Aurora

May 29, 2017

The second time I’d ever seen
the Northern Lights I was
lying in an open field with you, feeling
your hands sliding all over
my temptations and your pulse
deep between my judgments, and your breath
caught in your rambling with
uncertainty
about everything but the fact that this
was the aurora,
and it wasn’t green,
which was unusual.
You said you were better at cuddling.

And it didn’t matter because
I knew what you liked
before even you knew it, and I liked
that. I wasn’t hoping
for you to take charge. Rather,
I wanted to give you
what you didn’t know you were wishing for.
The dark sparkle,
the slow magic,
the flashes of electricity across the atmosphere.

As soon as you stopped the small talk I asked
if I could hold your hand.
I was waiting for you, quietly,
like a midwife, or a hunter.
It is hard to say which.

And I won’t say I didn’t feel sparks,
or zaps of lightening,
some kind of newness with that old
familiarity.
On the night we first met in December I said
I was happy to see the moon again, but what
I didn’t know I meant was that
I was happy to meet you.
You didn’t understand either. I mean,
you were standing there with your skipping rope
in the driveway, probably wondering why
I was talking to you about the moon.

And all you can do is understand me insofar as you’ve
met yourself,
relate everything you think I’m feeling
to your own experience, but
the sadness in me does not warrant
your promises or your warnings.
I’m afraid of predators.
I am not afraid of the wilderness.

But I can’t say this to you,
with your starry eyes and
insecurities, and what it means
that a woman who knows the shape and feel
of your hunger does not
want much from you.
Truly, it was enough
to lie under the night sky with you,
listening to you say that

the bright dancing lights of the aurora
are actually
collisions between
electrically charged particles
from the sun that enter
the earth’s atmosphere.

I knew what you meant.
I gave you permission.

Back when I still didn’t know
how you liked to be touched,
before even you could be sure,
you asked me not to hurt you.

I told you I probably would.

Not on purpose, though, okay?
Not on purpose.

After all the men I’ve undressed I know
how to cradle a human body,
and how to warm it.
It’s the heart I’m tempted to eat.

And your body was a mosque,
or an ocean;
I fumbled around in the deep waters,
feeling for the places I knew,
from other places I’d been,
and the parts that made you breathe faster.

I told you that you probably won’t forget this;
you’ll  be eighty years old and thinking about
the time you fooled around with a woman
six years older than you
in a gravel pit
under the Northern Lights.

Don’t howl at them, I say.
An old Native chief will own your soul.

Truly, it was only my second time seeing them.

And you told me about how your last lover
treated your heart and your body,
some disposable sack of napkins,
wiping up the semen from her ex boyfriend’s fits of indifference;
she rolled over and fell asleep.

And you felt in ways like a flower,
or a pearl; some sort of sweetness in you,
an open mouth stuck between
the inability to grow teeth,
and the unwillingness to bite.

Having eaten a tongue in the past I know
that no matter how tempting,
it always chokes you.

Instead, I massaged your heart with mine on a grassy patch
in the wide open night sky,
with shooting stars all around and you asking
if you could trust me.

The truth is that I probably will
inadvertently bite your tongue out and swallow it 
because I still haven’t figured out how to be kind
with someone who is kind to me.

We’re fucked up people, I say.
I think we sort of want to be abused.

You said you were afraid of me;
that you handed over your power–
and I said I didn’t want it.
I just wanted us to be ourselves.
But the truth was that you were a soft place,
and I felt wretched and spiked and oozing in sores.

Maybe I wasn’t so bad.

What I didn’t tell you is that I’m the one who is nervous:
to be holding a glass bowl,
with your fragrant heart inside,
and my teeth full of diamonds and sand,
grinding on each other,
like bodies, fumbling around in a darkened field under a new moon,
feeling familiar places still foreign,
and you asking shy and apologetic questions with
your voice and your hands and your hunger,
and your open mouth,
receptive and defenseless as a womb or a fetus.

