Chips drop from slim fingers onto worn
green wool; low light skims bereaved walls
and aggressive chairs frayed through hollow war
emergencies. Her gallant man
has helplessness stitched into the seams
of his made-over suit. Trading his
Friesland for Canada, he travels
the Atlantic like a desolate ship
creaking with undeliverable goods.
The grief gun cracked her little life
(they’d buried her sister’s tattered lungs
in December): the predictable spinster-
years of the future stacked on the baize
edge. His wolfish spangles: quick quick,
place the chips or lose your chance.
You bowed to unmarked death-sites,
so we learned that driving
could be as deadly as air raids, casualties piled
at this four-way stop, this intersection’s blind hill,
this dead end to Pearl Lake.
To see you, I read my own entrails
with as much certainty as that occult
art commands. I mime
what I learned from you, unwise
about my performance.
Did you teach me to hide
(in full view) in emergencies? To obey,
even when obedience triggers trouble
inside and out? In the deep end
of the pool, I was doing
what the swimming instructor told us
to do—removing a life jacket
while treading water, but I wasn’t treading water
because I didn’t know how. I could not cry
“help!” I’d learned to stay still in distress.
I did not stop struggling—dogged going on
you also taught me. Thrashing, arms overhead, tangled
in orange straps and padding, choking
on chlorinated water till the instructor
jumped in. You were not
on one of the benches outside the fence
where parents waited for lessons to end,
but you were there somewhere.
Twice we went to Friesland together;
in my childhood diary you’re there, shopping,
eating, calling an ambulance for your father.
In my adult journal, you weren’t there
even though we shared a bed
some of those weeks. Lethargic, sepsis spreading,
I could no longer make room for you
on the mottled page.
The record may show
that we had an emergency, but no one called
for help, no sirens wailed, no ambulance came.
We went on like this, stiff, and then stiffer,
not saying much, well, talking so much
and staying so hidden. And then you died.
Alyda Faber’s second poetry collection, Rain in all the ways it falls, will appear in 2021, with Goose Lane/icehouse poetry, the publisher of her debut, Dust or Fire (2016). She lives in Halifax, NS.