Three Poems

by Stevie Howell

Stevie Howell is a writer, editor, and psychology student living in Toronto. Her work has been published in Hazlitt, The Walrus, Maisonneuve, and elsewhere. Her first book of poetry, called ^^^^^^ ^^^^^^ ^^^^^^ is forthcoming from Goose Lane in fall 2014.

SINKHOLES TONIGHT

Get a load of this—
animals lodge their heads in jars and fences,
do the moonwalk to extract themselves.
A toddler falls

down a well
every decade more or less. An adolescent refugee
from an enemy state aspirates ashore, dashing,
clinging to a board,

and they are lucky.
But we are luckier. AP takes one for the team again,
we loop their free radical pain, and feel invincibly
pro-social.

The View group-hugs
the exclamation point of an outspoken or
unspoken policy. At mass, the priest opens
his laptop,

my stomach drops
5 Gs. God save airport security. Whomever I vote for
winds up indicted for cronyism. One of us is
a conspiracist.

The sinkhole epidemic
continues. Cruise ships keep switching to sidestroke.
We stopped building churches out of wood. It made
more sense on paper.

 

FÖRLÅTER

That child on the plane was worse
than British weather. We rushed
through the extruded, carpeted square
with her screams ricocheting
in our dura matter. Her parents
are numb; our past is her future.

We flew over plush archipelagos
where it’s no longer possible
for inhabitants to not be counted.
To not have an academic in an attic
write a lamentation on the loss
of your land’s metaphors.

To not have a clipper ship sail around
your B-612–sized coast and decree
ownership of your guano. To not have
Oliver Sacks putter in on a prop plane
and chew a sea urchin under your palm.
Anything can happen, and it will.

The question is, to whom.

 

In Dublin’s Medieval-est bar, a drunk
on the topic of urban planning waxes, “We,
here, prefer the horizontal line so sprawl is inevitable.”
Later, I watched a Gaelic program on TG4 about village stone walls:
the raised scars are embedded with dead newborns.

My architecture professor scolded a classmate
for asking his sister if the tower he’d made
was too tall. The prof said, “What does
a 16-year-old girl know about
anything other than
the horizontal?”

They know how babies end up under walls.

 

From Dublin I boarded a vacant, sloth train
up a swarthy coast. A broken cliff
with a waterfall served as ball-cap brim
to squat mobile homes. The Atlantic
lay fallow, spitting like a snake-pit
at the Plexiglas picture windows.

Bus tours raced me from Botanic
to landmarks. Couples streamed out louvered doors
like fire ants. The pairs hugged, marvelled
at boulders, waves, peat—each other.
What a joy it seemed, to feel small together;
to share in our diminishment.

 

My husband and I are an ocean apart
less than a year after the wedding.
While I pale against the constellation

of your ideas, you refuse to believe
we are near anything, darling …
The lune de meil has crystallized;

It’s gone hard and the smell is off,
the canal is compressing—“Quick,
go to Shoppers, honey, get the drops.”

 

Homeostasis isn’t supposed to
disrupt progress, but it does and will until
we’re self-taught about what love is

—which is forgiveness in perpetuity.
I go to the bow, so to speak, while
you sit in the stern. Kids are chronic

with a battery of illnesses—it makes
them resilient, but the smallest rift kills us,
the way a snake cannot inhabit a rope.

 

It’s lush here so I remember the Burren.
A child is a spire, and a spire is a needle,
threaded with adults’ shadows or halos,

never both. Sure, I can sew a tyrant
a sailor suit, but do I want to be a tailor?
A woman I knew sat on her shears

and they slid into her dorsal column.
The prom dress was delivered early
and she limps through the mall, mimes

how grace is sublime and terror-fraught.

 

In Antrim, the sun shafted
down from clouds all //// |||| \\\\
like in one of those evangelical

graphic novels strategically abandoned on public transit.

Below my hexagonal rock, the Atlantic
gurgled into the broken castanet
of a barnacle. When Barthes wrote,
“the Earth is a mother who never dies,” he swiped his best line

from the Maori (that’s the just-ness
of a lie). But, where do these words leave me?
If I’m not a mother, and I’ve never tried?

 

Barren, on a mossy ledge
trying to believe in
what I left, by—what else—
writing it down,

wiping my nose
on my sleeve
while my eggs
rot in their nest.

An eagle is a vulture
wearing a stolen crown.
He’s never torn.
But I haven’t tried my best.

I’m told the first people
hugged the coasts
and their first prayers
weren’t for rain,

but for the sun to remain
unfractured, whole,
and not a symbol of anything
but itself.

 

THE CROOK AND FLAIL

A fervent mother
insisted her children sleep hands crosswise
to each shoulder,
like an emblem of swords on a crest.
This was to prevent funny business
in pajama pants.

Poppy slept like this for most
of his 85 years, as if centuries before, in another land,
a Mummy’s sarcophagus,
an etched Pharaoh gripping Crook and Flail,
emulating Osiris, transcending his
no-good brother, Seth.

 He was one of 13.
One had a quadruple bypass, his lungs scrubbed of HVAC
work—a human grease trap.
Another lived on crutches in the office trailer
of his used car lot, perpendicular
to The Loan Arranger.

 Another did a U-turn
on the Trans Canada, end-stopped in front of a freighter.
That’s a flavour.
In the year before he died, he lamented on repeat,
“You heard about my Mum,” sobbing—
she’d been dead for decades.

 As disease progressed,
he enacted dreams. Reason failed, motor revved, and no one
could hand-sign or sight-read.
Then he couldn’t swallow or speak.
He lay fetal in a hospital bed as if he’d sustained
a blow to the gut, his comb-over

sketching an apraxic Spirograph
on boiled sheets. It snowed. It sunned. You spoon-fed
him ice and he clenched
your hand so tight you dropped the full cup
in the bed to pry open his vice-grip. Each
knuckle mound plum-hued,

as if you’d brawled,
as if you’d been the one who buckled him. The marks faded
and you ached for those traces.
They were proof. Appearing
to snooze in his Sunday suit, the lacquered trap
was lowered over him,

 then his reliquary swayed over
a salivating hole. The Caterpillar digger paused
until we were blown inside
to balance rattling porcelain cups and saucers under
a mirrored coffee urn. Spring was labile,
gull-screeching,

 a puritanical woman
behaving like the Old Testament itself.
But that was his origin and his home.
Grasping, you’ve been told, is
the first and last sign of life.
You gotta let it go.

 


Stevie Howell is a writer, editor, and psychology student living in Toronto. Her work has been published in Hazlitt, The Walrus, Maisonneuve, and elsewhere. Her first book of poetry, called ^^^^^^ ^^^^^^ ^^^^^^ is forthcoming from Goose Lane in fall 2014.

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