I wrote a page-long letter
When all I wanted it to say was
“I miss you.”
I wrote a page-long letter
When all I wanted it to say was
“I miss you.”
Picture this: The arrogant breeze
on the combine rolling through a wide field of canola.
Before the light breaks over the mountaintops
and the farmer grinds his teeth,
lights a dart
and wraps his dry withered mouth around
the billowing fumes of toxic aggression
the snake oil prescription of a new morning.
Fighting tide against time;
Hope swinging in on the carcass of a new beginning,
and this is us.
Foul and fair,
idle against the breeze
and now turned against the wheels
of quiet contemplation.
Like the devil’s stare
screeching, into the midday air,
we look on beyond the hills on high
above and beyond the breathy wilderness.
We flayed the bark off of trees
carefully selected from the sizeable woods behind the yellow hills
and broke them down to build what we though
looked like our best impression of a home.
Age upon age,
tore and tilled the fields
and the woods
bent under the weight of the dying air.
Can he rebuild
the world he once made whole?
Tide and time
always bringing with them
hope of a new sun rising
and the fields now grown tall
fit to be reaped.
But the light still fades
and pulls back the curtain of the stubborn hope.
An optimism once sturdy
as the wild prairie winds send the house
sideways; flying through the boundless badlands
and still sitting by my side.
Like a shadow
resting softly on the dirt.
And here we are,
sinking into the barren soil.
I can’t believe we couldn’t make this work.
Jennifer was a firecracker, and Paul was a steely, wiry box of matches. They drove from show to show, screeching hell’s fury, flanking rockets at each other as they did it. It was a war zone of hate and intimacy; but that’s how they lived their lives. Never resting for the pleasures of a warm marriage. Everything they did was hot and fast. There was no time for love, and no room for it in their beaten hearts.
Paul was a latchkey kid who watched his father beat his mother every night before bed. Jenny was a tied up bag of broken bones and bruised memories. Her parents were cold shadows in her thoughts, distant, blurred out figures in the shape of adult humans who carried no traits of parenthood. She came and went as she pleased, and they never questioned where she went. They hardly noticed her when she was around, anyway. Their teenage lives were violent retching, grabbing, snatching, riptides that pulled them under to the floor and pulled them around until they gasped for air. Until they met each other.
They met after she dropped out of high school and he left his broken home to collapse in on itself with no possessions but a few hundred dollars swiped from his drunken fathers’ wallet and an old guitar. She was working at a liquor store, and he was her best customer. He had nowhere to go and she had nothing to lose, so she snuck him into her parents’ attic to spend the night sharing a bottle of Alberta Premium, and that’s where it began. They talked all night about their hopes and fears, and he played Hallelujah in a mournful key, when she sang along in near whispers. Their flashlight lit faces swung back and forth in the shadowy attic, and in a moment of connection- the first of its kind for either of them- their eyes floated through the bruised and battered facades of their tough hides, and swept them together as they made love; or, at least, a brutal manifestation of all their lives toils and torments built up into what they imagined making love – truly making love rather than simply fucking- was meant to look like.
They left the next morning, hitchhiked to some small towns, played their music for dimes and quarters. They made barely enough to eat, but they were their best impression of happy. They made some friends along the way. And by that I mean Jen made some friends while her husband was too drunk to function. As a result of her natural talent and ability to influence, those friends joined them. They became a band. Something like a family – a foreign concept to both of them. a gruff, burly motorcycle gang looking family. But the old men looked out for the young couple like fathers or uncles, and they were happy. The band was a cast of road dogs, loners, losers. The people that life forgot. They performed and traveled together in an old beat up van that the bassist stole from his ex-girlfriend. Soon, the bassist gifted the van to young couple and took up their own vehicles to travel more comfortably. For the first time in their lives, Jennifer and Paul had a home.