Silently you dream of
Chile and Peru; somewhere
below the equator, where
only the wild geese know you by name. You think

of that: of learning the language and languor,
of leaving your last life like that–I mean,
you could crumple it up, or fold
it into paper airplanes; you could write
lines on it like that: something
to help you loosen your old leanings, eclipsed by
anonymous

secrets adorning the page like
knots of forgetfulness and
text messages. You used
to pick them: tiny blue flowers;
scatter them on rocks
with the god carved out of them.
They mean nothing.

Wild Geese

May 25, 2017

“Mama,” you would say: “Where do the geese fly to?”
“South,” I say. “They go south.”
“But why,” you would ask, “Why do they need to?”
“Because they would be too cold here, honey. They couldn’t survive.”

“How cold,” you say, “How cold does it get?”
“Below freezing,” I reply. “Minus twenty. Snow, and rain; these are not conditions for geese,” I say. “No condition for almost anyone.”

The truth is that the room was opaque as his pupils; and he fished in his front pocket for his keys with the bright green lure on them and lead me into his truck. I hit the floor.

“What was on the floor?”
“Broken glass,” I say. “Mommy was on the floor with broken glass.”
“But why,” you ask, “Why were you on the floor?”
“Because,” I say. “Because mommy was very sick. The floor was red.”

Then his face taking form, some kind of cigarette smoke mirage, the opposite of a birthday wish. And the sickening false raspberry air freshener was singing in tones usually reserved for the realm of ghosts and assassins—

“Assassins?” you would say.
(You understood ghosts.)

And you would ask, “Mama,” and, “Why was the floor red?”
“Because you made a mess,” I would chuckle. “You always made such a mess.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. It was me. I was sick. Mommy’s tummy was bleeding.”

“When the geese fly south they go where it’s warm.”

“Look, the world gets too cold for them here. I mean they wouldn’t survive the winter.”

“Don’t look at me like that. I said they go where it’s safe.”

Dunes

May 24, 2017

My mother had a marigold garden,
childish paint splashes
orange and gold,
like sunlight,
and egg yolks,
and tropical fruit:
that perfume called “Fetish”;
I smelled a sample in a Teen magazine,
bought some at the IDA, and
showered it on like bug spray:
sparkles and bad dance music,
a too generous helping of giggles and deodorant.
I remember wearing
mauve from head to toe–I mean–I must have looked
like a heavy branch sleepy with lilacs,
like waddling home from school,
like the feeling I got in the car at night,
eyelids fighting off red and gold,
like my heart when you didn’t come.

I rode your rusty red bicycle
to the water in May before
the sun went down,
with tufts of grass along the dunes;
I scribbled lines in my notebook:
words like “languid” and “squalor.”
“foreboding” and “singular.”
I still hated to be called “kid” then and
that fact that I hadn’t finished dreaming of
my mother bathing me in the kitchen sink.

Baghdad

May 24, 2017

You cut yourself on ballet slippers and tulip stems,
and you wore the burnt out remains
of a war-torn country:
asphalt and blame,
and the hot metallic taste of glue and what it means
to live on the edge
of your own skin like that: be a pilgrim
when you’ve got Tibetan singing bowls of tears in you,
spilling over like wind chimes in the rain,
like pots and pans,
and dog dishes,
and your heart
forgotten in the dirt-splattered garden
by the red plastic shovel
that no one uses anymore.

You can’t afford to exhale.
Think of all the sandcastles that would dissolve.

Silently, you comb the nightmares from your hair,
observing, as the flimsy curtain of sleep does not
separate much anymore:
not even who you present yourself as,
and who you are.

No one tries to look like smoke anymore.
Won’t even brush the inertia from their teeth,
or disentangle the shame from their eyelashes.
Love has become a broken pipe of falsehoods
with nothing in it but dirt, and you
don’t even try to hide
your bouquet of jealous thistles anymore.
I don’t think you have to.
Not even you are proud of your behaviour these days.

And maybe it was the unravelling of social dance,
or the caution tape around your sleeping tongue
that wouldn’t let the tiny bubbles of truth through. But
I can remember a time
when your heart felt bigger than your body.
Stars breathed in there.
I thought I could see my reflection,
like someone’s mother, smiling back at me.
I took refuge in her arms:
city of peace–
I drowned in the Tigris, roaring,
with scratches of silver all over my body,
like the inside of a coffin.

