WAY IT IS/WAY IT COULD BE
You looked small in your coat one hand up on the window, so long now you’d been lost in thought. No snow on the road, we’d been lucky, and it looked like we would be well past Orleans. And past Montmagny; the road giving way to river, the frozen Saint Lawrence white and blue. We went out on the ice and I turned back to you, a figure, distant and small in the long view. Was it a look in your eye? I wasn’t sure. The way it is and the way it could be both are. We got back in the car.
You always tell me the truth – even when it hurts me or it hurts you. Could you go a little easy, would it kill you? Living out the dream, out on the road now for a couple weeks. So intimate with all that we had wanted. All that we hoped for and all that we dreamed – the way it is and the way it could be.
But how long is it going to go on? I’m gonna count on – I’m gonna hold out for – nothing much. A little kindness, a little praise some days, I get so close but I don’t really touch – what I get, or what I need – the way it is and the way it could be.
Two brown dogs came out running cross the highway, panting and low to the ground. And then – they were gone, for a moment, I had run them down. I closed and opened my eyes. They were running up the hill on the other side. The way it is and the way it could be –
Well you called me – telephone ringing in the night. And you asked me if I was alright – like an afterthought, an oversight. And I stood, so surprised, trying to hold on to my pride. So close, I could hear your low sigh. I said I was fine. You said you were fine.
There’s a loneliness – I don’t lose sight of it. Like a high distant satellite, one side in shadow, one in light.
But I didn’t mind to be alone that night, in a city I’d never seen – all these skyscrapers pooling on a prairie. Built high and tall, as though they all compete just to reach the darkness up above that once here had been –
Somewhere – if there’s a beauty you had seen in me. That I wanted somehow to believe – drift of sentiment and memory. That I couldn’t have, I could not keep, no, it never did belong to me, it was only ever another thing I would carry. Still it held me, loyalty, to a feeling, to some glimpse, of a love that was only ever a kind of distance. That we could not cross. ‘Gather no moss.’
All spring I was driving. Every river swollen with rain, every stream a torrent. Over the highway bridges that run high across the plains, flooded. ‘Half of the Maritimes,’ they say, ‘is running this way.’
I don’t expect your love to be like mine. I trust you to know your own mind. As I know mine.
Could it really be so effortless, all in my sight, many hillsides – green and black and distant and rivers serpentine, glinting. I know there’s so much it just can’t mean – you and me. Still caught up in heartache and grief. Yet to come, yet to cease.
I feel like I’m seeing double, all joy and all trouble. My friends say ‘be careful’ or ‘be grateful’ ‘be glad’ or ‘thoughtful’ ‘don’t move too fast’ ‘don’t let it pass you by’. But I don’t expect your love to be like mine. I trust you to know your own mind. As I know mine.
Shy women – you and I – shy, from knowing too well. Every time, as though it were mine, the bitterness that you hide so well. I say nothing at all, thinking of your pride. And I tell you that you look well, and you roll your eyes and laugh, and we sit down together by the window, talking about the weather.
I should have told you – you looked so alight, elegant in the low sunlight. Shoulders wide, as though in readiness to fight – something – you never even touch, never ask for too much, no, you can get by on almost nothing. You and I – forever bluffing. And ever so kind, shy women, shy.
Ice on the trees since New Years Eve, coming down in white sheets. All white power lines, swaying high and heavy. You were staring out, your eyes real straight – like nothing touches you these days.
It seemed to me that luxury would be to be not so ashamed. Not to look away – even this, even this heaviness deserved no less than to always confess, every false smile. To every loneliness, there’s a design, that we witness, you and I, shy women, shy.
I remember the dry grass of Nebraska, grey to distant blue. I stopped on hills like slumping shoulders, car cooling, I took off my shoes. I drove out west with my sister, she talks more than I do. When she fell silent still I’d miss her, the sound of the wind coming through.
I remember the smoky cups of coffee at the continental divide, mesas strange and red and snowy. I felt like I’d arrived. I walked on the streets of California in the wail of car alarms. Men would shout out to me passing; a stranger with crossed arms.
I remember the subtlety of canyons black by the roadside; a cut in the rocks as I was passing, just a glimpse as you go by. If there’s something you always are losing – you may not recognise. If there’s something you always are choosing – something disguised.
Lately I find myself lonely – I wouldn’t have called it that before. I always took it as a comfort – what all the distance was for. If you can’t leave clean as a statement – so true that you almost wince. If you can’t leave, you get yourself taken – like a personal eclipse.
I listened; I always did listen to you. Singing all the way through – your life’s work: passion, caution, timing. Try what you saw, and try what you knew, it was never always true. Your life’s work teasing you, like a statue, so dignified, so blind.
Well they take and take, but they don’t seem to receive, and you don’t sleep and there’s no money. Your life’s work, that you never can keep – few peaks, many valleys. Try as you might, try as you will you were never truly still. And you try what you saw, and you try what you love, it would never be enough.
Try as you might, try as you will you were never truly still.
