Small Summer

Small Summer

We do not know what happens
When summer ends, where we will get
Our calories, if not from ice cream, how
Beer will taste if we drink it inside.
We won’t imagine Christmas,
No knowledge of how we survived
The smell of winter coats and bare
Feet in wool socks for seven months,
Snowflakes like dinner plates and something
Called a frost quake. We can only blow
On dandelions, and wish on every firefly
That the earth will somehow slow
And the flowers will stay alive.

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Other Selves in Helium Balloons

 Other Selves in Helium Balloons

What surprised us was not that they suddenly appeared, but that they had not always been there, those helium balloons of past experience tethered to strings above our heads.  They encased the parts of us we had called lost only because we didn’t have a word for the feeling, the thought that those people we once were continued existing in some other dimension, the night in Berlin, drinking White Russians in the flat of a friend of a friend, singing Leonard Cohen until sunrise, or standing on the steps of the church we went to in childhood, watching our grandmother’s coffin drive away.

Some kept their strings short, wandering around with balloon bouquets of memories in front of their faces, and some let their balloons out so high, it seemed as though their strings were attached to the sky.  Warm womb balloons and tiny balloons of children’s laughter and great balloons from long sad days we thought we may have left behind, all strung along behind us for almost a month until the winds changed and as suddenly as they came, those iridescent casings flew away.

We weren’t sad to see them go like we thought we might be.  Some left their strings around their wrists as memories of the memories we had finally all seen, but seeing they were there for that brief time, we remembered they had always been there, our other selves in other times still living, and the present a helium balloon about to fly away.

Tai Chi Fan Boys

Tai Chi Fan Boys

Although we never thought to ask,
it was somehow discovered
that the men we thought homeless
only slept on Grange Park’s benches
so that they would have the best seats
to watch the white haired men in navy track-suits
do their early morning Tai Chi.

Tuesday Poem
This will be the day the sun hits just right, and for the first time this month you’ll have natural light coming through the gutter into the window of your basement apartment.
This will be the day you find the favourite gloves you thought you lost two years ago, and a picture of your dead grandmother wearing a bathing suit.
This will be the day a young woman holds the door for you.  You’ll make eye contact and say thank you like they did in the olden days.
This will be the day your boss is sick and you get to take an hour and a half lunch break.
This will be the day they’re handing out samples on the street and you’ll get a free roll of toilet paper.
This will be the day you give a man a quarter, and he’ll smile to show you he doesn’t have any teeth.
This will be the day you go into the grocery store and everything you normally buy is on sale.  $8.72 on food that will last you a week.
This will be the day you stand beside an old man on the corner and he’ll let you pet his dog.
It’s Tuesday, your socks match, your hair is doing almost what it’s supposed to, and things are going to be ok.

Every Time I Hear Square Dance Music…

When my sister was little, our parents took her to the doctor because they were afraid that something was wrong.  This was before I was born, so I don’t remember it, but the doctor gave my sister a full physical.

“She looks fine,” the doctor said.

“Please,” said our mom.  “She looks fine, but when she walks, there’s a problem.”

The doctor took my sister into the long hallway at the back of his office.  There were doors leading in all different directions to all different offices.  The adults stood back and watched my sister walk towards the end of the hall.

“Parents have a tendency to worry,” said the doctor.  “She’s perfectly healthy.”

“Ok,” said my dad.  “Then go get her.”

The doctor started walking to the end of the hall and nearly stepped on my sister.  It looked like she had walked far away, but instead she had shrunk.

“My lord,” said the doctor.

“We told you,” said my dad.  “The only way to get her back to normal size is if she walks backwards.”

“And if she walks sideways?”

My dad sighed and plugged his ears.  My mom nodded at my sister to walk to the side.

This time my sister actually did move, and she stayed normal size while she did it.  The only problem now was that as soon as my sister took a step, country music started playing like at a square dance.  Some invisible caller shouted out, “Step to the side, step to the side, dosey-doe.”

“Ok,” shouted my dad.  He grew up on a farm and there was nothing he hated more than square dancing.

There was nothing the doctor or any specialist could do.

It was ok for my sister when we were growing up though.  Sometimes she would walk backwards until she was a giant and let me ride around town on her shoulders, and she’d always get into the movies for free.  She’d shrink down really small and sneak in in my pocket.  The ushers always knew, but they let us get away with it.

Our dad would wear earplugs whenever my sister was around, and when we left town, she would shrink down and ride in a pouch around his neck.  Our mom had sewn the pouch especially for her.

“The town is fine,” our dad would always say, “but we don’t need the whole earth knowing our business.”

