I saw these words in bold across
an older woman’s chest, and Amen!—
the day of reckoning approaches when
every loyal crustacean, even those 2-inch
armored crayfish who rear up on sidewalks,
unleashing their lobsterish fury if a Nike
or a dog comes too close; who parry
with claws and other finer extremities,
enemies real or imagined. Lo, the day
is nigh when they will not retreat. And how
soon do their brethren feral prawns
follow suit, self-sprung from quiescent
curls, having fled the fish farms, blocked
the freeways, a million paired antennae
aimed downtown? Time to to pass
evolution’s task to the variously
exoskeletoned and their kin. Already,
the distant shell-clatter, as scallops mass
onshore to drag their own sweet meats
from beach to boulevard, while rumours
swirl of mussels bearing letters of transit.
But relax. Until we ride our own soft
underbellies down to the waters
from whence we came, Quaker values.
Find the shirt. Learn what it knows.
Daily, dejected, I make a school lunch
to Eco-friendly guidelines: no-waste bins,
reusable napkin for the young Queen,
utensils of compostable corn—a slightly
sickening thought. But once the house has
emptied, my own workday sandwich calls
forth the tin foil from its long box, stashed
like a silver flask from righteous eyes.
Unspooled on the counter, it’s mercury-
smooth, such pleasure to lay my meagre
whole wheat slices upon those satin sheets.
Daily, too, I remember my friend Anna,
curvaceous, undisputed beauty of sixth grade,
whose father, Mr. Markopoulos, worked
for Alcan in Kitimat, B.C., before it was
synonymous with poisoned rivers. And even
if Mrs. M. died early of tumours, he must have
taken pride in how, when crumpled and tossed
in the general direction of the non-compostable
trash, foil seizes the early light like a god’s
winged chariot, and all those birds communing
in the airshaft fall silent when such a wonder
flies by. Or should—out of respect for the ’50s,
or the ’60s, for Anna, or for Mr. Markopoulos,
who had the kind of profile you see on ancient
Roman coins, and all the gravitas these birds lack.
PEELING THE WALLPAPER
It was irresistible—nights, facing the wall
from my narrow bed, the neat vertical join
of pink and white panels, so precisely aligned.
Questioned, I must have denied, or claimed
it was beyond my control, like John Malkovitch
in Les Liasons Dangereuses, overwhelmed by
the presence of young Madame de Tourvel,
repeating that phrase until it became one thin,
continuous sob. Yes, at six years old, I was
possessed to peel the paper with my nails,
to reveal the underlying glue, varnishy-yellow
and dried to the consistency of old mustard,
then chip—oh, deliciously—down to the plaster.
I vaguely remember my mother’s entreaties,
but she had her own secrets, knew all about
unstoppable forces, or how to paper over.
She must have bought an extra roll of pink
and white, to patch or cover as needed,
but whatever possessed her to keep it
through four moves and fifty-plus years,
just to land on her closet’s deepest shelf?
She was out of reach by then, so I leaned
in and spoke to that roll’s familiar pattern:
I told it everything I’m telling you now.
Julie Bruck’s third and most recent collection is Monkey Ranch (Brick Books), which received the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry. Her new (still unnamed) book is forthcoming in 2018. Recent work has appeared in Plume, The New Yorker, The Rusty Toque, Hazlitt, and both the 2015 and 2016 editions of Best Canadian Poetry in English. A long-time Montrealer, Julie lives in San Francisco with her husband and daughter. More info can be found on her website.