Daughter

May 22, 2017

You feel far away from me:
some sort of moon shape
mirage stalking my
windowpane,
reflecting in glass, indigo ink,
some sort of velvet softness in you:
some sort of ribbon. And the breath

and blood that tie us together are in
my silver locket now,
with your first tooth inside,
and the monster from your bad dreams.
And how you ate him.

I couldn’t bring you into the world.
You would have killed me.

Instead, I planted peas all morning; I covered
them in dirt. I admired
emerald pools and thought
of how much I ache
to show you this place–
how I long to pick hydrangeas with you, say
words like “flower” and “moon.” And how
I would love to hear you
say them back to me:
words like “fire” and “mom.” And I would love

the sound of your first utterances, would
implant them so deeply into my memory
that not only flowers would grow,
but trees, too–
and you would say that word:
“tree.”

And after
all this time, I wonder,
was it worth depriving you
of the taste and texture of language and how
even music would never be the same again,
passing through you,
or oxygen. What I mean is
I would no longer be able to imagine
I didn’t want you, or that
I didn’t know the sound and feel
of your moods from my womb,
the shape of each freckle and hair,
the crinkling of your nose, and how
you’d still get angry the same way you did
when you still wanted me to let you stay up past nine.

And I would understand when you inevitably
blamed me for all of your pain.
And I would get it when you shouted
that you hated me, that I knew nothing,
that you never asked to be born,
and I would have predicted your broken heart,
months before it happened,
and the moment when you realized that
my flimsy roll of duct tape didn’t cut it anymore,
and worse,
that now you had to invent for yourself
new ways of mending.

I wouldn’t dare keep it from you:
all of the dark flowers,
and all of the blurry roads.
All that this world will take from you,
and all that it will reveal.

I think I really just wanted to feel what it meant
to plant roots that deep in my heart.
Words like “branch” and “forest.”
I wanted language to pass through you like air.
Words like “ocean.”

Small Flowers

May 19, 2017

I didn’t want to give you another bouquet of magnolias,
purple and pungent, ripped
raw from the splintered sick tree,
like your collection of mismatched wine glasses
that you never use,
on the north side of the garden,
where the wind blows.

What I mean is I want to give you your own name.

I mean that it isn’t fair
that you’ve had to exist in the shadows cast
by her bottle of deep flowers,
vomiting perfume and violence
all over your white tablecloth, with
her place still set there–
I know that a mother never gives up.

I wish
you didn’t have to live in her burning house, pick up
the trail of burning petals and stems left behind,
like menstrual blood,
and confetti,
and discarded contracts,
a vial of terrible silence and the spat-out
worst that is in her: words
like bile and venom.

I wanted to give you peach blossoms,
white and pink,
plant a secret tree deep in the forest for only you to see,
and for only your prayers and truest dreams,
give you a map encrusted with stars to find it,
with Lady Slippers springing up everywhere, like Monarchs–
I wanted to cram the sunshine into buttercups and daisies,
let it drip down emerald stems like syrup,
tend to the tree with the finest
morning light that was in me–
let it infuse your breath with the heart of the Earth,
with all of the tears a mother has,
and all of her love.

And most of all I want you to enjoy it,
know that you deserve it,
like a song written in watercolour:
like my paintings pasted on the fridge,
like my humble handprints heaved into wet cement on the driveway
of the first house we lived in together,
where I lost my first tooth.

I know that these tiny flowers
still aren’t much,
still won’t take away the shards of ripped silk and glass,
still won’t fix
whatever you feel is broken within you,
but I wish you could feel
that I understand, even to a small degree,
what love you feel for me,
and what intention:
I planted a tree;
that’s how I know.

For weeks all the stars looked like paper lanterns: and I was convinced they were your anger, like balls of fire; it travelled across the country to get to me.

Sometimes I wonder if it was my own.

