Night Fire

Do you keep the city lights to protect yourself
from the stars? The fluorescent glitter and the neon
that blankets you, the street lamps buzz, headlights
flood crowded arteries. You could kneel in the alley
and trace all the sources of light and what
they’re for, you could draw diagrams and
take pictures, create labels. You could sit
in an office, plan ahead, other’s futures,
carve up concrete with the tap of a key,
demolish a block in a single conference call.

When I look at the stars, I crane
my neck back, listen to the rattle of my breath
through tendons and bones, cast my hands
towards the earth, lean into the unknown.
Backward, backward, my body dips as I fold into
the depths of the sky, shrinking
beneath milky galaxies, disappearing beneath
all the boundless, consuming constellations.

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dances

today i saw a river
it coursed around
caving-in cliffs
it moved
with a convicting power
and the movement
was beautiful

we are a river
i am a drop

today i saw a river
i gazed at its turning banks
was pulled in by the
sound of the gurgling water
and wished
for one moment
that it would all be still
that i could hold all the world
just as it was
for eternity

how unwise of me
to wish that i could stay still
when the beauty is in the movement

First Couple Paragraphs of a Short Story I’m working on

On those dark winter nights, long after the final wisps of smoke from our candle stub had drifted out of the room, the serpentine trails of the stories my sister told would weave themselves together like tapestries in the air above our heads. The imaginings of dragons and queens and enchanted gardens threaded through the dark attic, and our chilled and childlike bodies forgot the scratchiness of our blanket and transported themselves to glittering islands in the East, to a tree house in the depths of the Black Forest. A faint sliver of moon would shine in through the porthole window above our heads and make us believe that we were Peter Pan and Wendy, flying away from our house and into a starlit night.

If my tired eyes had not fluttered closed before the end of the story, I would beg my sister to tell just one more story. Her voice would come firm and fearful in the dark :”Quiet, Madeline, they’ll hear us!” But I would plead on in my songbird voice, and my sister would relent, and we would feel weightless as our feet again wandered miles away from Hamilton, free at last. And as our braided heads jostled for space on the single lumpy pillow at the head of our bed, she’d board us again onto a tall ship bound for the ends of the universe.

Most nights, the rustling of our feet beneath stiff bed sheets was enough to draw our mother’s attention up to our room, and when she came up we would squeeze our eyes shut and pretend to be asleep. There were nights, though, we were so enveloped by the stories that we didn’t notice her footsteps on the stair, or her hand at the door turning her handle. We were only aware of her presence when her voice came, cold and strict from within the murky fog of the hallway. On those nights, Frieda tried to suck the sound of her voice out of the air above us and back into her lungs. I willed the creatures under our bed to come out from underneath and scare her. I willed the fairies living in our ceiling to come and carry us away.

Well, That Was One Way of Doing It

After plucking away for three minutes and fifteen seconds, Millicent looked at herself in the mirror for the first time after tearing open the package of her new mint green Emjoi eRase e60, manufacturer guaranteed to remove hair and leave her skin feeling like a baby’s for up to six weeks (she was counting on at least three days, because she still liked to leave a little room for optimism in her life). She’d bought the gadget after Vanessa, an acquaintance from GoodLife Fitness who had perfect eyebrows recommended it to her. Vanessa also had decent forearms and generally managed to still rock her side-shave side pony well into the 17th rep, so Millicent aspired to be like her. Millicent, who was now pushing 23, had felt defeated by life ever since 7th grade when she realized that her parents had basically picked her name straight from a nineteenth-century baby book. When she’d argued with them about it, her parents had told her that they liked the name, which meant industrious, because it was a practical name. But practically speaking, at this point, she just had no friends. Her other friend, Naomi, whose first name was Bettina, advised her to start going by her middle name, but Millicent’s parents had not had the foresight to give her one.

Millicent was beginning to understand that it wasn’t helpful to focus only on the negatives in her life. At 22, she had decided that she was too young to write herself off as washed-up and ready to get old and retire, and at 23 she’d started taking more proactive steps towards real life change. Three months ago she’d found herself a life coach, and now the tweezers. Next stop, who knows, Miss All Canadian. Miss Universe. That’s why she was trying to put the past behind her and move into a future where she wasn’t defined by her dated name, her saggy posture, and her inability to land herself a hot boyfriend. She’d started going to GoodLife 3x a week, she’d picked up smoking for five days – thinking it would make her look appealing but discovering all the coughing wasn’t worth it. And, just today after work, she’d purchased this eyebrow plucker, because she thought it would go straight to her sex appeal.

Well, like we mentioned, at 3:16 on the stopwatch she looked up. She imagined spending weeks afterword trying to figure out why she hadn’t used the mirror at the same time as her brand-new eRase. She imagined spending months trying to draw on her eyebrows with shaky hands brought down by years of longing to be beautiful. She imagined spending years reliving the moments she hadn’t even noticed were passing, the moments when she’d accidentally taken off half of her left eyebrow, leaving her with a sort of permanent sarcastic eyebrow-raise situation that had forced her to remove the brow in its entirety. Vanessa would laugh, and Millicent became increasingly convinced that her life coach wasn’t going to quite understand this one.

Twenty two minutes later, it dawned on Millicent that she was being presented with conformity at its finest. If she was looking for ways to fix her slightly too bushy eyebrows, shaving them off was one way of doing it. Mirror in hand this time, she picked up her eRase and took off the other eyebrow.

Mosquito

We stood in line for hours
Or what felt like hours – we stood,
Our feet swelling under the smoggy heat,
Our foreheads dripping, our t-shirts soggy,
Our gold necklaces
Hanging about our necks like rosaries.

How many were in line like us?
The bank lights still flickering OPEN,
The third teller half in tears, wondering
When it was her turn to queue.
We were hundreds, perhaps, thousands,
Waiting, hoping, dreading:
Dreaming of receiving just a few more euros.
Oh and you’d look behind you and you’d see
A rising tide of people, with more arriving
By the minute, heavy-laden with worry and
No cash to get them through the weekend.

And how few held hands as we did –
Why did we, palms sweaty, hearts heavy,
Trying to prop one another up,
To keep up some kind of appearance or hope.

What dark days we found ourselves in:
The summer sun beat down upon the cobblestone,
The mosquitoes buzzed persistently around us,
The hundreds queued, hoping
Against hope the banks would still be open
When it was their turn.
That days would not pass with them
Still waiting, that weeks would not pass,
That the world would not collapse
And they’d be left with no milk for their babies,
No cash for their dinner plans Friday.

The haze: such haze! These were the days
We found ourselves anxious,
Our hands clasped together, and the questions
Always lingering between us
As we shriveled in the heat:
What to do, where to go, who to be
Where to run, when to go, how to flee.