Wish I hadn’t held onto all of that anger for so long—wish I had been more careful. Wish I had been able to hear when I had the chance—wish I could have seen what was happening below the surface. Wish I had paid more attention—wish I’d understood. Wished a great many things that mean nothing now. Piercing questions from Australia early in the morning, a Zoom’d group in the evening, an afternoon text message thread—wish I’d given myself more time to think, to be still, to receive the kind of advice I’m receiving now.
Followed by a magician for fifteen feet. He holds a small, plastic “v” in his hands, which he rotates in his hands—I don’t understand even the suggestion of the trick. What’s his angle? Think we’re going to be Just For Laughs–gagged. There’s a camera set up on a tripod by the barrier. He’s not wearing a mask. We keep walking but he won’t leave us alone. What kind of reaction is he hoping to get from two people wearing masks?
The streets are packed. There’s a long line to get into the haunted house—one of several. Above this one a Frankenstein smiles as he considers eating a Whopper. I’m a sucker for all of these false facades—the Rainforest Cafe, the casino’s castle, the Wizard Mini-Putt—but I’m not really sure what it means to be so swayed by them. What the consequences are—I am only momentarily awed. I spend no money.
I tell a friend it feels fucking surreal. Another comes over the next night and I expect there to be a gap in the conversation long enough to describe the feeling, but it never comes. The pandemic and its long silences has made us talk over each other. On ever more urgent topics. It’s hard to imagine exiling myself again—but then I think of the anxiety, think of why I went out there in the first place. Who I brought there. What I was hoping to build and what I failed to. What held me there and why I couldn’t seem to leave. It’s all so confusing. Why couldn’t I be who I wanted to be? Why did I retreat so far into—wherever we went.
The I Ching keeps mentioning “inferior” influences and I think it must mean in myself. Everything inferior. But I wonder what else it could be.
On the Hornblower we stand with our backs to the churning water, away from the unbearable waves. Soaked everywhere but through the pink garbage bags they ask us to put on before boarding. The decks of American Maid of the Mist VII are packed—it’s just like the meme, a wall-to-wall upper deck in blue ponchos waving at us across the river. “COVID-19 is real!” I yell, immediately ashamed of myself. I don’t know if anyone heard me, certainly not the Americans waving at us cheerfully from the other side. Long before then there was a couple in front of us in line, one wearing an Arizona Cardinals sweater, and I wondered aloud if they were really Canadian. “Really?” I say, “The Arizona Cardinals?” Just as in Atwood’s Surfacing, I see Americans everywhere. But I’m my own American, in more ways than one. I like all of the photos as we take them, but at home I hate every one in which I appear.
Calculated waiting. The well to obstruction. I ask the question three times and receive the same answer—the odds of that are astronomical. The I Ching is trying to tell me something. It is always trying to tell me something, whether or not I am willing to listen. The obstruction has always been my own. Give up anger. Lives have been ruined by it (my own lives). Now it says calculated waiting. Wait for a sign. Open yourself to waiting. Attend to your attitude (it is the only thing you can attend to). Love will follow—in whatever form that may take. What do I want now? What I want is out of my reach. But perhaps that’s always been true, for everyone, at all times.
One of the hardest things to do is to make amends for things you should not have done. It is one thing to outrun your shame—to leap and bound past old feelings that were ultimately not your own, the insults and the limitations that were imprinted on you by those that you first loved. But it is something else to be reminded of your own bad behaviour, the ways in which you have let down or hurt others who cared for or loved you. Sometimes the mind rebels—finds solace in anger, anger to go with shock and grief. What happened could not possibly be your own doing, the brain tells us. What was was not—how could it be? Would you then have been what you were? An arrow, or a sword, pointed at the other, keeps it away. How can that be then repaired? How much easier it is forgive others than it is to forgive yourself. Ironically, easier to forgive then than when you are the cause of the injury, searching for an answer that can’t be found.
