MY MOTHER WAS A WHITE SHEET DRYING ON THE LINE. Wooden clothespins held her tight as she lifted and snapped and filled like a sail. At night, when she covered me, I inhaled lily of the valley, burning leaves, the starched collar of a nurse’s uniform and the stillness of a recently abandoned room. She taught me how to iron the creases out of a man’s shirt after all the men had disappeared. My mother played piano by ear in the basement. A long line of hungry people gathered outside to hear her play. They wanted news from home. Overhead, handkerchiefs fluttered in the breeze. Little telegrams sent but never delivered.
Is that MY black dog-
with telltale compost on his nose?
Blade of grass, squash of persimmon,
some leggy insect on his forehead
next to the growth? Is that MY
red truck speeding up the vineyard’s
central avenue, porta potty
bumping along behind, toilet paper
unfurling behind in celebratory loops?
At the heart there is a hollow sun
by which we are constructed and undone
Behind the mirror. Favourite place to hide.
I didn’t breathe. They looked so long I died.
What’s shown when we unveil, disclose, undress,
is first the promise, then its emptiness
Ghost-face. Not because I turned my head,
but because what looked at me was dead.
— We don’t exist — We only dream we’re here —
This means we never die — We disappear —
We’d met ‘in previous lives’, he was convinced.
Yeah, I thought. And haven’t spoken since.
All rooms will hide you, if you stand just so.
All ghosts know this. That’s really all they know.
Like the idea of Aisha. I am not the idea of Aisha.
I am Aisha.
You I know you
Love the idea of Aisha.
I am not the idea of Aisha.
I am not the idea of Aisha.
I am Aisha.
Tonight the fattened mermaids sing
To issue in the internet of things.
Let me tell you what you can do with that misnomer.
I sit here gloomily and think of Homer,
On the dimming beach, as drifts of trash
Clatter softly against my ankles,
The melancholy, long, withdrawing roar
Of everything a humanist holds dear.
Skyward the sad elite have all withdrawn,
To their electric world. They’ve pulled it on
Over the old like a transparent plastic glove.
I hear them pinging dismally afar.
Here on the quiet earth that I still love,
Where the last humans are.
Copyright © Sarah Tolmie 2018
Night blind through Rogers Pass,
engine popping like a rabbit gun
after an ambush of tunnels,
I brake for tinfoil, bottles,
dead stares of twisted deer.
This moon-shot boneyard
is a seam of eyes.
Immigrant rail crews lost
to the slides of March
a century ago. Two Japanese dug out
clasped in each other’s arms,
a Norwegian frozen in the act
of filling his pipe. No time
even to bruise.
Hidamo. Wafilsewki. Mitsumi. Sodiatis. Sanquist.
Bronze and marble statues
for the meat ride to Glacier Station.
And the whores who died cold,
full of holes, in clapboard Columbia
or the pockmarked skin village
of Golden. A drunken doctor drowned
in a puddle of horse piss.
Years later, slide shooters
and dozers shoved 92 miles of highway
through the Selkirks’ seismic muscle,
and now my four seizing cylinders
whine for a tail wind
to Saskatchewan. I Go All The Way,
Number One croons
over archival mutterings caught
in the black throat of the old Connaught Tunnel
buried at the Summit. Accordian ballads
of accidents that wait to happen
in the rock face, snow
fall, concentrated gravity of the gorge.
My odometer books odds of sleep
in hands and head. The cat knows it,
moving through luggage in the back seat,
The front seats filled last. Laggards, buffoons,
and kiss-ups falling in beside local politicos,
the about to be honored, and the hard of hearing.
No help from the middle, blenders and criminals.
And the back rows: restless, intelligent, unable to commit.
My place was always left-center, a little to the rear.
The shy sat with me, fearful of discovery.
Behind me the dead man’s illegitimate children
and the bride’s and groom’s former lovers.
There, when lights were lowered, hands
plunged under skirts or deftly unzipped flies,
and, lights up again, rose and pattered in applause.
Ahead, the bored practiced impeccable signatures.
But was it a movie or a singing? I remember
the whole crowd uplifted, but not the event
or the word that brought us together as one—
One, I say now, when I had felt myself many,
speaking and listening: that was the contradiction.
The beaches are filled with cages
And the cages are filled with bodies
And the bodies are filled with burdens
And the burdens consume the bodies
And the bodies do not know to whom they owe their life
I drop my body on the sand and someone tells me to pick it up
I drop to the sand to pick up my body and someone tells me to steal more hair to steal more flesh to steal more bones to steal more fingers
I tell them I cannot risk contaminating the data
I tell them that if I steal more hair then the data will not be clean
I tell them I cannot touch my own body out of fear of contaminating the data
I have a virus I say
I am contagious I say
No salt in my body I say no heat in my blood
The sand is dying slowly
It turns into a wall and in the wall there is a nook and in the nook there is light and in light there is god and in god there is nothing and in nothing there is hope and in hope there is abandonment and in abandonment there is wound and in wound there is nation and in nation there are bones and in bones there is time and in time there is light and in light there are numbers and in numbers there are codes and in codes there are mountains and in mountains there are bodies searching for bones and in the mountains there are tunnels and in the tunnels there is so much festering garbage
The men in uniform take the garbage away but they have a hard time distinguishing the garbage from the people so they scoop it all up and carry us into the next morning
And in the next morning there is a confession
I have put my burdens in the wrong body
I have framed my burdens in the wrong language
I have staked my burdens to the wrong nation
I need medicine to sleep
I need medicine to stop the shrieking in my ears
I need medicine to make the Chicago corpses turn into hydrangeas
I need medicine to make the immigrants turn into butterflies
I need an injection to make the bureaucrats turn into terrorists
It is raining again on Lake Michigan
Some say it is raining bodies but really it is raining trash
The trash they bomb us with explodes when it lands near our bodies
And our bodies are tornadoes
And the joke turns into a mystery novel about how god keeps his hands from shaking when he is about to destroy the universe
I need my burdens sing the bodies on the beach
I fight for my burdens scream the bodies on the beach
I know the blankness of my burdens is a battle for love and country
I know the blankness of my burdens is a coda to the death of the city
I don’t know why I can’t see the moon anymore
I can’t see the stars for the sky anymore
I don’t even bother to look up
1. follow me out of the backdoor of the world.
2. how do you tell someone that they are helping you stay tuned into life?
3. what does it mean that her first breath was also her last?
4. i am so sad that i burrow into the absence of every boy who has held me.
5. i kiss him knowing that when i wake up i will be in a body differently.
6. the future is already over, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have anywhere else to go.
When he comes down
or is seen coming down
when he reveals to us that he is coming down.
The waiting and silence
his entire lack
when he hearkens before the plants.
His caution when he comes down
like one postponed by a hush,
and by his being not “us”
and not “here”
He bought a flower
nothing more, a flower
that has no vase and leaves no will.
From the hill, he can spot the military checkpoint, the paratroopers,
he can spot the squatters, the mountain edges, and the only road
where their feet will leave a print in the rocks, mud, and water.
Losses also will appear from the hill
abandoned without effort.
And the fragility in shadow,
the Jewish man with a long mustache
who resembles the dead Arabs here.
From the mountain edges, all the caves will appear peaceful
and the road will seem as it were.
While he was coming down
the caves continued to stare
and blink in the cold.