It all worked out pretty well until my sister was fifteen.  By then, she had a deaf boyfriend who didn’t care about the music blasting every time she walked, and she was starting to wonder which other fifteen-year-olds had to ride around in a little pouch every time they left town.  Besides, the pouch
was getting worn out, and our mom wasn’t around to make a new one.  She had been killed in a shark attack when I was ten and my sister was thirteen.  Only her pinky toe had washed up onto shore.

My sister and dad would fight every night.
“You shouldn’t be out gallivanting with your deaf boyfriend all the time,” he’d yell.  “You should be studying and thinking about your future.”
“Stop trying to control me,” she’d yell back, and then she’d slam out of the house.
My sister would wake us all up when she got home at three or 4am, the dosey-doe music as loud as ever, and our dad would yell at her the next night for staying out so late and waking me up when I had school in the morning.
When my sister was home though, our dad would spend his time in the shed so he didn’t have to hear that square dance music or remember he had two teenage daughters he was supposed to raise all on his own.
And then one night, we didn’t hear, “Swing your partner round and round and round, step to the side, step to the side.”
In the morning, my dad was sitting at the kitchen table with a spoon in his hand.  He was running the spoon back and forth across the table.  He’d done it so many times there was a mark in the wood.
When my sister did come home two days later with a black eye, my dad didn’t yell.  He sat at the kitchen table and my sister sat at the kitchen table and I made them both grilled cheese, and neither of them ate.
Things like that happened a few more times over the next year, and when my sister was sixteen, she moved out completely.
She had a job as a cook at the nursing home in town, and the owners let her and her deaf boyfriend rent one of the empty rooms at a discounted rate.
She’d quit school by then and pretty soon after her and her deaf boyfriend moved in, her deaf boyfriend moved back out again.  Then it was just my sister and all these old people.  I’d go visit her and she’d be playing bridge in the games room or else watching The Price is Right.
Our dad would never come see her.
Five years later, I was getting ready for university.  My sister barely left the nursing home by then.  Most of the residents were too old to hear the square dancing music and the ones that could hear it had such bad Alzheimer’s they didn’t realize it was the same song over and over.  They’d grab her arm as she side stepped past.
“What is that lovely music?” they’d ask.
“I don’t know,” she’d say back.  “But it is nice, isn’t it?”
Every few months my sister would talk about moving on.  She didn’t know anyone outside of town though and she hadn’t even finished high school.
“It’s almost my time,” she’d say.  She’d started talking slowly and loudly by then so that the old people could understand what she was saying.
“Time for what?” I’d ask.
And then one day, a week before I moved away for school, it was her time.  My sister hadn’t been at our house since two Christmases before, but she stepped sideways through the front door like she still lived there.
I think my dad and I both knew something was going on.  I made dinner and we sat around talking about the good things we’d done together.  We looked at the pictures from our trip to The Grand Canyon and even laughed about how after we’d buried our mother’s pinky toe we’d gone to Sea World and poisoned all the sharks as revenge.
After dinner, my dad offered to drive my sister back to the nursing home, but neither of us was surprised when she said she wasn’t going back.
My sister hugged my dad and hugged me, and we stood at the edge of the lawn and watched her walk away.
It took me a few seconds to realize there was no music.  My sister wasn’t walking sideways, she was walking forward.  My dad had to grab my by the arm to stop me from reaching out to her.
We watched as she got smaller and smaller until there was nothing left to see.  The wind picked up and maybe my sister was blown away with it, or maybe she’s still walking, getting smaller and smaller and

smaller.

Arachnid Apocalypse

• When the spiders come, our faces will be the first thing they eat.
• The clouds will split and unleash the arachnid apocalypse.
• Every human is an earth and all our tears are raindrops.
• I can taste the sadness in the water.
• After our faces are gone, we’ll all go on living.
• The spiders will destroy the city and rebuild it using webs.
• The skyline will be the same.
• The spiders will use our bodies as bricks.
• We’ll all go on living.
• I sometimes dream in band-aids.
• I sometimes dream in safety pins.
• We will have holes in our heads where our noses used to be.
• While our bodies are bricks, we’ll poke our brains through the holes.
• No one will ever be sad.
• We will eat the faces of our children.
• We will forget the faces of our lovers.
• We will put band aids over the holes where our noses used to be.
• We will all go on living.
• The spiders will eat our eyes.
• But no one will be there to tell us we’re blind.

And Inside Me Was an Enormous Octopus.

