will comb my hair
I will do my work

I roll left again
and face the stone god who taunts me
“prick,” I mutter

your greed overpowers so much fantasy

your greed overpowers me

I feel the warmth on glistening skin
the sun flows force on heated flesh
soon my breathing will steady

I pull blades of grass

I drive my fingers into the dirt.

bury the fact you find, this one is mine

winter tree 2

the air
we surround
the murder tree bends
under new weight
in air
and a sound
the way once our voice
cried against light

the room
we succumb
the first of our friends
taken it up
no room
we become
set out straight machines
never to stop

a word
not a shroud
covers our bodies
restless we sleep
no word
can be found
to bring forth a truth
we dare to speak

Wallace

mushrooms

I never heard you
over drinking
or shouting over train noise.

But I wear the
dress you drew
out for me.

I don’t skim the
dirt from the surface.

You lived a safe life

The areas aren’t shaded differently.
I’ve crossed the street to find
a paper
or food from a vendor
the same as you

I look both ways.

We remain entangled
within each other
though only I
can know