Author photo by Alexandra Pasian.
These cold blue dusky mornings, softly cloudy up high, the comfortable rolling of tires on pavement like sighs, the crane on the St. Patrick building site quiet, underlit by a harsh industrial light.
Across the rooftops, lights over the freeway like a small village.
Everything’s bare but for the yellow shrubs overhanging the low wooden fence between the parking lots. Sidewalks and gutters are papered with a mash of leaves.
The dawn sky darkens toward winter, closes in on the busy glare, closes it up inside a spun shell like a wasp’s nest.
At 6.30 precisely the crane swings around through all the compass points, comes to settle pointing west.
How I would like to find that panel in my heart that opens, and open it.
What’s that gentle tapping below the shush of tires, as though at great distance?
That’s Vlad with his hammer, building the concrete forms.
What’s that small vibration grinding in my bones?
That’s the truck hauling girders slowing down outside your window.
What’s that hot musk like a skunk in a corner?
That’s what they dug up when they first broke ground.
What’s that tang behind my teeth after coffee?
That’s the yellow crane swinging back and forth above the maple crowns.
What’s that form racing toward me in the sky, looking so much like a cloud?
That’s a cloud, a dark cloud, just as it seems. Look how it glows, violet and gold, like the inside of the quietest room.
Behind and above the yellow crane
the sky is an almost uniform grey
streaked with lighter bits,
messy and thick like putty.
Not a cloud I’d want to lose my head in.
The longer I look, though, the more it seems
that cloud is all that’s in my head
and the crane’s yellow arm
is what I lean on when I lean
into the place that had just been view.
A large room where a lot of people were having casual sex, not hot really, just sort of nice, before the earthquake and the building falling in.
Waking to the whole building shaking and the fear of it really happening, an earthquake or the building falling in. People in the building across the street grabbing things and dashing outside in underwear.
I hunkered in a corner. No one knew what to do.
Waking from that to nothing, no panicky people, just morning light catching the yellow crane three blocks away and a kind of helpless relief.
The crane is pivoting. When it stops and points east, it looks like it’s pointing up toward the sun. As it swings south the angle seems to change, though once it passes it’s clear from where I lie that it’s on the level.
Hurrying past the building site I find the wrong glasses in my case, turn to say something friendly to someone who’s not my friend, who hurries past me toward a young woman who is waiting, clearly in love. An octopus swims through the unfinished rooms, bruised purplish tentacles emerging from the window holes.
The life of the imagination—would you choose it over the life of the mind?
What would you do, waking to the dawn sky in the mirror brighter than the same sky outside?
As though winter had permeated these objects,
morning light and the coming storm animating,
the crane’s short arm, the counterweight hanging from it
each ready for its action to begin, light
sliding along the yellow steel,
pinging off every bolt and join,
the flat grey weight that holds everything steady
like a great square moon maintaining a distance,
always the same distance, light
bouncing into the filigree of leafless trees, dropping,
dropping, brightening as it drops
so I forget the storm gathering there.
In the mirror in front of my window
a man moves down a set of porch stairs in shadow,
small, backwards, behind my building,
a rogue villager lifted from a Renaissance tableau.
One hand slides along the rail as he descends.
The other drags a shiny plastic bag
swollen at the bottom, a bouquet in reverse,
the sky white,
the storm imminent.
They rest lightly on the invisible floor, these clouds
glowing with inner buoyancy, grey and glowing with immanence.
All the greys on the grey scale lolling, lightly resting
their porpoise bodies, their eel-selves, weed-strands, bobbling ocean junk.
If all the souls lost at sea this decade stood on each other’s shoulders,
the tycoons, troops, tourists, students, sailors, politicians, pirates, pilots, pets, ……….honeymooners, flight attendants, fishermen, drunkards, divers, criminals, ……….citizens, children
they’d reach the bellies of these clouds, so the one on top
could strike them. Such pearls would spill out! Bright confetti
of lives and portions of lives yet to live would spill down
smothering everything with unspeakable richness.
Instead the world is covered in snow, which returns to the sky
only to fall again, though I beg for plum blossoms
and would settle for feathers. The sky
is thumping us on the head like a stern teacher
from an old book no one reads anymore, shouting
Fools! Have you learned nothing?
Watching the yellow crane, thinking about the book I’ve been reading, excited and unsure, opened by it.
The narrator meets a lovely girl. He says he wishes she could grow up quickly, grow into a girlfriend for his old age.
I close the book. The crane revolves. No: the jib swivels.
I feel the need to walk a little.
The temperature drop is hard on the new foundation plants.
They dwindle and show more stem than the same specimens further down the row.
Look how that rugosa rose throws up hips at dogs and walkers! Sun-warmed as any summer berry, in spite of frost.
Their dry little brown crowns are pointed yet modest. Oh, weren’t we all flowers once? they intimate; bees knew us, your nose knew us, summer breezes too.
We still hold secrets in our gleaming hearts—
What am I saying? Plants don’t speak English.
And they certainly have no interest in me.
