We looked up

2 Jan

We looked up to try to see the sky, but the oaks blocked out everything except for isolated streaks of shifting blue that managed to penetrate the foliage. The oaks were an ever-encasing species, arriving again and again at a place they had never arrived at before. Arrival is like that particular moment with the oaks. They begin their day in the dark, and again and again discover themselves in sunlight, now muted, now fierce. They find themselves where they have never been before, and where they have never been before is where they once were before they arrived again where they were never going to be. And they were always going nowhere, in the way of trees, swaying where the wind blows, reaching in this direction or that, straying from the upright, but always arriving back at a place they have never been, slightly swaybacked today, older than they once were, and on their way again to where they have never been before. At some point, as we stopped to look up, a violent wind – one that we could barely feel where we were there on the forest floor – tore at the tops of the trees, revealing a swath of blue that raised our spirits momentarily. But the branches snapped back, as though angry at being tugged aside so indecorously, and the small pool of hope we’d felt closed over again like the eye of an animal closing for the last time beneath the gaze of its stalker.

1 Jan

  I knew that far above us clouds drifted in the blue sky, speckled occasionally by birds that from down here were nothing but black dots. Those dots shot vectors to the farms on the other side of the wood, and then more vectors to places beyond. Like umbrellas stripped of their skin, all wire pointing around and down in every direction. Upward were the planets and stars. Behind me, Mama was baking and the kitchen was warm. I lay on my back on the tattered throw rug, watching my hands fly away above my face. 

30 Dec

  There was a golden light deep within the house, speckled from the rain that had frozen onto the windowpane. It was so cold. My breath lifted away from me, rising and twisting before evaporating into the air above my head. Snow crunched under my boots. I’d been away a long time. I had no idea what awaited me inside. I stayed for a long time out by the window before going around the house to the back door. 


29 Dec

The old man got up on a chair and looked out through the top corner of the window pane where the glass wasn’t painted over. He could hear the girl lying on the floor below him, crying and pounding her fists and kicking her feet. Something made of glass fell and shattered. There was no sound for a time. Then the girl started in banging around again. The old man thought the world was looking grainier today. It was probably just his glasses failing him. He would not get a new pair of glasses now before he died. 


29 Dec

Sometimes it doesn’t seem possible to accomplish what I want to accomplish without touching things I wouldn’t normally agree to touch. Which leads me to believe that accomplishing what I want to accomplish might require a degree of insanity on my part. I mean insanity in the sense of ecstasy. Ecstatic. I mean, I would have to be in the throes of passion so overwhelming that it resembled insanity. In order for me to touch the things I have to touch in order to accomplish what I want to accomplish, I mean. 

My mother wanted Christmas coasters

27 Dec

My father was on his hands and knees on the floor behind me. I was at the kitchen table. My father fell sideways onto the floor. He groaned. “My back just spasmed,” he said. He groaned again. “Can I do anything?” I asked. “No,” he said. I could hear him panting behind me, but I didn’t turn around. I was cutting out a stencil of a snowflake and it was intricate work. 

I could hear when Dad went back to work on the freezer. He had melted all the ice before his back spasmed. Now he was putting the freezer back together. Every now and again as he worked he groaned at a fresh spasm of pain. “Do you need help, Dad?” I asked, still working on my snowflake stencil. “It’s okay,” Dad said. “I’m almost done here.”


11 Dec

She was eating something when she came back. Something in Styrofoam. She was wearing the same black leather jacket she came home in the last time she went away. I had the TV on. The door opened. We looked at each other. I wanted to go and hug her. I wanted to smell that smell of leather mixed with her juices. That stuff that comes out of her armpits, her pores. But I was afraid. I wasn’t sure what she was doing back. She always came back. I never understood why. I felt thin, like the bristles on a broom after it’s been used too many times.    She picked one of the fried things out of the Styrofoam, put it in her mouth. 

   “What is that?” I asked. It felt good to say something. I didn’t care if she answered or not.

   “Want one?” she asked. She held one out. I looked at her arm. 

   I stood up. Walked. I took the thing she was holding in her hand. I didn’t want it. It looked like something deep-fried. I didn’t feel like eating anything. But I wanted to get out of the chair. 

   I held it up. I looked at it. “Thanks,” I said. 

   “Sure.” She had a little black purse hanging off her shoulder. It was Saturday. 

   She went in the kitchen. I watched her legs. Like two pumps. I walked. Sat in my chair. I could hear her in the kitchen. “Got any gum?” she called. 

