Earth on the Ocean’s Back
Rain mists the poppy pins
of passersby outside. In a café,
standing couples rehash the cenotaph
service. Cognoscenti critique beans
and brewing machines while
espresso makers hiss. I remember
Mary Battle used to say dreams were false
from spring until saps fell, says an Irish voice
When did you ever give me what I asked?
Next day my dreams stay with me
through work hours and evening when
I wander through the harbour streets.
Near where the oily tideline sits
a banker searching for a treat
drags on his cigarette and spits.
And how the jealous seagulls’ screams
mimic the outbound tanker’s horn:
and the urgent sailors’ dreams
elaborate their favourite porn.
How can I trust you
if you only want what’s best
not what I want?
At an office party, I start with wine,
first red then white: then beer. I’m using
booze like poison. I never drink a cocktail twice,
switch from Rusty Nail to Martini, some
Tiki drink, close out with shots
of rum, tequila. Kids and kittens,
don’t mix your drinks. I totter home,
open and shut my door without seeing
my cat slide blackly through before it shuts.
In the unlit apartment I shed my shoes,
tumble stunned onto my bed. Next morning
my brain’s bruised as badly as I wanted, I’m
verminous. But my cat’s missing. I’m terrified
he jumped out the open window, but there’s
a notice in the lobby: Loose cat found
in stairwell. I bail him out, carry him home
through falling snow. Shops are quickly suffused with carols;
we hear and hum along. Broadcast specials,
baubles, eyesores hype a saint and quasi-child.
Families disband. Vacationers
book flights for Hawaii or Mexico.
Snowbirds unlock their timeshares
in Palm Springs and Sarasota.
Only sleepwalkers populate the north,
addling puddles for drowned artifacts.
For everything that shines is holy, life delights in light –
seedlings in subway tunnels etiolate
white leaves at sunlight dribbling through the grate.
As the naked earth leans into its shadow
skin peels and cracks. We lick sour sips
of blood from lips. How many
infinitesimals does it take to fill
an infinitesimal space? Bleached skies
untether from the earth. I look
down from the dockside and look away.
Some things are too hot to touch, I think.
But not too hot to drink?
No, some things are too hot to drink.
I picture how a bullet would burrow through
my brain or heart, and I’d drop dead,
crumple here in a splash of blood. I imagine walking
calmly from my corpse, like a contract killer.
On weekends I wander till I can’t trace back
the way I’ve come. Feral boys
race down the pavement, windmilling bare arms.
I wait for a car and hitchhike home. There’s a point
where trying to understand interferes
with understanding, interpretation
turns to invention. I wake in the middle
of the night in May. The windows are unlit
reflecting the glitter of charge cords
and consoles. When I shift, my skin
jolts on chill cotton that passed the night
untouched. I squirm my feet
into sneakers still damp
from last night. Shoestrings
whipping nude calves, I jog down
to the dock.
the old skidpath’s salal, and songless
the sea alders overhanging the pier.
flicker under the raft from fluorescent protists
teeming in the mussels’ beards.
My footfalls on the float’s planking
panic sea perch who corona outwards
in a ring of ephemeral teeth.
Flakes of foxfire ignite and fade
as waves lift the raft and let it drop.
The anchor chains incandesce
as they strain and slack
until the phosphorescence fades. Towards dawn
along the shore, your foam flung up
flashes on black rock and refolds
like the wingbeats of a seabird
holding its place against the wind.
Age of Prophecy
Self-appointed prophets screech
from construction cranes, climb billboards
for future condos. They cackle, garble
aposematic warnings. Tears
hiss in the blue flames streaming
from their lips. So sad, nearby
commuters can hear their skins
crackling, cooking on the inside
like microwaved chickens. But we like priests
to have their schtick together, slick
podcasts, personal stylists. We like
preachers who say These are
the good times, the years
of getting along. We’re fond
of SUVs wrapped in a photoshopped
headshot, tagline in a readable font.
I’m always busy at the office,
reading up on sports concussions, waiting
for AI to save us. Sustainability, we sloganize,
Each generation richer than the last!
Each house bigger than the one knocked down!
Why not? With enough solar cells,
we’ll all be idle, living off
the robots. Doomsayers plague patios
and diners, hassling pairs meeting up
off Tinder. The prophets stutter, work their jaws
as if about to spit. Nod. With every word
they speak, their whiskers
smoulder, blue flames in their mouths
and noses edged with rose.
Daniel Cowper’s poems have appeared in Arc Poetry, Prairie Fire,
Vallum, CV2, and Southword, among other
publications. He is the author of The God of Doors, a chapbook with
Frog Hollow Press, and his first full-length collection of poetry,
Grotesque Tenderness, will be published in April 2019 by
McGill-Queen’s University Press. He and his wife live on Bowen Island,
British Columbia. Check Daniel on twitter @DanielCowper
Featured photo credit: Amanda Ollinik @Allunderonemoon