How still they are against the concrete wall, the old ones flush, the young ones thin and almost beaten.
I go for a walk, and when I get back, my house is reduced to cobweb.
Young oaks, hurry up and grow into a house for me!
Boom, traveller, plumb, hook, cab – I will miss the yellow crane when the building is finished.
The crane has just lifted a load of steel I-beams and lowered them to a point I can’t see, though I can see the figures of people walking along the roof.
Days close in on a wasp’s nest of days.
Is there a procedure for emptying myself?
As when the sky suddenly empties and resurges toward a storm.
Girl on a Sidewalk Heading towards the Metro in the Rain
burgundy and nylon tangled wetly
across grit and chainlink
a black scurry
lost world receptor
instrument of past battles
more wind than song
more push than rain
What is so complicated about tenderness? The whole world is wounded.
I opened the curtains at 6.50 a.m. to a rich blue sky flocked with puffball clouds, airy yet firm, dreamy piglets of cloud, the yellow crane over the treetops catching the morning light, its long arm elegant, definitive, reaching northward.
The smell of tea rises together with the clatter of a scrap metal truck passing on the street.
If I am concrete and river, if a direction, which?
“Desire, loneliness, wind in the flowering almond – surely these are the great, the inexhaustible subjects –“
A thing is sliding along the crane. The arm swivels; now it is out of sight.
“The world of dew is the world of dew. And yet, and yet—“
Wash, dress, eat, drive, park, talk, perform, record, return, drive, eat, undress, wash, repeat. Note a few random beauties.
What is “really living,” anyway?
Now that we really are.
Imagine the voice of a salamander.
Turning left onto the main road coming home, the gilded sky
deepening to indigo, there in a gap between buildings
the thin moon, long and keen, low in the sky as a streetlamp,
an open c turned, stretched, a loose hair, a thread of zest.
“To what summoned? And to whom? Blindly” driving somewhere
and it’s holy, isn’t it, to be called like that, drawn by force toward
“the unattainable small valley” past “horizons of woolly haze.”
Then in an instant called from sleep, summoned through the interchange
of dreams. How like yawning,
pulling the curtains open on a fine morning
to cloud radiating up and out from some low point behind buildings,
loud arms tinted pink as cake, holy spokes radiating out from the blind
wound of the railyards, Our Lady of industrial wrack, traffic squall –
Between the glass of my window and the brick, steel and concrete beyond,
panels of light and shadow tilting –
As I stood looking, two pale legs and part of an arm
floated forward in the dim interior across the street, the very clouds
come forward through the city and up the stairs.
And why not? Why not? Why should our bodies not appear
as transient forms? Smoke and nothing, gathered in a moistness.
Apparition with Blue Coffee Mug
Apparition in a Window
Suppose I pass this woman every day on the street and not know her?
When form changes, meaning changes, but my father’s gaze
is my father’s gaze
whether I’m beside him with my hand on his good arm
or just looking at him in a photograph
or catching his grin in the last few leaves of the maple
flashing and waving – “summoned” is a mild word for it.
I reach up to the curtains
and if I’m not careful I’ll pull the whole contraption down.
What’s that tearing I hear in the distance?
That’s Vlad, ripping away the forms.
What’s that tremor I feel in my ribs?
That’s the jack hammer, ripping away the street.
What’s that hot wave like gas at the pump?
That’s the future, spilling over the river.
What’s that thickness gathering under my tongue?
That’s the sludge of knowledge and memory, festering in the canal.
What’s that rushing at me from all directions?
That’s your life, disguised as traffic. Look how it gathers in morning light like molten glass.
Slowly the canal is returning to life—the stink of algae expands, cyclists appear, dogs trot on leashes, sparrows flower the shrubs along the bank.
Then the gates are opened upstream and the fresh, still-chill water rushes out to meet its ride to the sea.
Half submerged, ballooning, a plastic bag snagged on concrete billows like a sail.
“A rust-coloured sail dragged in the furrow of a wave….”
Evening began to turn everything golden.
My city, though ugly, broken down, grit-whipped, stricken
is also vibrant, shrill in the way summer insects
are shrill, calling out for their lives
and once I pushed through the uglier elements of hatred and fear
I could hear more birds.
As I approached, the skyline grew
bright in front of distant hills, and in front of the skyline
giant screens depicted pixelated towers
multiplexing the future.
Everything so bright!
The people inside them weren’t doing anything
Susan Gillis has published three books of poetry, most recently The Rapids (Brick Books, 2012), and several chapbooks, including The Sky These Days (Thee Hellbox Press, 2015) and Twenty Views of the Lachine Rapids (Gaspereau Press, 2012). Volta (Signature Editions, 2002) won the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry. She is a member of the collaborative poetry group Yoko’s Dogs, whose work appears regularly in print and online, and is collected in Rhinoceros (Gaspereau Press, 2016) and Whisk (Pedlar Press, 2013). Susan divides her time between Montreal and rural Ontario.
Beautiful poem, Susan.