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Notes for a Sad Phoenician

rob mclennan

            You are the question to all my answers. I was an
            echo without prior sound until you, silently, wrote,
            “I am counting on my fingers to remember you.” If
            only you had got my name right.
                        — Robert Kroetsch, Excerpts from the Real World

            This occurred, this was situated
            far outside the portal
            way before beginning,
                        — Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Torques: Drafts 58—76

Do you remember my fingers on the High Level Bridge? I remember your blue dress.
The wind is made of molecules, impassive but never alone. A mass of improprieties.

I am looking for you through a myth of roses.

I am putting your heart back together with four hands, yours and then mine. We
walked together, from Edmonton east.

I have nearly forgiven you for being born in Windsor, Ontario.

We have been here so long, the world has mesmerized our stories. Even our words
remain restless. We are the last ones to admit that the stories were true.

If I were to believe my own mythos, I live a life of epiphanies threaded together with
rusted needle.

You can never see out of eyes not your own. My twentysomething gaze out my
childhood window, the fir tree that grown up to euthanise view.

It was not where we meant to end up. We ordered the oysters, a bottle of red, the
lamb special. Your ivory coast.

We are already further than the idea of a door. I identify with the familiar, and you tell
me that I don’t like change. I call this foundation.

A song I wrote for Helen of Troy became infused with blood. I no longer play it. Puncture
wounds become obvious when skin exposed to the cold.

You are a tiny blue island. I am working my way up to your shoreline. I long to get
shipwrecked there.

John Newlove said once that all of his poems were about desire. Desire, not longing,
or love. The Phoenicians, it was said, at the forefront of writing.

If I could write you a love poem, I will.

Every day I write you a letter and drop it into the postbox at the corner. Last week,
each envelope pasted with Christmas stamps. Before that, a book of Queen Elizabeth

I am an unsigned page, resisting the pen. Your fingerprints mark me. From our house
on the moon, we live airless, but breathe into each other’s mouth at regular intervals.

I am trying to keep from falling a part.

Your skin is the song of the wind through wet grass.

Yesterday morning it rained, all over the parking metres. One couple wore skis. I
was meeting Amanda and Charles Earl at the Carleton Tavern. The moon fell dancing
in waves.

The moon, Mary, I would give you the moon. What Jimmy Stewart promised, in the
film version of It’s A Wonderful Life.

Ottawa, in winter, becomes cold and then colder. Before Edmonton, I never
understood what they meant by a dry cold. I think I prefer it. Your car and blue
football jersey, preparing the pan.

I wrote notes to Hank Williams and Jack Spicer. There is no America without you.
They wore wristwatches with the hands of your name.

David Thompson, who named a river after his mentor, and lost the border between
us for more than four days. His house is an archive of drawings he made of your body,
your curves, your soft places. We articulate maps.

Evidence: your hairpins mixed up in my bedsheets.

When you appeared at my door, I was too stunned to speak. I went right back to
bed. I am glad you accepted the invitation.

I remember the palm of my hand on your exposed back, on the night that she
kissed you,somehow, for my benefit. In the karaoke bar, you were half a beer away
from starting a fight, and you didn’t care who. I hadn’t seen you more beautiful.

On bad days, you’ve suggested you’d go to the moon without me. Without you,
I imagine no moon.

I spend the morning rereading all of the poems I wrote you, before we met.

The bus strike continues, marking your absence. Bill Hawkins drives by in his cab,
jwcurry quotes something he said in a notebook. The slow think of you as I stand,
waiting for something that could still be long weeks away.

I remember your tongue on the curve of my spine. I remember the curve of my
spine on your tongue. Each night sheds its differences.

When I dug into my pocket, I hadn’t enough left to call you. I had already paid my
bill, with exact change no less. I was attempting to show off by being precise. See
what this has cost me.

I am working my way up, through the back. Last night I had a dream of kitchens.
I had a dream of Myrna Kostash’s kitchen.

I wanted to find out what happened. What happened.

We are trapped amid boundaries of Canadian cities. Politicians are often like
hummingbirds, and barely notice. We call this a failure to react. I am constructing
a memory quilt out of love letters writ from the backs of your knees.

Your hand on my thigh as you drove. My left hand nestled the back of your head.
I do not distinguish the plains from the mountains. I’d rather the plains.

I wrote a book on Alberta that turned into a love poem. I wrote an essay on Anne
Carson that turned into a love poem. These are all that I write now. Is this a love

Why so much of my words get themselves in the ways. I continue to speak despite
troubling speech, circumventing desire.

You admit, how touch becomes so important. I am drawn to these leaves, these
loose sheets in your folder left out on my writing desk.