   She came back into the living room. Looked at me. I saw the way her eyes fell closed when she blinked. I wanted to open my mouth and rest my lips on her face. “You gonna eat that thing?” she asked. I still had the fried thing in my hand. I raised it to my mouth. Put it in. I held it on my tongue. I looked out the window. Clouds rushed over the world like they had someplace to go.

Beyond the mosaic

23 Nov

Beyond the mosaic of yellow squares that rise up in the dark like a wall above my bed, there is another universe, a world where I fall into the faces of passers-by, inhabiting them like a candle with new light, a new way for them to touch the world. But they run off ahead of me, trailing me behind them like a vapour trail, or the tail of a kite, luminous in the sky above. I’m out again, my own self tipping quietly toward the yellow wall, wanting always to go back through, but there are some days when you just can’t. Sometimes weeks. There might have been a number of years there when I never remembered that the yellow wall was there. Some days you just have to ride the bus to work and continue to hope. Or not even that. Forget hope. Just carry on. Slide along in faith. Something might matter again someday.

The new guy is ready with his gun of light shining out somehow from deep inside him.

It was the day I chipped my middle finger nail. The people on the bus had their eyes closed. Except for the girl with her hair piled up on top of her head like something burst up out of her skull.

I see Hilary

2 Aug

  I see Hilary Clark at the Broken Pencil 20th anniversary party. The party is at the Gladstone. I haven’t seen Hilary for twenty years. Since she went off to New York. I thought she was still in New York. When Hal said she was here at this party, I thought she had come back to Toronto for a visit, maybe. I pictured a hole where Hilary used to be. To me, Hilary Clark was this space left behind in Toronto, like the opening to a portal that led to the big wide world. But no. It turns out she works for TVO now and lives in Toronto. Her and I and Hal worked on Blood and Aphorisms together many years ago. Hilary and I chat for a while. She has a daughter. Seven years old. She had her when she was forty-one years old. “I never intended to have kids,” she says. “But then I thought about you having two kids and still writing all those books and I thought, ‘Well, if he can do it.’…” I give her my business card. She gives me hers. “Look at us,” she says, “all grown up.” I talk to Rachel for a while just before I leave to go home. She tells me Ella is at sleepover camp. It’s the same camp Hal and his brother went to when they were kids. One year, Rachel tells me, Hal came back from camp and when his parents opened his suitcase mice jumped out. I guess they wanted to hitch a ride to the city, Rachel says. She laughs. Last summer Rachel packed a lunch for Ella to eat on the way up to the camp and it was still there in Ella’s suitcase when she came home from camp two weeks later. I ride my bike up Gladstone, through the deserted park. There’s a couple kissing by a tree, and some noisy teenagers saying goodbye to each other, but the crowds of people who were in the park when I rode down at 8:30 are gone now. When I get to Bloor, I go down into the subway and wait. After a while, I feel wind coming up the tunnel, so I know a train is coming. I look down the tunnel and see that there is a light on the wall. And then the train comes around the corner and into the station. It’s pretty crowded on the train. This is bad because I have my bike and it’s hard to find a place to stand where I’m not bumping into people or blocking a door. I switch subway lines at Yonge Street. A lot of people get on at Lawrence. This makes no sense and pisses me off. I check the time. It’s 11:40 p.m. I’m tired. I look at a girl. Then I look at a burly middle aged  man with big headphones clamped over his ears. The man is bopping his head to his music and stamping his foot. Beside him, a guy is falling asleep. His chin is on his chest and he is drooling on his T-shirt. I switch sides on the subway car so I’m not blocking the doors when we get to North York Centre. I look at the same girl I looked at before, but from a different angle. We get to Finch. The girl I’ve been looking at goes by me. She has no bra on under her black top. I go up the stairs carrying my bike. It’s a five minute ride to get from the subway station, across the subway parking lot, to the place where I parked the car this morning.

Mary loves her garden

27 Jul

  Mary squats down beside her lilies and curses. The red beetles are eating them. Mary hates the red beetles. They came a couple years ago and now they are back. “They cover themselves in their own feces,” Mary tells me, “so that no predator wants them.” She lops off the entire top of one of her lily plants and drops it into a bucket of soapy water. “Soapy water is supposed to kill them,” Mary tells me, “but it doesn’t work. I read it online,” she adds. “If you pour the water onto the plant, like the internet tells you to, it just washes the beetles into the soil where they lay their eggs so they can come back and kill your lilies next year. Some people have just given up planting lilies,” Mary says. “Because of these stupid beetles.”