Excerpt


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Sample poems

WONDERLAND

She pretends to read in the back of the car,
Disney books, thin and coded with colour –
the white of milk-sweet girls, true love
in a bead of crimson blood. She stares down
pictures until they blur: fairies become smudged
bugs on the windshield, a prince morphs
into a twisted plastic bag, tumbles
along the side of the highway. She listens
to taped voices, turns pages when she hears
the sound of a tinkling waterfall (hand
clamped between her legs when
she has to pee.)

These books are not full of the words
she finally learns to read. Instead,
somewhere on the prairies, she looks
out the window and understands the sign.
Understands that the backwards 3 is an E,
that, with the curl of two snakes
and a circle moon, this spells ESSO.
She holds the knowledge in her mouth,
releases the shapes of words to the reflection
of her lips in the car window.

She will tell you this story later,
the back seat thick with baggage, the dog
stinking in the heat. She will tell you one
too many times as your road trips blur together,
the lights on the signs in each new small town
no longer winking like bright promises.
When you pull over at gas station restrooms,
you will light a cigarette while she goes, spell
her name on air with the cherry, stamp
it under foot when she gets back into the car.


WHAT IS TAKEN, THEN

what is lost? How much am I responsible
for giving away? Yes, I followed him
down trails, beside rivers, up slopes,
strained each muscle that moved
me. I followed, feet pounding
a rhythm with his, a series
of spent breaths that would
eventually lead us back
to the place where
we had started.

I know what I wanted. Air thrust in and out
of lungs like blows, that pure physicality,
shortness of breath, chests rising, pupils
engorged to take in the peaks
around us. Fine lick of sweat,
taste of salt on mouths, we
would always lead ourselves
back to where
we started.

To where he would leave one morning
in a sports car that denied his life
story with its two seats, not able
to carry the plot of his wife, their
children, mortgage, employment
so secure it had taken years.
My station wagon lied too,
hoodwinked at things
that weren’t there.

I gear down to slow my departure
from this place. When I think
I have found the base of these
mountains, I’ll stop and weep,
smarting with my own drama.
What is taken then, what is
given away, how much
am I responsible for
losing when I knew

every run through the woods would bring us
back. In my mind, he is perpetually
returning – an open door, a wife
balancing children on hip, in hand.
In my mind, I am always looking
for places where I can sleep
in the back of the car
alone, doors locked
so I will be safe.