Neither had ever felt the warmth of a loving heart in their lives. but they’d seen love on TV. So they produced the best version of that that they could. It was a rough and sharp-edged excuse for affection, the rage they had built up in their youths often frothed forth in explosions of volcanic ash; but the heat tempered the riptide, and they loved the contempt their bouts stirred up. They loved their reckless intimate circle-jerk of pseudo-affection that they shared with one another. They loved that they could each direct their anger with laser-precision and neither harm nor damage the integrity of their marriage. Most of all, they loved how much they hated their love.
But before that day I found her waiting on the shoulder of the highway, he had never abandoned her. He had never left her to fend for herself in the rock-hard, cold, uncaring world. As much as they threw up torrents of abuse at one another, they saw themselves as the same team. One would never leave the other behind. Her heart had never broken before; it was a calloused, grey withered thing. When he shoved her out of the passenger seat of the van, and tossed her bags out the window onto the brown grass, her heart broke. For the first time in her life, she felt true pain. She wouldn’t tell me what they fought over, but she was sure we would meet up with him in Pincher Creek.
We pulled into Pincher Creek, an old beat up agriculture town. There are only three bars – as we were told by a middle-aged man upon asking him for directions – Excuses, Leo’s, and if you’re looking for something fancy, Boston Pizza. So the venue wasn’t hard to find. By the time we got there, the show would be an hour away from starting. We walked through the door to rows of cheap looking tables and a checkerboard dance floor. There was no band. Jen walked ruggedly to the bartender as I stood by the entrance noticing the unusual arrangement of a dartboard hanging on the wall directly beside the dance floor. She came back, eyes shining with tears held back against them, trying to keep her face in its natural shape as not to let this stranger she barely knew see her cry.
“He’s not here,” She said. “The whole band isn’t here. They never showed. Called the bar and said they weren’t coming.”
She marched through me and beyond the door, sat herself on the hood of my car, and stared off into nothing. I can say with confidence that this was the second time she had ever felt her heart break.
After several minutes of silence, I finally spoke up. “What now?”
She looked up into the cloudy evening sky, “Where were you headed anyway?”
The old man in the motel found his way into my mind. Have you ever been to the Yukon? was all I could think of. Somewhere he had always wanted to go, but a place that faded away into his dreams. I doubted if he ever would
I sat down on the pavement beside the car.
“Everything looks better in the light of day,” I said softly.
“What?” she turned slightly in my direction.
“Just something my dad used to tell me,” as I drifted into a distant memory, “But I haven’t seen or heard from him in years.”
“My parents stopped being a part of my life as soon as I was old enough to move out,” I said.
She pounced up off the vehicle, “Do you want to see him?”
The lonely hills become buried in the size of the mountains as you go further and yet further west. The road to Vancouver is long, and it doesn’t sing like the hills of Alberta 2; but it carries with it a sense of hope as the sun sets, turning the mountains into an unnatural shade of some unknown colour while the sky darken its hue of blue until it washes out into grey. But we drove that direction anyway.
Cut my throat
Snuck up behind
In a dark corner of the world
Left me to fall alone in the shadows.
It’s a silent assassination
Of my beating heart,
as the blood in my veins
Spills into the air
and spirals around
A silent assassination
of my boiling mind
And now I hear the footsteps
Of your stilettos grinding into the past;
The unfinished words,
the unknown thoughts
Pitched forth in a mess of calamity
as they come down
breaking my skull.
It’s a silent assassination
of the suppressed set of words
That I never could say
But here I go anyway:
I saw a picture being drawn.
Thick charcoal lines
enveloped wiry blue gems
as the artist scratched away.
The rough outlines of hair
crumbling away at the edges
so that when the light delicately lands on the canvas
the rigid black blends into a smooth hue,
and the blue dampens;
altogether more soft.
At first it all twirls and winds across empty space,
chaotically throwing itself and twisting as the artist takes a step back to admire the dangerous work,
this picture though wild
when set in the sun
with the soft glow of the sweet summer air
and seeing what a beautiful landscape has unfolded before it,
the picture smiles,
pulls back the frizzled black lines,
and the blue gems dazzled by the hills on the horizon,
dampen, wash out, like cobalt spitefully shining under morning’s temperance
become one and the same with the sky above;
my heart began to flutter watching the transformation from such daring rigidness
into the soft, delicate facade
And it has never stopped.