Some people say that we look sisters, somehow, something in the eyes. And I’d say ‘well you know I’m flattered’ and she’d say ‘yeah right!’ She’s always been so careful, nobody more faithful. I’ve always been so careful, nobody more faithful.
When she moved out, sometimes he’d call me, I never should have answered. Sometimes you give, you’re giving all you have, and sometimes you’re the taker. Like the whole world went and slipped my way, and yet I didn’t want nothing so unequal. Like unearned praise, like someone I don’t recognise was looking back from my own eyes.
We’d sit and we’d find ourselves talking for hours, and sometimes she would cry, waving her hands as though to ward off something, telling you she’s fine –
Sometimes you have to decide what is wrong and what could be right. But I was too ‘kind’, I was on every side. As though to try to make amends for all the distances there have always been between you and I – me and the sky –
It started small – a simple thought. That there was something wrong. And if it’s caught I could set it right or at least, I could try. All through the night and down in your eyes I mined and mined and mined. Given time, what I looked for I would find; I was right I was right I was right.
And every word I overturned like a stone rolling easy. And all I’d see hidden underneath only served to make me lonely. Your trouble is like a lens through which the whole world bends and you can’t set it straight again.
Winter passed and summer storms came and flashed white in the evening. You came in wet, you were laughing and grinning, shook my shoulders, tried to get me smiling. The wind had changed and the rain was relentless, washing everything down the street again. My slow heart wanted only what was endless – to be helpless.
I found the little tapes you kept under your bed, and I played and played and played them over and over again. Years ago, walking alone, you sang ‘Oh’.
In your high strange voice, your feet scuffing along the pavement. Trying to sing what you meant, late at night – it was too important.
I’m older now than you ever were, or ever would become.
I COULD ONLY STAND BY
You could go for hours months and days, in that half-hearted pinched kind of way. And you don’t get too often to the bruise coloured lake, to stand, hands in your pockets.
Sometimes you don’t see nothing much there, sunken old moorings rusted out stairs, and white sailboats against the sky, not really knowing what you came there to find.
Not the building’s concrete spines. Not the bitterness you always can divine and pull from your heart like so much twine, ravelling unravelling, ravelling fine.
You got pretty lost there in your own mind, pathways to hallways to doorways blind. All through the winter I could only stand by, watching you wake to the hardest kind of trouble with no guiding line, no guiding line.
I stood beside you; thin as a kite, wincing in the winds cool bite. Telling me you’ll never get nothing right. Laughing as you said it, in the low sunlight – so brief in November, and impossibly bright.
AT FULL HEIGHT
If he don’t mean it, he won’t say it, and I can tell. If I don’t mean it, I can’t say it, and his face fell.
But it’s so seldom I believe it – it takes a clear kind of day. Like air so cold it hurts to breathe it. (And the colour comes to my face.) And I don’t tell my mother, I don’t tell my sister, something so tender I’d rather not speak it, even when I know it – that he’s mine.
Woke up thirsty, beset by memory, coming in swells. And dreams stay with me, long into morning, strange wells. I’ve been free, but I’ve known not freedom; like a kite. It was a glimpse but I did see him; at full height. And what is left unspoken, is free, in the coming and the going, my heart knew only motion. And I don’t even know him – but he’s mine.
ALL OF IT WAS MINE
Everything I Saw
I grew pale white lilacs and wild columbine – and all of it was mine.
In old recycling bins I grew watermelon vine – and all of it was mine.
And everything I saw seemed to get so small like from a speeding car, old familiar barns.
I made hard wheat bread, and rhubarb berry fool, and I gave it all to you.
I crumpled all my clothes and to the floor I threw them and turned right back to you.
My rotten softwood fence my sagging hydro line – all of it is mine.
The mice come in at night in the muddy streetlight shine see the hulking brown skyline –
all of it is mine.
And all the while I shrunk I pulled my clothes around like my body I could drown.
I dug up shattered glass and forgotten plastic trucks and coiled faded twine – and all of it is mine.
My buckling plaster walls, cracks snake and wind, all of it is mine.
And everything I knew I seemed to see right through like cheap cotton skirts like the Madawaska view. All these things I knew.
Muddy white petunias, lobelia trails blue-eyed, all of it is mine.
Irises shot up high and white lilies tumbled shy, all of it is mine.
I dug up all my carrots with their wild orange hue, and I gave them all to you.
And all the words with which I didn’t know what to do, oh I said them all to you.
Came So Easy
Just cause it came so easy like quiet evenings in my kitchen. Just cause it came so easy like little breezes of indecision. Line of ants came crawling through the cracks there in my tiles. Sat there and I watched them as they pillaged in single file.
Just cause it came so freely I was loath to admit it. Just cause it came so quickly – I was startled like I had tripped. And I reached out an accusing hand to the treachery of the street. Leaning as though in the wind you helped me to my feet.
Your kind words came so easy and I half winced at the sugar sweetness. Made me feel so wealthy so I got tongue-tied, I got restless, and I opened my doors and windows to the many creatures of July. Strange cats come in mewling, bugs that crawl and ones that fly, all my flour fell victim to slow and sullen moths, in the heat we both were gasping wrapped in dripping cloths.
