BY Molly Clarke
My uncle slumps against the doorframe, his cigarette a sixth finger.
He is a night of amber whiskey and dried-up triumphs.
The smoke from his hand rises straight up —
a desolate thin cloud that disappears as quickly
as his disappointment. He carries many things
that won’t let him forget. But even in his deliberateness
he was never deliberate, and I wish I could patch
the holes in his drywall to let him know.
He still has their school pictures tucked in the frame of his mirror,
so every time he sees himself, he suffers twice.
If he had stayed on the prairies where a candle flame
can be spotted from 30 miles away
he surely would have glimpsed their loneliness —
here everything is wrapped in fog and the land
rises and dips like the surface of the moon. Some days the river floods
into the sky, which might be the only way out.
or St Lawrence has no men left
A non-metallic ore that filled a gap, allowed the ends to meet.
It had been hidden, mysteriously tucked under rock, leaking
into their water pipes but only making their teeth stronger. No wonder
dentists made no money in this town.
No canaries here, either. Wouldn’t be an issue. The ocean had emptied
but these men had ridden the biggest waves, came up sputtering and salted.
Someone once said frogs become frozen in winter, everything
except their vital organs turning to ice. They didn’t have that luxury here.
Men turned into moles. Blind and shuffling in the musky rot
of a world we weren’t meant to explore. They’d come up looking the same,
clammy and begrimed. Go home to different wives and see how long it’d take
them to notice.Wondered if their spit would ever be clear again.
There was no other colour except green. Seafoam, overcast day. A colour
that didn’t work for Christmas, but could be a relative. The pieces of seafoam rock
they unearthed and sold to companies that didn’t appreciate them. A colour
you’d imagine on a butterfly. You’d never think it could kill you.
~ ~ ~
If they had to do it again, they’d import some canaries. Would starlings work?
Kids scrape the dirt for leftover fragments, line their window-sills with seafoam.
Their moms want to sweep them into the garbage but get distracted
by the way they catch the light. Dentist bills are still cheap.
Ode to Potatoes
Early September, if summer had been
gentle, they’d be ready for us.
I’d wait with eager hands as Pop turned the soil,
his hands less playful, but smarter than mine.
Damp dirt darkening my boots and thickening
under my flimsy fingernails as I gathered them
like a mother bird rounds up her young.
They grew like gargoyles, misshapen. Angry
at the soil that wasn’t kind, the rocks that trapped.
I’d try to find the one that looked most like a
grandfather, weary and weathered but mild.
I never told him why I always took one home.
The others littered the wheelbarrow until the
tinkling bottom was filled and the sound muffled.
I never knew if he needed me, if my small hands
did anything he couldn’t do himself. But I loved their
cool hardness and the way his foot and shovel moved
as one, cutting the earth, turning over a soggy smell.
The easy rhythm, the matching sunburns.
A slow silence that felt like a root,
something deeper than potatoes.