When the earthquake hit, the teacups on the shelf in my bedroom started dancing around and there were about twenty minutes there, before I checked google, when I thought that maybe they were possessed or enchanted or something.
That night, I had a dream I was pregnant with a gigantic octopus.  I was the same size I am now, only I knew there was an enormous octopus larger than a skyscraper inside of me.
I woke up and it was still dark out and my legs were aching like they needed to move.  Twitchy legs like old men have.  That’s a thing, right?
It was 5:30, and I waited until 5:45 because I figured the serial killers and rapists would be in bed by that time.
I stood in my kitchen, waiting, opening and closing the fridge door.  I took out an apple and washed it, then I washed it again using soap and a sponge, and at 5:45 I put on my coat and I said I’m going to walk every fucking street in Toronto.  I said it aloud, and I might have woken roommate by saying it so loud.
It was like the earthquake was still going on inside of my body or maybe I really was pregnant with a gigantic octopus only you couldn’t tell from the outside.
I walked east along Bloor and the sun rose like the city was drawing itself in, becoming three dimensional again.
At the used car dealership before Lansdowne, I thought it was raining, but when I looked up, it was just the foil fringe the owner had strung across the top of the parking lot rattling in the wind.
I kept a lookout for the Lansdowne rapist because I don’t think they ever actually caught that guy, and the further I walked, the more people came out of their apartments like they were all coming to say good morning even thought I knew none of them actually cared that I existed, and I guess it was fair because I didn’t care that they existed either.
I got to Korea Town, and the sun was right in my eyes like I was walking into it.  There was a doll’s foot on the sidewalk.  I don’t know where the rest of the doll went.  The earthquake was still going on in my legs and I could feel the octopus tentacles brushing against the inside of my skin.
At Spadina, I went south and started eating my apple.  I started thinking about taking the greyhound back from my parent’s house the Sunday before and how there had been a terrific thunderstorm.  I had kept falling asleep, and every time I’d woken up I’d had no idea what time it was.  It had felt like we had spent all night driving around and around the outside of Toronto, only when we got to Union Station it was just after eleven and the rain had stopped.
I was in Kensington market now, and it was the same kind of feeling as getting off the bus but worse.  I knew I’d walked the whole way there, but I couldn’t piece together how it had happened.  I thought maybe I’d always been in Kensington Market, looking into the window of a cheese store, and maybe I’d always had an earthquake in my legs, and maybe I’d always had a spectacular octopus in my chest, only I’d forgotten for a bit.
I had to work in a few hours, so I took the streetcar home beside eight or ten people with red eyes andtravel mugs stuck to their faces.  I looked out the window at the way people look when they are driving alone in their cars and don’t realize that anyone is watching them.  I thought about how all those people were once babies inside other people.  I thought about how all those people knew tonnes of other people and how we all somehow know everyone.  I thought about how the earth is so big that the sun never sets on it.  I thought about the earth how we’re all balanced on tectonic plates floating on melted rock hotter than anything anyone can ever imagine.  Sometimes the tectonic plates crash into one another, and sometimes they don’t.  I still had the core of my apple in my hand, but I couldn’t remember when I’d finished eating it

Chase

sunset and streetcar down College
this first bike ride of the season,
black patches of snow still melting,
lost gloves uncovered and unclaimed.
The earth might not be a blind man’s eyeball,
but it feels like a blind man’s eyeball,
clouded cornea,
coasting over cracked asphalt
against a black background getting blacker.
The lights go down in the movie theatre,
and everyone shuts up.

Worth It or The Cat Keeps Shitting on the Carpet

The cat keeps shitting on the carpet.  It’s not my cat, and it’s not my carpet, but I pay fifty percent of the rent, and the whole time I’ve lived in our apartment, I’ve never shat on the carpet, not even once.

I keep thinking about that time my friend had manic depression.

“There are ways you can manage this,” the doctor had said.  “This doesn’t have to be a detriment on the rest of your life, the rest of your life, the rest of your life.”

And then it went away.  After a few months she felt fine, and she’s mostly felt fine since then.

“I think I was just sad,” she told me, but I wonder if she wakes up some mornings and looks in the mirror with her hair all messy and last night’s makeup scrolling down her face and really quietly or maybe just in her head she says, manic depression, manic depression, bi-polar disorder, disorder, disorder, the rest of your life.

Sometimes, I look in my mirror, and I ask myself, am I out of control?  Whose control?  Who is control?

I think I’m most beautiful on hangover mornings.  I rub the black from under my eyes, and then it’s just the red that surrounds them.  My eyes look so clear on mornings like that.  I feel delicate like I’ve lost an entire layer of cells, peeled off like a sunburn except off everything, my brain, my heart, my lungs, everything but my teeth when I forget to brush them.

I don’t know what we’re going to do about the cat.  This morning, hangover morning two for this week, although I try to only have one, I saw the cat had shit on the floor, and I just stepped over the shit into the bathroom.  I washed last night’s mascara from under my eyes, then stepped over the shit again and went to work.

Last night, I went to a bar and stood outside to watch my friends smoke.

“Guys, what’s the name of this bar?  Where are we?  How long have you known about this bar?”

“I don’t know,” said one of my smoking friends.  “I think it was always here.”

