The tenth month an unlikely location
for it, or this morning or this afternoon when
you are a mother who used to be a poet.
You sit at the desk and have one hour to find it.
It’s here somewhere in the mind’s tiny grey flags
in the millions of scraps piling up.
Or maybe you left it in the dark bleeding gums
of the dog you love, watching her clench another
rock from the tide twelve years ago. What was she
looking for? What if she stopped looking?
Metaphors were easy then, not only the sky,
but migrating everywhere. And now everyone is arrow
arrow, arrows. Everyone harpoons. And
I am the big heart, aren’t I?
When the black dog is being put down, in her last
second I whisper, Squirrel.
First month of kindergarten, out of the blue
slabs appear at the bottom of her artwork.
Ocean, she says to inform you. A second wedge
appears, light blue, crowning her paper with
a sky in which a two-inch Kea soars downward
for his lunch: red stripe of fish on a box
with wheels and windows. I am the smartest animal
on earth, she chants. I am the smartest animal.
Okay, you concede. And not to debate the thesis
so much as to develop divergent thought
you press play on YouTube. On the screen
birds of paradise do the work of pop-up pomp
firework faces appearing on the black stage
of their wings. They’re puppets, she bluffs.
But! The strongest muscle in my body is my tongue!
Just like that, she flutters off to the mirror down the hall
where she watches her reflection flip
a glittering headband back and forth between its palms.
It’s best if you stay hidden, quiet behind the laundry basket.
Bower bird! she’s singing with a hunch
in her shoulders— Giraffes can clean
their ears with their tongue, this infant human
says to her reflection before she shapes her fingers
into a heart using twenty-nine hand bones.
We fought in the folded hours after the children
were in bed. We fought while scraping plates
gathering glasses after the guests had gone. Sometimes
the fight was vapour, vanishing in the living room
air when we came down for breakfast. Like you,
I believed there was a series of words, or a single
word that would solve things. We searched for it.
I walked the football field, the dog straining against
its lead. You walked the dog where you walked it.
Before bedtime we cleaned our children’s bodies
carefully. We brushed their teeth quickly, leaving
the rest up to fate. I wanted to find that word, but
sometimes I come into the kitchen
as you leave it and just like that, fault fills
every jar in the fridge. On these nights I wait in bed
and breathe in the dark. Maybe tonight a child
will come in here and out of her oblivious
spread-eagle sleep will seep into this space
where we sometimes meet
a simple explanation, a pure reason.
Origami / Cat’s-Cradle Digression
Sometimes at night I don’t try to get up
and get it down, one poem folds into
the crease of another connection, they
point their corners into other
corners: the word daughter almost certainly
contains the word duty when you fold it so— xxxxxxxxxThere is a Kenyan
tribe, they take dust in their mouths, make paper from it
send it to Japan where eleven-year-old Siberian
girls wait in tiny pleated apartments
to be models. Is it not true that watching
a thing become another thing— xxxxxwatching string for that matter
turn into the Eiffel tower with only three fingers
and a mouth pulling at its peak— is also art?
I don’t always write them down. xxxxI watch
this girl on YouTube demonstrate
Jacob’s Ladder, witch’s broom, cradle for a tiny cat,
with hands so small the connections are effortless
in front of me in real time, being made and vanishing.
Albert County Breeder
It was years before I could walk back
to that doorway, figuratively hold
the post of your fallen porch
with its thousand green Mason jars
staring out towards the weathered barn.
On each window your dust held the shapes
of the cobwebs underneath.
Your father comes out the kicked door.
Inside I’ve seen the hard-packed dirt
on your kitchen floor, ketchup caked
to the spoons, the bucket in the corner
for the winter toilet. Outside we have more
in common: bus shelter for the wait at the end
of the lane, a broken look to our crab
apple too, blue spruce, red pines, rows
of crows on the electric wires and
the same wild square eyes in our animal
we brought to be breed with your animal.
When Life Widens Wider
In I suppose a pinprick of hope, I look out his windshield
wanting it to be true: northern lights or meteor showers
or something to be there above the valley so his hand
on my thigh has an explanation, a need to point out
exhilaration instead of the trope of furniture-maker/rig driver
driving his babysitter home and stopping the car in the ditch.
At two in the morning there’s so much I think has answers—
the black map of pinpoints above can be joined to form
bears and containers of milk, archers with arrows pointing
to North, to Hercules. But this all dissolves where his hand rests
casually on my thigh, same hand that I think leaves porn magazines
for me between the couch cushions, leaves cereal and sour milk, leaves
the nails of his children dirty and grasping for their one shared
tooth brush. I squint into the distance above the hills
to clear the chatter inside myself. If I want someone
to be grateful for me, I don’t know it yet. If I want
a man’s hand on my jeans, I don’t know it yet. He decides
to point to a series of dots above us. And among the voices in my head
I hear him saying, See? This is a kind of map. And I don’t hate him
for showing me that because yes, I see it too, it’s a mess.
—S. E. Venart
S. E. Venart’s writing has been published in New Quarterly, Malahat Review, Fiddlehead, Maisonneuve, This Magazine, Prism International, and CBC Radio. She is the author of a chapbook, Neither Apple Nor Pear, Weder Apfel Noch Birne (Junction Books 2003) and Woodshedding (Brick 2007). She lives in Montreal and teaches at John Abbott College.