I painted your face in watercolour: monster, madwoman, miscreation—with vomit or gasoline pouring from an open mouth, like a wound or a womb, and my fragile blue body in the fetal position inside it.

On good days you would ask Mom if you could adopt me. You called me “kibby.” And I would curl up into you like a koala, and your arms were so warm. On bad says you said I was adopted and that my hair smelled of fish. I used to spend time plotting how not to upset you.

And you were at once pirate of your own swampy game of solitaire, at once poker dealer; you reduced my rage into bite-sized windows, laughing until I laughed; they crashed and screamed between my teeth, like piano keys: the shrill far right, like the China that always comes to me in dreams; like my father’s political views; like the girl in the black tee-shirt in the group photo who wasn’t included, and who, in spite of her outfit, was given away by her body language.

I’ve always hated that term: “Given away.” Was she expired coupons? Was she an antique set of dishes? Was she an engagement ring that couldn’t even be pawned off, or thrown into the sea without the tide bringing her back? I can’t remember much of the wedding, even now. Our father walked you down the stairs and the sandy aisle, and I ended up taking drunken selfies with the photographer and sleeping with one of the groomsmen. The next day after dad read the newspaper with his glasses on the end of his nose, looking up to say, “I’m not talking to you,” the men went on a fishing excursion, and he said to the groomsman (I think his name was Tom), “That’s my little girl. Don’t touch her again.” As if I were an old car he’d been working on. Some replica of Mom. Some doll to be kept under glass. I chewed up the casing like the wedding march. Like plates: broken, like vows. I couldn’t believe I had to write a speech, and deliver it convincingly. I knew it would never last. My teeth were diamonds. They looked great on you.

You used to wear a necklace with a shark tooth on it. Now you wear charm bracelets. You talk about how each charm is worth a hundred dollars. I always thought it was strange, wearing virtues on my wrist. Things like “hope”; “charity”; “faith.” I couldn’t understand how you could so easily tattoo words like “vegan” on your foot. I think you wanted the world to know you didn’t eat animals. I think you very well hoped someone would love you for it: see the compassion in your heart, or at least on your foot, with nail polish painted perfectly on: sometimes blue, sometimes red. You looked great in red. I mean, I guess you felt you needed to advertise it. After everything you’d done, and everything you’d lost.

Do you remember those trips we took out to camp with mom and dad? We’d listen to Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty on mixed cassettes, and I was old enough to wonder what “players only love you when they’re playing” meant, and you would always ask to stop at “Debasagies” for snacks, and I loved that you did so I didn’t have to. Or the time we drove out to BC, and I turned four in Penticton, and Mom’s old friend Jean Howard offered us fresh cherries from the valley and gave me a stuffed pig, and we were so loud that dad kicked us out of the car and we walked on the side of a gravel road while he and Mom drove away. To scare us, we learned, in more recent years—but I was never afraid. I had you, and you know, you were ten and already knew how to paint your nails without making a mess, and I guess I figured that meant you could do anything. You used to do it in secrecy, brazenly, in the back of that old blue Volvo. “Must be painting the lines,” Dad said. Mom looked back and sniggered with us.

If I have learned anything about relating to females as a little girl I learned that women were joyful, funny, bright, secretive, and that they stuck together. This is how I’ve learned to relate to women and how I still think of us as a tribe of goddesses, though no one ever told me about moon magick, womyn, or the ones who run with the wolves. So Mom, although Catholic and not at all what I would normally call a feminist, modelled to us from a young age that she didn’t tell Dad everything. Men were, in my view, menacing; violent; hot-tempered; the enemy. Their faces grew red and scary, and their hands were large and strong. Even as I grew older I refused to be in relationship with men who were bigger than me. I was terrified of Dad, in a way that I was never afraid of you.

That was until you started to drink. Sometimes, you’d get that glassed over look in your eyes, even with me, and you’d threaten to hurt me if no one else was around. And the afternoon after school when I watched you punch mom in the nose after you tried to get me to try your rye and coke. You told me it was like “coke with a twist.” I was nine. She laughed and wiped the blood from her face. I didn’t know what to think at the time, but you punched our mother in the face and laughed about it, and then you went into the garage for a cigarette, and I followed. You liked Du Maurier. The red pack. I used to fiddle with the aluminum while you inhaled and blew smoke out in shapes. I can’t believe those were the days when I actually thought I wanted to be like you.