There is a demon inside me
that bites, scratches and tears at my insides.
Forceful, hateful, angry;
And the beast within you
glares fiery daggers at the one within me.
They scratch and claw at us
fighting to emerge
so that they can rush out and challenge
Once outside they would stare down
Their claws outstretched slice and rip at the other’s fur.
Sharp ebony teeth gnaw and gnash
and their bloody mouths full of flesh would wring out a deadly howl
to the full moon,
ever watchful mistress of the tides
and the cycles of our rage.
She sings reflections of what was once daylight
and the hills return her silver song,
The devils cry as they both tear each other’s bellies out;
but they fight on
They cannot rest until they have been left
empty, with deep red swirling stains on the grass
painted by our own hands.
But they remain within us,
and still they scratch and claw.
There is a demon inside of me.
And it tears me to shreds.
There’s an empty room on that floor.
It’s been, oh, probably decades
since anyone has set foot
through that door,
and walked on the hardwood
along the wide window
where the sun penetrates deep between
the fibres of the curtains, gently blowing
in the cool summer breeze.
Decades since anyone sat in the soft leather chair
and put their feet up,
slept away the afternoon
with a newspaper draped delicately on their lap.
It’s been decades, I’d say,
since anyone heard the pitter-patter of the mice
running along the beams overhead,
and the barn owl resting on the peak of the roof,
surveying the landscape in the moonlight.
and still it sits,
that old now empty room,
waiting for someone
to smell the musty air,
pull back the curtains,
watch the world outside the window run away
as it cycles through each day.
Yes, decades, I’d say.
And yet it still waits.
Excerpt from Modern History of the United States (1992, Ed Harris)
Everyone remembers the infamous FREDDIE trial. Around this time, the world began to stir heavily around the new religion taking shape in Colorado. Michael Davidson’s Church of The Wanderer built tremendous traction around what was at the time known as the “Colorado Incident”. He reportedly received 3 more messages from the entity whom claimed to be God.
The first, instructing Davidson to construct a Church in his honor, aptly named The Church of the Wanderer. The church was established in 1979, and quickly gained followers throughout Kiowa County, where the famous Radio Telescope was located. Davidson named himself the high priest of the church and would often take to the streets proclaiming the Gospel of the Wanderer. The main points being that humankind should throw away its wars and conflicts and prepare for the coming; after all, he believed that the Wanderer would arrive in only 1000 years.
The second transmission was instructions to build a new type of radio telescope. One which Davidson believed would help him contact other forms of life throughout the universe. He claimed that The Wanderer had informed him that humans were using primordial, outdated technology to search for extra-terrestrial life, and that in order to contact other civilizations, humans would need to advance to the new forms of communication that advanced civilizations were searching for.
The third and final message from the Wanderer, as Michael Davidson preached, was for each world power to construct several large, concrete spheres called Heliospheres inside which could be placed important artifacts of Human History and contemporary history. So far, no government has ever constructed such spheres.
I am touching the air.
And everything around it.
The wistful breeze of the world’s untamed breath chills me,
chills my bones through and through.
I can feel the gaze of those things
crawling and brawling with untamed ferocity
as though their razor sharp thoughts tethered to mine
pull me down the canyon
into the unknown below.
Here we find the untapped skeleton,
the unseen ghosts of the primordial mind;
and the air that I breathe,
the air that I touch,
caresses my fingertips and flays the remaining scraps from those forgotten bones.
Once I stood atop a tall mountain
I touched the wind, and the wind only touched me back,
and nothing more.
But now I,
sitting here in the gulch
as the tethers pull away at my senses,
and the brawling things scratch at my bones,
and stab at the purity I brought with me.
They know where I have been.
They know, and so they relent
but only for now.
Soon the air again will blow me yet further than ever before;
as it is well-known that a delicate breeze will topple mountains
after dynamite has been set off.
