water/hands i never saw my grandpa pray but once he’d brought his family to live near the lake he would rise early cross the street shirtless big tanned belly over swim shorts brown Hawaiian slides tan lines on long feet toss a towel on the sand throw great body in with noise and celebration that water his daily baptism: he would swim way out churn a steady crawl like a paddle wheeler drawing a line up the middle of the okanagan my grandmother on a cranky beach chair leather skin golden glistening Hawaiian Tropic tanning oil smelling of coconuts before I knew what coconuts smelled like her tiny feet bathed in crystal water mother of pearl toenails mixed with pebbles precious stones on her hands she showed me my favourite stroke ladylike: pick an apple put it in the basket. pick an apple, put it in the basket this way you keep your hair dry I never saw her swim underwater not once also: how to pray on a rosary how to roll out dough fill ice cream buckets up with christmas cookies roll a tough little bottle of nail polish between ticklish palms after they got engaged my grandpa went to my grandma’s house and decked her father in the face her father who in a rage once tried to burn them all down in the house he’d built with his hands in my favourite photos of him my grandfather holds alcohol steering wheels kids: black and white and colour in my favourite photos of her she is laughing while making food in the kitchen she is posing on the hood of a car the day before her wedding good legs bare feet hair done, up in a ‘kerchief i know him best when i throw myself under forgiving water my hands are hers when they are most useful put to work, painful able to give
witch pill tree Warm evenings I would help her harvest what she’d grown while clouds gathered, every night a deluge till the pods popped open, gave up hard pellets of crunchy sweet too-raw frog green peas. My knees in the soil. I would go to the witch pill tree. She called me, shaggy in her corner. Her poison berries jumped from the branches under my hands. Yielded to my witch fingers. Pap-pap, scattered on the pavement dirt-slicked from spring thaw, popping under my witch shoes. Cloud on the house raining down into the gutters, down the drainpipe seeped into the ground where she grew our food. Pock-marked the cherries, peaches bruised, not pretty now, only good for canning.
bodies of water tired of being teased, I taught myself to swim by throwing myself off the pier and dogpaddling to shore. I don’t know where you were. the boiling water in the bathtub. the rape. horses, police, the Nazi foster father. upon gathering all the facts, I’ve built a story of you. you said I don’t like you. too unreal to be real. I was immersed in you. it came down like bad water from a tap. hard. you couldn’t turn it off in time. I tried to scrub you off in every lake that I saw. drawn to clean water I needed to be cooled, frozen, submerged in something colder than you. were.
Helen they nailed her fur coat to the packinghouse wall my grandma was the only one who talked to the new girl with aspirations you sit here next to me they put her on the sorting line, where she stayed for forty years are the number of angels who follow you and help you through your life in direct relation to the number of people who you’ve made to love you? * i’m an apple bobbing in northern water cloud jesus hanging on sistine sky my catholic girlfriend says: he’s checking up on you Helen also would have said it was him or an angel clasped and believing hands knotted from grasping a million cold spheres jewels she held and let go tightly, lovingly * years later I’m in my car yelling at a guy in his twenties, who is laughing at me do you miss life? have my dreams floated through you have they caught in your hair?
tracy yeah, i still cut myself sometimes but that’s normal now the more i pick at the scabs of my family the more rancid fluid is freed i’m a lance relieving pressure on a blister ready to burst bit by bit prick, prick, prick
BULL RUSH (for Shauna) In the back door like wild dogs, we proudly dragged them from the sanctuary where we pulled them from a bog. The only time she yelled at us—bull rushes in her kitchen! White tufts like her hair after a friday ‘do, like a bird after a cat kill sticking in the mat landing on her floured board, flying through the window. We retreated to the yard the beach & sanctuary climbed back up the willow tree. Smoked cigarettes.
eulogy i drive past my grandpa’s ashes three times a day at least when i visit my cousin at the lake country trailer park and to secret beaches and orchards that slope away in straight-drawn lines furrows dragged up and down that annual burst blood red the valley heavy with sweet fruit ready for harvest and horses circled round with white fences and night drives all windows down hair full of warm lifted and whipping empty back roads dark fields full of crickets—whirligigs hopping rides on hot drafts heading for heaven and soft night smells of apples warmed on the stove with ice cream melting into the syrup a kitchen with clean counters ticking clock down the hall, he sleeps on his side on top of a made bed in khaki shorts, back from the beach tanned bare torso shoulder and hip point like a mountain range
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