Three poems

October 2018

Uncle                                                                                                                

 

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.

 

Var
Michael Pittman
Acrylic, India ink and graphite on baltic birch plywood
2018

 

Fluorspar

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.

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