And I am a stick of dynamite .
It is no matter of whether it will blow,
but when the fuse will reach the powder,
and crack away at the great rock wall above.
Then as I grasp at the air around me.
choking for breath,
it will then topple over me.
The brawling things
will dig my fragmented bones out from the rubble.
And if they can reassemble the pieces properly,
they will set me up atop the hills again,
and hope that their violent urge to decimate one another
will leave me untouched.
we pray and hope together that the tethers will be broken.
And the fight will leave me in peace
to look down at the valley below
and see only its beauty,
the form of the ravine as it flows into the horizon,
and I will breathe.
And when I touch the air.
it will touch me back,
and once, just once,
do nothing more.
I slept on and off all night. My consciousness drifted in and out of tune while what sounded like bottles being smashed against the wall reverberated through the hotel, and on occasion, a sudden shrill laugh from the room below mine. Soon enough the sun came up.
If there is a word for just not quite rested enough, that’s how I would describe the feeling in my eyes. White beams of light shot through tiny pinholes in the curtains. The room, which I hadn’t had a good look at the night before, was derelict and dingy as you would imagine from the state of the bar downstairs. I checked out nearly as soon as I got up.
When I came to the front desk, the old man was no longer sitting in the old wheeled chair, and had be replaced by a bubbly middle-aged woman who wore those weird thick-rimmed glasses that secretaries always have on old TV shows. She thanked me for staying the night, and told me about the continental breakfast that was set up in the corner of the office. I would’ve eaten something but I could only imagine the quality of stale, bland bread and assortment of other breakfast related goodies that were likely days past their prime.
I peeked once more into the bar.
“Bar’s closed until 11:00,” the woman at the desk said.
“Yeah, I’m just checking for…”
There was no sign of life in the bar that just the previous night had been a hive of extreme masculinity and sweat. “Everything looks different in the light of day,” I thought. Something my dad used to tell me, often after my mother had had one of her violent episodes. But that was long ago and time leaks on at a steady pace. There wasn’t much to reflect on in that regard. Not at this point, anyway. I drove for a couple hours. I hadn’t the slightest idea where I was headed. The funny thing about driving without any plan of where you’re going is that you can never be disappointed with where you end up. And there’s nothing more comforting than a familiar face, even if it’s not one you expected.
At this point I was just a little past For Macleod, another little place that, like Nanton, forgot the mantra about time and a steady pace. Up ahead the greenish-yellow fields stretched on into the horizon. The sun still hung heavy in the sky, baking the hot asphalt beneath my tires. In the distance a single hand outstretched pointing it’s thumb at me approached and quickly flew to my rear. I drove right past without a second thought, just another hitchhiker. That’s when I noticed in the rear-view mirror a speck of red shimmering like a familiar jewel. I thought for a short moment about the conversation the night before, “Is that really all it takes to make a friend” Here, a quiet, lonely man, sat alone in a bar; and a firecracker approached and flared in front of him without a second thought. It took me more than a second thought to repay the favour. “Is that really all it takes to make a friend?” I didn’t know, but I guessed it wasn’t as much effort as I had thought.
I peeled into a range road and tossed the car around, wondering if someone else might have been much more sympathetic than I and picked up the traveler.
But she was still there. And she was a jewel tarnished with bruises and blemishes.
“Well hey there,” she said, in a combination of surprise and upset.
“What are you doing hitchhiking?” I asked.
“Husband threw a tantrum and left me here,” she replied as she picked up the mess of ratty nearly handle-less bags into the back seat. “We can catch up to him in a couple hours if you’re going my way.”
Well now I had somewhere to go.
“Where’ll he be?” I asked.
“Pincher Creek. Got a show in a hotel dive called Excuses.”
“That’s on the way,” I said.
There are few things in this world more solitary than the hills of Highway 2. Though we barely spoke a word, the road sang with deep, crackling tones of loneliness while the two-passenger car bellowed its answer back, and neither felt as solitary as before. “Everything looks different in the light of day,” I thought.