On the back porch I saw first its long pale foot
Five grey fingers, two twisted into themselves 

I thought the raccoon was dead, on its back, 
head dangling over the fifteen foot drop

(a couple days since I’d last gone on the deck)
But it slowly blinked its eyes

Lay with his soft belly up to the sun, me
with legs crossed over the sunburnt table

Magic is when two things combine 
An excess that makes sense but defies 

understanding, like when you pick up the phone
and who you meant to call is on the other end:

It doesn’t matter what moved the planchette
what spelled such outrageous words

when the board was placed over our knees 
there was already something waiting

DID YOU USED TO BE A BAD BOY?

With rusted hedge clippers pointed generously 
my eighty-one year old neighbour says he hates 
to ask again about the chairs, two teal muskokas 
that I purchased on a whim 

So much of the suffering he has experienced, he says,
is due to simple misunderstanding. That’s why he hates 
to bring it up—if we could only understand each other
there would be no wars 

Or none that he could think of. When his wife was away, 
taking care of his daughter’s baby, newborn this past fall,
he would knock on my door to talk in the entranceway
tell me about wild nights

When he was a young man, at the clubs on Dufferin or
up by St. Clair. Clubs, he said, though I think he meant bars—
he told me briefly of the women that he met there, 
how he was wild in his youth

If the chairs he now wants me to move had been on our front porch
we might have sat and talked. I understand now
he was lonely—when his wife came home
I could hear them fight

But I wondered after why he thought his stories would be
appealing to me. What about my life he had glimpsed
in my five years of living above him, that made him think
I would want to know

What entrances and exits, what sounds and glimpses,
how it all must have seemed to someone underneath

OBITUARY FOR MYSELF

after Victoria Chang

On August 25, 2021, at two in the afternoon. An overcast day, but still swollen with heat. While his parents were eating lunch. On the corner of Bathurst and Dundas a truck took a turn through a red, and he was crushed running for the streetcar parked on the south side of the intersection. Two men in blue oxfords watched as his body splished in several directions. One of the men had been on the point of shouting a warning, the other, thinking that he would stop, had been ready to say “Close call,” in an ironic or detached tone of voice. André had recently become very good at filling in holes between baseboards and floorboards, kneeling and letting the latex seal in the gaps as he pressed it at a forty-five degree angle. There were more still to fill. He had a dream in which he stood outside his own window, begging himself to be let in. “Don’t you recognize me?” he would ask. As a child he would stand out by the compost heap and listen to the coyotes howling in the trees. He was never really a child. Dreams where he ran from something but never quite escaped, dreams where he approached monuments forever distant, etc. Never slept on his back except when held in the “koala position,” a terminology he was ultimately unsure if he had invented. It will take years to vacuum out the weight of him from his apartment, leaning and heaving with his dead life. Survived by his parents, two or three provinces away, his three siblings, scattered in various directions, a niece, and the stains made on the two blue oxfords, which will never come out. 

Staying in a beaver’s studio—logs, half-chewed, piled up over the unused campsite. We didn’t leave until ten the next morning, and then were late that evening, scrambling in choppy water to find a place to stay, as the sun made its descent. But that first night was getting used to the sounds outside our thin nylon walls. Stefan said it sounded like something descended a tree right next to us after we had gone to bed, then paused, as if registering our presence for the first time. We saw the beaver do a sweep as we waited for our potatoes to cook, looking towards the campfire with disappointment, acknowledging that its worksite would be transformed. I woke up in the middle of the night to a loon calling in the night, from the little bay behind us which we would cross the next morning en route to the portage. For fifteen minutes it made one eerie call after another, sounding either like frantic grieving or harried madness. Only in the morning, after I asked and no one else had heard it, did I wonder if it was Tom Thomson’s ghost. We were on his lake and had passed his cairn the previous afternoon. In the choppy water early next evening we resolved finally to take shelter on the first open site—landed on the bald back face of an island, clinging to it as the wind rocked our boats. We brought them up the hill and then discovered that the campsite on the other end was empty and that there were trails running to either side. An ideal spot, except for two little plastic flutes that someone had left by the tents, one white, one blue. Superstitiously, we did not touch them. I had recently watched a movie where doing so brings bad luck. That night, after the bros across the way went to bed, I heard a wolf howling: first far away, then close to their campsite, directly across the water. And in the morning it was choppy again, but it didn’t matter—we were staying put. I had tore something in my shoulder the previous evening, so when we left the day after, when the water settled again, fire burned hot in my arm whenever I dipped in the oar.