Tonight no one wants to stop their car. At every red light I lean towards the lane of incoming traffic, hoping if struck to roll off the hood. Feel oddly visible, like someone has noticed something—perhaps only I have, and that’s being read by everyone else. Last night we drove on fumes through the low trees. Made three right turns. When I got out at the OnRoute and shouted your name the woman walking next to you started and ran to her car. A nervy rabbit or a guilty conscience. Why is it I feel such exhaustion? A full fridge wherever I go. On the drive back I said it was “satisfaction.” Caught on video exiting the house. Delete it before I pass on the password. (No good reason: I’d send it to you if I thought I looked attractive.) I’d like to corral whatever I’m feeling now—I mean tonight, walking in loops. Passing from one side of the city to another. The air has a particular quality, clear and cool. Everything is done growing but it hasn’t begun to fall back. The city is empty. But the streets are full. Why ever leave bed.
Noticeably cooler in the country—leaves are finally yellowing, and the tent caterpillars have taken up their residences at the ends of tree branches, draping everything in a fine silk netting (after the gypsy moths they seem so much more harmless now, hardly worth killing). Night of the full moon—Pisces moon, at its zenith just a few hours from now. I didn’t know until after I put my car into park, but I felt its pull on me as I made my way up the country roads. A surprising heaviness. It’s cooler here now, cooler in the city but cooler here than it is there.
Some posts are like the yellow and black striping of a wasp’s belly. Some are like this—circular, nostalgic. Or they seem like they will be. I think of an article I’d like to write for HTMLGIANT (recently risen from its grave). “My Eight Past Lives,” following a recent appointment I’d made sometime in late July or early August on a whim. “Why did you contact me?” my psychic had asked. I kept my cards close to my chest, or tried to, or in truth had no answer but the obvious one, which seemed much too apparent to bother mentioning. “I don’t know,” I said. “I just felt the impulse.”
It was the truest thing that I could say in the moment.
“Take a shower afterwards,” she said. “Be gentle to yourself.”
I had hoped that at some point the appointment would ring so true in me that I would resonate like a bell—I wanted the metal to be struck in just the right place, for myself to break down, to come apart. Instead, I felt a kind of dull, weary ache in my third eye. Eight lives—too many to speak to all at once.
Now it almost happens, what I wanted then, thinking that whatever I had been before wants so urgently to contact me.
But what do I do for the full moon? I look for a token that I can burn as a kind of effigy. An offering. Something to indicate a change, a transition—a marking of place, on a night where I hope the heaviness will pass once and for all. The first thing that occurs to me are the paintings, recently taken down from the refrigerator—your paintings. Paintings that in truth I would never burn.
But what feels closer to the truth is that I would, or might.
Who do they belong to now? Who would be hurt?
I remembered the shopping list that I found bunched up behind the fruit bowl. It seems an appropriate substitute—marker of an entire life. A life that I guess I didn’t want after all. I would never say that, but you might.
I haven’t burned it yet.
But we still have a few hours to go.
To be discovered here. To be scrutinized. To be told that it is too much. (I’m at home, I was asleep, your own dog woke you.) To be told to be quiet. To be examined. To be responsible for something that does not belong to you. To be told that you are being watched—in a space that is not private but that is really not for you. To be responsible for what has been said regardless of intention—to be responsible for saying even sweet things. To be angry that your boundaries were not respected, and then to disrespect boundaries. To assume you have a place here. (If you remember, you gave it up.) To look back, and to dig, and to hurt yourself, and then to make demands. And to be surprised that you could hurt me with your own carelessness! How immature that I was hurt. I took the poem down. I took down the sweet poem about a moment that we shared in early December. And then I put it up—a sweet moment returned to us. And now it’s gone again. What happens here is what happens here. Dreams and delusions, poorly framed, misreported. Haze and uncertainty. It’s usually just for me alone—a kind of echo. A working echo (a productive one). It is not my fault if you come and go.