On New Year’s Day I had Vietnamese noodle soup. I woke up to one of your
hairpins. There is a cut on my right index finger. I am constantly in strange

You wouldn’t answer the phone. I am subject to great beauty. I submit. I would
mention the snow. It falls hard in dark places.

I am in love with the way you move mountains, and plains. If there would be gods,
you would be my new pantheon, twitching asleep on my shoulder. The earth moves
for us, slowly.

Sometimes dreams occur to me in other languages. I still can’t speak. I have to
remember the subtitles.

I heart out the roses and thorns. You heart out the blossoms. The sky tries to rain
despite thirty below. You, once again, are a tiny blue island. I am sending out flares.

We are a country song. The first thing I noticed is the last I remember.

I am content through seasons. I am stuck on the riverbank. I am hard, like divinity.

What I would give, to be the pencil Bert Almon once loaned to Richard Brautigan to
capture a poem. Now there, I’ll admit, is a story worth telling.

You once said you learned how to drive in Grande Prairie, Alberta. This is not what
I wanted. The day I was there, doing a reading, all I could think of was you, in the
opposite direction, the rear-view.

Because, eventually, all lines intersect, you told me. Pushing buttons, I dialed. I am
writing a letter. I am exploring the holes I have discovered between the letters of
your name.

We are translating seasons. The snow is cut soft. What was spring will be spring
again. Rain anticipates bulbs.

Dislodging a fear, your island, the blue of it. The red of your portrait. The blue of
my portrait too, that you coloured.

The way you walk the in-between. Love.

When you talk in your sleep, you said later, I am not to listen. A sad Phoenician
weeping passion.

I am adamant. I give nothing away.

These flowers are lost in the wind. Another ski resort goes bankrupt in the
Laurentians. Without you, I become the coldest winter on record. The soles of
my boots are soaked through.

The High Level Bridge is a waterfall, distant. Weather asks where you come from,
but my answer keeps shifting, like the weather.

I turn the light on in a room. I turn the light on in a room. I turn the light on in a

I asked you to bring me a story made out of glass. It was not meant to be ours. It is
thicker in places than I imagined.

I wanted to rhyme blue, not the word but the colour. Your island is waning, in shadow.
My hands and my feet cut themselves on your beach.

Outside my bedroom window, a moon in the grass. It glowed faint, but steady. You
were driving your car over the High Level Bridge. You were coming in waves.

Did royal blood flow through the veins of Samuel de Champlain? We live in a Metis
country, wrote John Ralston Saul. First we take Manhattan, then Calgary. Toronto.

I had a dream made of lemon cake. I was inventing a new vowel out of the shapes
of your mouth. The phone rang. After weeks, we were finally waking up together,

“Farms of landscape/ between us./ Maybe why/ we both hanker/ to dance/ a rhythm
only/ insects can play?” – Lea Graham

Desire, like Pubwells, has a limited shelf life. I am waiting to prove myself wrong.
Then I did. I returned around midnight to retrieve your grey scarf.

We were constructing our house on the moon. I was pricing out building materials.
You were eyeing the neighbours. I handed you blueberry-flavoured chocolates, one
small step in front of another.

I can see myself in airplanes, missing your touch. One city does not become another.
I construct dreams out of trees on your tropical island, a paradise.

Periodic fits of ecstasy exhaust me. Compel.

Your black jacket with purple linen. I remember you taking it off, revealing bare
shoulders. Don’t ask where you left it. I was trapped, staring at your skin.

You are beautiful as sky. It was thirty below, but you still stepped outside to mail
me a letter. Your sweet-smelling blue.

Is this all Greek to me. A word meaning purple, your red and my blue. What runs
in our veins, striking Cuniform.

My right hand rests on your belly. The snow erases sky, the tops of buildings, trees.
We never went back for the crab in the Chinese restaurant, focused on take-out.
The meal we took hours to begin.

The poem finally reveals itself. Your bare feet on the floor. I could not hear anything,
for all the commotion.

There is salt, there is brine on your shoulders.

The body, it’s said, does not remember pain. It has an incomplete memory. I am sore
up against the stretch of your lone prairie.

We were talking to architects. Architects on the surface of the moon.

Stone-deaf, Ma Bell couldn’t hear you. There is nothing left in the downtown snow.
The rain couldn’t fall if it tried.

It’s not, Luke Doucet once sang, the liquor I miss. I was outside your window,
dreaming you back into Carthage.

We are not where we said. At night, York and Ryerson beckon. We signify answers. At
the cold of my desk, I write out your alphabet, one chiselled letter at a time.

Out of raw materials, I compile sadness. Once completed, I am hoping to banish it deep
in the archives. There are rooms in this house even I’m not aware of.

I am dying, Egypt. We begin with a space on the page.

rob mclennan

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