BRANDON’S END

for Neil Surkan

Me and Steve crossed the water with our improvised line
using beer tabs as hooks, leftover sausage as bait—that salty shit
we couldn’t finish the first night, not even Doug 
who threw his into the fire before everyone else, something souring 
when I offered him the rest of mine. I’m not your garbage disposal, he said
disappearing into the bush. Someone said the box was about to go off
—it might have been me. Soon we heard its echo.
There he goes, I said, as it trumpeted, grinding it up.
As the water rocked us Steve told me about his engagement,
how Karly had posted the video on Facebook, how it had got 
two hundred and fifty likes. On the island next to ours 
a woman kicked in the water. Throw her some sausage, I said—
Steve only laughed. I tried to get the canoe closer
to see if we couldn’t hook some part of her, but Steve steered us away.
Doug was standing out by the shore when we got closer
in one of his moods. Catch anything? he asked us, over the lake.
Do you seriously have any room left? I asked him, still pissed
that he had polished off the chips that morning.
How red his face got when he lifted the rock
crying that if we came any closer he’d sink us—I just made a whirring noise
like a trash compactor choking on bone. Steve laughed as 
Doug heaved the large grey stone towards us, slipping
through the air—it’s hard to dodge when you’re out on the water 
hard to miss the shale as it slaps into your side

Something’s gone wrong. Waiting by the door to the basement where I do my laundry is a large orange cat without tags. I nodded to him on an earlier trip as I watched him cross the street. On my way out, my hands full of clean laundry, he lets himself in to the little hallway, then meows at the basement apartment. No one comes. I knock on the door. Nothing changes. I stand there, looking down on him from the top of the stairs, and wonder if I should put him out again. He gives up meowing and settles on the floor. 

I’m coming back in fifty minutes anyway, so I let him stay. In a book I’m reading I can’t read past a needle. Not immediately. I put it down and find things to do in my apartment. Nothing, really. I’m about to leave, though I’m not going anywhere. Just in a circle. It feels like there is so much on the horizon, in every direction, and I feel as if I must choose just one thing though I have time, maybe, for nothing. Though in my experience the more time I have, the less productive I seem to be, and so maybe it goes without saying that I have gotten a lot done over the last few days. 

You message me and say that as soon as you got on the bike path you received a text and burst into tears, the stress maybe of it being too hot last night, tossing and turning without any hope of sleep. The stress of other things. I didn’t sleep for three hours after getting into bed, during which time I at least had the opportunity to catch up on my reading. Sometime after two am I got up and put ice packs underneath the fan and, briefly, it got cold enough to consider even getting underneath the blanket. 

I kept asking what seemed real. What seems real? During the day sounds from the back of the house make me suspect that a raccoon has entered, as they used to like to do. But there is nothing inside or outside, no evidence of any tampered-with screen door. On Twitter the other day a woman claimed that she saw a stranger walk through the alley to her backyard, but that when she investigated there was only a mother deer and her fawn, no one else to be seen. It’s too much to believe, and yet I believe it, somehow. I’ll believe anything. When I go back to the laundry room the dryer is silent and the cat who was waiting in the hallway is gone. Entered or exited, I don’t know. I guess I’ll keep letting him down the stairs. 