Just cause you came so willing I never made you, I didn’t call for you, so sure i was needless but all the strange things of the dirt are obstinately drawn to sweetness bite through plastic through the masonry. You came uninvited with a jar of your parent’s honey.
I felt just like a traveler as I went walking up my street. Every building so familiar but it’s like I never seen em. There’s the same rows of houses, row on row. I felt just like a stranger as I set my key in the door, and lingered. Standing there on the porch. Little flecks on the brick, where the paint did not stick, I never could paint in the lines. I felt just like a tourist, seeing it all for the first time. Like a guest. Unsure of what I might find. I set down my boots where he would hang up his suits and I brushed the snow from my coat, to the skin I was soaked.
I felt just like a traveller, my eyes open wide. Like a stranger, uncertain and shy. Everybody’s so well meaning, everybody’s been so kind. Called to see if I been eating, wondered when to come by.
You should have called somebody before it ever came to this. You should have called somebody. I wish… I wish you’d called me.
I am trying… I am trying not to let words just shake me off. They would slip and be gone like minnows. Just a silvery flash in the shadows. I would be blank like an unlit street sign.
On the bank just waiting on my line. Words would go and then I’d just be sitting there on your floor. Loving everything I see and no way to tell you what to look for. Then I’d forget – or have I already forgotten – all that I love as all the strings that pull me start to tauten. I am trying – for what – I can’t place. I am trying for some kind of grace.
Chip on My Shoulder
You can have anything you could ever be wanting, the country will give you your fill. I took their advice and I did what they told me, taking my turn as the shill.
Oh this chip on my shoulder I know it so well, sure as the backs of my hands. And I try to be gracious, as ever I can, as gentle and kind as I can stand.
Oh all of them loved me, because I was empty. And they saw in me something they could feed. Cause we’re all overflowing, recklessly growing and the power comes from the need.
But for this chip on my shoulder I could have enjoyed their slippery honeyed embrace. With gifts I would be showered if I don’ t disappoint, but I couldn’t keep to my place.
Oh I spoke to my sisters and the child of a friend but no promises could I keep. Stay always emboldened and don’t reach for that crown but it’s a want that goes down so deep.
I guess that I could have had anything, but I didn’t want nothing in the end that wasn’t tied down. And I don’t think that it matters to me so much as them and I’ll tell not a soul what I found.
Know it to See It
Take your bag, get in the car, get in the car. And drive it. Somewhere quiet. Where you can sit at the wheel for a real short minute, smoking a cigarette. Cause it’s time for it to leave you and you know it will go. It’s long gone tucked under brush and scrub, overland, roadless. Slipping through fences. I know it to see it, I see it all the time.
You felt small and free like a kid, cause now it don’t care what you did. Or what you might do. You felt light, and somehow see through…
It’s not love, it’s not cause of love. It’s not a blessing or a curse, I don’t know what it is. But I know it to see it, and I know it when I don’t see it. And I don’t see it in you.
Yarrow and Mint
It was the summer of scent, yarrow and mint. How could I forget the slight still scent of blue vervain or common plantain? I learned to know the names they been called, years ago. Flowering mullein. Harbinger of Spring. In the heat, the air lay heavy on the street. Sweating with smoke, lilac, and gasoline. What are you looking for? Something you never even seen. Better to know all those weeds that ever will grow beneath your feet.
Running Around Asking
I went running around asking everybody I know. I already asked my mother and the woman who lives next door. I’ve been running around asking for so long. I wanted to ask my grandmother, but I couldn’t get past the weather. But it was good to sit together, on her couch of seafoam green. All her secrets safe without me. And I called up a friend who lives very far away. I took up all her time in asking, but she didn’t know what to say. I said I wouldn’t keep her, and I set down the phone. Whined from the receiver the muffled dial tone. You were outside smoking, standing out in the snow. I’ve been running around asking like I don’t already know.
In the air, first scent of snow. All along the ground the last milkweed silk blows. Nobody’s ever going to tell you what they don’t want to know. No. Nobody’s ever going to tell you for they wish it was not so, better not to know.
It was hardwon, but I found my place. It was hardwon but I found my place. All I could wish upon you is the same. It was hardwon, but I found my place.
And as soon as it’s found, I knew it would change. I turned around and everything was strange. Nobody’s ever going to tell you, for they wish it weren’t the case. Once lost, not a trace.
But you could find yourself down by a lake. About as wide and still as you can take. With a gladness you just can’t shake. Down by that cold, clear lake.
If I’ve Been Fooled
Years passed by, here by your side, but with one hand steady on the door. And it took so long, staring back at you, to open the door and walk through.
And what if I been fooled? By a story, or a song, or by a memory remembered wrong. It’s gonna take so long to unravel the con, and by then I know that you’ll be gone.
And if I been fooled, it was not by you, but by a story with the ring of truth. And a story takes only so long to tell and then it’s gone. And I will find out –