And then we looked at each other, and then I looked back at the bar, and I could really believe that it had just always been there, not in the sense that Neanderthals had stopped there for a gin and ginger on their way home to their caves, but more it felt like we were the first people, the first people ever, and that this was the beginning of always.

I was woken up this morning by the lesbian mothers who live up the street from me.

They were shouting their children’s eccentric names.

“Garnet and Eleanor, don’t cross the street without us.  Garnet and Eleanor, wait there.”

“Garnet,” I said to myself in the mirror after I’d rubbed the black from under my eyes.  “Your name will be Garnet forever.”  I was so happy that it wasn’t.

On the way home from work, I saw my old landlord out the streetcar window.  We used to call him Toben.  He looks like a guy whose name would be Toben.  His name is actually Doug.

Doug-Toben stepped out of a store and there was a dog in front.  He went up to the dog and he started petting it, and that made me so happy.  It was great to see my old landlord in real life petting a dog and to remember that he still existed and I still existed even though I didn’t live in his apartment building anymore.

I sometimes call the cat Taya even though that’s the name of my dead dog.  I sometimes do it to be funny, as a joke just for myself, and I sometimes do it because I forget.  When I do it because I forget, I get sad because Taya is dead and this cat is still alive and shitting on my carpet.  But then I remember that I will probably live longer than this cat, and most of the problems I have now are not problems I’ll have for the rest of my life, the rest of my life, the rest of my life.

I’ve been wearing my underwear inside out for two weeks now, but one day I will do laundry and one day I will cook a real dinner and one day I will get my haircut in a salon.  The water will be warm on my scalp and the stylist will run her hands through my hair.  I will have a memory that is impossible to have.  It will be of me as a baby taking a bath in the kitchen sink.  I will remember that the soap smelled like oatmeal and that my skin was so soft, and I will know then that it was worth it.

National Motorcycle and Tattoo Show and After

Saturday night, I found myself with a job at the National Motorcycle and Tattoo Show.  I sampled kangaroo jerky and held out impotent pamphlets for motorcycle safety courses to bikers with face tattoos who refused to make eye contact.
And after I was at a friend’s house, drinking wine from a teacup and listening to a French band from Brazil.  It was a record from the 1970’s, both authentic and ironic, and apparently, it kept skipping, and it might have been the wine, but I didn’t notice.
The tattoo booths, lined up at one side of the show, held overweight men with their shirts off and smelled antiseptic like some intimate sickness as though HIV had a scent.  Even after I got on the streetcar, I could hear the tattoo guns buzzing like there was a man in the back seat giving out free tattoos to children, “Did you want an eagle or a crucifix?” He’d ask.  “I’m only doing eagles and crucifixes from now on, or I can tattoo a picture of a cat on your neck.”
It was raining nuts and bolts as I walked Dufferin to King to catch the streetcar going east, and I kept my eyes on the McDonald’s sign, Over 99 Billion Served.  I passed people going in either direction with bags of french-fries and greasy burgers, and I pretended I didn’t need to eat.  I would get drunk faster if I didn’t have dinner.
On the streetcar, I listened to a mother scream at her son.  A man and a woman got on and talked to the kid about Thomas the Tank Engine, and then everyone was calm.  I sat beside a man with red hair, and we didn’t look at each other the whole way.
At The Motorcycle and Tattoo Show, there were Bikers for Christ, the Ride for Lupus, the Jewish Defense League and the Sons of Anarchy.  The man at the jerky stall told me he’d almost perfected walrus jerky, and everyone had matching vests because they were all in secret clubs, and I wasn’t a part of any of them.  Three policemen walked by, but I didn’t see them arrest anyone.
I didn’t really know anyone at my friend’s house.  I had another friend who was supposed to be coming but not until later, and for some reason I was sitting on a bar stool, and everyone else was on regular chairs below me.  It didn’t make me feel like a king though.  I drank my wine and ate popcorn and tried to pretend I wasn’t hungry and tried to think of things to say that were funny but non-offensive.
The tattoo booths all had line ups, and I was too shy to speak to anyone there.  I wanted to go up to the neck tattoo people and cover their noses and mouths to see if they could breathe through the holes in their skin.  I wanted to ask everyone there if their blood felt more colourful now that they had ink inside of them.
When I got off the streetcar from The Motorcycle and Tattoo Show, I still had to walk a long way to get to my friend’s house.  I took a side street, and the walk felt even longer because it was just me.  There was a light on in almost every house, and I don’t know why, but that made me so sad.  Maybe it was that I was hungry, and I didn’t know how far I needed to walk, or maybe it was that I could hear my footsteps and each streetlight projected a perfect circle onto the wet pavement, or maybe it was just that all those people, metres away from me, were already at home, and I still had a long way to go.