You used to tease your hair with a pick and Vidal Sassoon in the bathroom with Nirvana playing from your ghetto blaster in your bedroom, and I was wondering what that heart-shaped box was really about, but no one told me. And you’d say things like, “Who do you like more: me or Alice?” And I would say, “I love you both the same.” And you would say, “No,” and I would say it was true, and my chest would feel hot and my eyes would begin to burn. And you would say, “You can only love one of us.” And I my voice would tremble out the remains of the only words I knew, some tail-end of the truth I clung to: “But I love you both the same…” Eventually I agreed. I hated Alice and loved only you. I hated her because I wanted you to love me, before I even knew what hate was, and I guess, before I recognized that I knew that this was not love. And then you’d paint my nails red for me and I felt so safe, with your long brown hair, almost black, hanging over me like a web.

“Alice is Dad’s favourite,” you’d say. “And I’m Mom’s.” And I’d say, “Well then whose am I?” And you would say, “You’re no one’s favourite.” And then I’d cry and you’d say, “I was only kidding, honey; you’re my favourite.” And you’d smother me with waxy lipstick kisses and White Musk from the Body Shop. You had said this to me enough times that I knew how the conversation was going to go—so when you said it again before your wedding I hashed out my lines as if I didn’t expect what came next. It was one of the hurt places in me. And you knew where to stab, twist and extract. I ran back to my room. I told Auntie Claudia. She held me by the shoulders and said, “Okay, listen to me, Mara.” She said, “Not a word of that is true.” She looked directly into my eyes and spoke very sternly, slowly, deliberately–as if she wanted to make sure that I understood very well; and I felt as if I was six years old again. You always had that power—to make me feel like a child: as broken; as terrified; and as needy.

I am told it isn’t your fault that you hate me now; how can it be? You are sick, they say. As if from a cold, or cancer; as if from the flu, or schizophrenia. The difference between us is that when I lost my mind I bargained with god. I read books. I wrote them. I kept promises. The only thing you’ve kept is your decanter from which you administer poison to everyone including yourself. I’m still trying to get the vomit off my scarf: jewel toned, like your eyes, spilled over like the Five of Cups in my Tarot pack: everything you wished for and could not have. I’ve been told you don’t actually hate me. I try to tell myself that, too, but that isn’t how I feel. I am trying to set fire to your stories, place them in paper lanterns and let them dissolve into blurry points of light: silver and blue, red and gold—but there is too much tied into our history: your laughter and how I remained a little sister-struck by you for most of my life—how I always saw something okay with almost everything that you did: like impatience and frankness to the point of being hurtful. Maybe you drilled it into me. Maybe it was hopeless. But when your sister punches your mom in the nose and you still defend her you’ve got to know you’ve been taken in by some form of dark magic.

Bark Burned Black

May 12, 2017

For two weeks even my saliva shrank
shrivelled up into ash and the
dry-weaving of bones
the burnt-out blood of a grasping cough

something that wanted

I couldn’t remember what happened
or decide
and the night I got sick
on tequila and Stella Artois
I was in a sandstorm
of blurred vision and house music
and I was a tornado of anger and
beach glass
shattered illusions and
the dusty cinders of what
I’d hoped and you
were sleeping under a willow tree

where the pond used to be

for two weeks I couldn’t scratch even my name
on bark
my tongue felt heavy as paper and my teeth
were stones
and there was nothing to tie me to you

I could have gone missing

heatwaves still swallow
my silhouette like chimney smoke and
the Scorpio moon crawls over
my sleeping face
slowly
in moving beams through slats
some reminder of the time that’s elapsed

I wake up to steel drums and
the pitter-patter of
bare feet on rocks and I
have become small enough
to fit in an ant hill

(I dream of rain on most nights)