A HILL’S A MOUNTAIN AND YOUR LOVER’S CALLING

Let me speak, for ten minutes
for just ten minutes, let us clear

what has grown up around us, grab the tangled 
green and rip it from the walls

A bird flew through my window without stopping
no glass broke—I saw it was a fawn

gently descending from my comforter
clicking gently out the open door

Before you leave this place let us prick our palms
and face each other across a pool of water

I want to know what it’s like to look at you
so put your bags down in the hallway

Let us press our palms together 
if there is enough blood to run

let us sit in the kitchen
and howl together at the knife

The sprinklers pop out and startle me around four pm, so I move to the centre of the field to dry off. I am done reading Lacan. It’s already the end of the day. No one wants to work, and it’s so hot. “Oh, it’s just been crazy today,” says one employee to another in the empty retail store. In the field I feel as if I have been seduced by the sun, as if it whispered in my ears to take off my clothes. It’s just my shirt. Reading the psychoanalyst made me want to cry, just as it did a few days ago, as I reported to my therapist. “Whose dissertation were you reading?” she asked me. Our wires were crossed. “It was Lacan. Lacan,” I said. I told her about the dream that I recently had, how R. and D. said I was both “seductive” and “manipulative,” in a “dangerous” way. “I don’t see what’s so funny about that,” she said. “It’s just so absurd,” I said. “That they have to work so hard, when I’m the one who was betrayed.” I could work harder. Victoria College has been transformed into a film set. Or maybe it’s the condos across the street. The street is packed with trailers, and on a table outside one of the catering trucks there is salad after salad stacked and sweating in plastic clamshells. A man with his mask around his chin, presumably in the union, is asleep on the grass. The previous night I met with Dmitry, on the Bar Neon patio. We tried Three Speed first, but it was packed. He tells me about a birthday that goes haywire. No one is used to being waited on, and it’s easy to get drunk. “He crashed his bicycle and cut up his face,” he said. As we’re crossing the street, afterwards, we notice a rat that has been flattened into a disc, a perfectly featureless circle with a fat tail. “What a rat!” we exclaim. “What a rat!”

AT NINETEEN I NEVER SLEPT

If I had something to do I would not do it and neither would I 
give in, betraying myself, punished and stretched, drinking coffee topped 

with ten dollar bottles of whisky, leaving at two or three in the morning 
to do groceries or to take a tour of the neighbourhood

which then was Yonge Street, Dundas Square, Church, 
Carleton. I was always being touched by strangers.

A man in his car followed my roommate home from work, driving five 
per hour for blocks. Someone whose gender was more fluid 

stopped their car on Bloor in the early morning, asking for directions
to the very next intersection. Then asked if I wanted 

a ride home. This isn’t what I’d meant to write. For blocks 
I’d followed some oafish drug dealer (he looked cartoonish,

a fat Chong) as he shook down his colleagues and friends
then disappeared into a faded deli with bleached posters of Mats Sundin,

his eerie whitish Scandanavian smile. Wood panelling, stove topped 
with dust. A place found always locked when I’d tried

to eat what I was sure would not be good. Nothing was. It was
a different time. With disbelief I found that night 

that I was alive. Running to catch a light, closing the careful 
distance. Before I lost him. As if there was some meaning. 

I never got in the car. Rhinestones, a wig, long blue dress, 
two days of stubble, elegant evening wear for a hazy, late,

empty November. But perhaps I might have, if I had known
a little more, had been somehow even hungrier 

Whatever was waiting for me. Eager to be noticed, as when the year before
I’d almost cashed a stranger’s cheque. Instead I pointed 

to the very next set of lights. We could almost read the sign. Didn’t wonder
what was sitting with them. Not until I’d turned away.

Love is a cracking open. Not in the way I think most people assume. It is not necessarily that your beloved makes you fall to pieces, when you fall in love, though this is how it has been represented, time and time again, in art, in literature, in songs. And this can certainly happen, usually not for the best. Instead I think that the vulnerability love requires asks that you crack open. This is a fine distinction. One involuntary, the other voluntary. One is entirely based on the beloved and what they can do for you, the other based on your own availability, your own openness. It is so tricky, knowing whether you can or should trust. Getting over your own wariness, getting over yourself, choosing the one that you love. Choosing them, over and over again—what a risk, to put yourself in that position, walking out on that ledge, trusting that they will be there to balance you. Trusting too, that you will want them there with you.

How much you could lose.