I feel as if there is more that I should remember. In lockdown time is accelerating, it is slowing down, it is oozing and crashing against us in waves. But it’s not lockdown that has given me this feeling. It is my own distance when I should be most present. When I wish to be. I have felt this before—maybe around two years ago now, where I worried I was always catching up. Always a little ahead or behind. And then afterwards wondering, could I have been more in that moment? How could I have been? An earnest question. Some of this is the result of a kind of anxiety, a sensitivity, a natural discomfort trailing behind the parts of me that rush ahead. Some of it is not natural, only made. But perhaps, also, it isn’t that there is more that I should remember—because I remember every detail—but only that I’d like to remember it in a different way. As if I was there. More there. Not beside it. Not next to, or near it. In it (in myself).
No more time
Wanting to apologize but not knowing how. It is no longer time for apologies, no longer time for emails or phone calls, no longer time for text messages or walks with the dog. No more time for misunderstandings, recriminations, litigation. No more time to say the thing I never thought you understood. No more time to ask you how you’re feeling. No more time to be sure that I am right and you are wrong. No more time to be right or wrong. No more time for investigations. No more time to recognize my mistakes, to clarify. No more time to apologize, to make up, to console. No more time to be careful, to be generous, to listen—to feel badly that I could have misunderstood something so profoundly. No more time to get offended. No more time to feel guilt for carrying around those awful feelings for so long, an unjustified anger, an injury that never fully healed (in truth, two). No more time to share. No more time to make you laugh, to comfort, to hold you close. No more time for any of that. Now it’s lost, behind us now—a quiet space that I filled with anger, my outrage, my confusion, my self-righteousness. Even now I want to fill it, with this—an apology that will never reach you, an apology that will take up too much of your time if it does.
Locked out, thinking of you. One last poem. Saying goodbye
Leaving I realized as soon as the door closed behind me—
I was stuck on its outside, and after I’d indiscriminately gone around
locking everything else, trapped in that mania that seems to have
some purpose only after you have done what you were going to. Wanted
to read Sharon Olds on the deck chair as the light faded, a way
of scaring myself from the house and a rut and from your echo,
and I did find my way there, but only after borrowing the neighbour’s
phone and waiting hours for the locksmith to call and to come with his big
black husky/shepherd mix who smelled Shel’s tennis balls and his trees
and the container full of litter. Sat in the new haze of the g*psy moth,
brown jewelled, beautiful—if I hadn’t known what they’d done
if they would only stop flying into my boot when I’m walking.
When I see a female (white, flightless) I step on it—you know
how much it kills me to, even those. I guess I don’t need to tell you
why—you were here not for the worst of them, massing to coccoon,
but you heard them high in the forest crown, the rain where there was
no water. You saw them dangle and twist on the ends of their ropes.
Sometimes I’ll start with wonder at how much time has gone
since you were last here—how you must still see, in your mind’s eye
the old stove and the dishwasher, their cardboard, long ago gone,
not the relief of the plain bare wall; how you don’t know the new height
of the plants in the greenhouse, and the lily flowers, everywhere,
several kinds; and the daisies, white and yellow, and yellow and brown; and
a kind of flower I don’t remember ever seeing before: blue weeping cups
I cannot identify. I will tell you—I’d like to forget sometimes, pretend
as if it never happened, as if you’re still inside, somewhere, waiting;
then it would be easier to look at the basketball net where we played
twenty-one, where you taught me how to do a lay-up, or the post
where we tied Shel with the still-attached length of blue cord I found out
behind the shed. Or to think of dancing, our dancing—slow and purposeful,
or the much more common every day kind, a gathering and laughter
that erupted whenever we intersected. Some days I know exactly
what happened, why it didn’t work and why we won’t be going
to the beach any time soon, why I won’t see your one-piece this summer—
and otherwise it seems impossible, a cliché bad dream. I think:
wasn’t there more we could have done? Why did it have to end? Was it really
so far beyond reaching? Well. It’s too late for that, even locked out
and waiting in the afternoon, as the light gathers softly
in a delicate cascade of fluttering brown wings:
after the violence, trees stripped bare.