It’s winter. The condos are behind schedule: the artist’s
impression hangs from the billboard in tatters, the sketched
spattered with snow and dump-truck slush and a nebulous
FUCK sprayed in red aerosol, the K trailing off in sympathy
for all that remains unfinished. To keep warm, the workers
have sheathed the window-holes and outer structure
in semi-opaque plastic, so that I see only a crude smear of
peering out on smoke breaks at the surrounding blur,
and then again the empty window spaces, like dark patches
in a frozen river. It’s not that I’m complaining – it couldn’t
a vacant lot forever. But it had a kind of Zen perfection,
the few quiet boulders reflected in shallow pools after rain
and the late blaze of goldenrod in the depression
where a row of long-demolished houses had been.
The condos will draw new blood in from the suburbs,
the balconies will be hung with wreathes and coloured
and each room filled like a glass with wavering light.
At night it’s a white palace. It’s a ghost ship trapped in ice,
overrun with gusts: the crackle of plastic, tarps and
assault my dreaming ear like the cold, clairvoyant music
of a Russian composer in the early twentieth century,
unleashing a tirade of terrors that has me writhing in my
or up parting my curtains in a mute panic.
It’s like the beginning of the end of my marriage,
the day we threatened but hadn’t quite begun to re-enact
the chilly traumas of our childhoods on each other yet.
Too stunned to stay home, we swigged from a shared flask,
wandered until our heels ached, stepping at last through a
onto the grounds of the abandoned sanatorium. It was so
an almost make-believe land, seen through scrolling trees,
the boarded-up, castellated hall, rusting gates and
Rhododendrons glowed like coral brains in the
the ruins of a vanished garden. As if in a different realm,
white shapes in terry-cloth robes flitted on a distant lawn:
the members of an adjoining spa pretending not to notice
as we trespassed along the weedy path then craned to look
through the slats and barricades into the gloomy lower
strewn with metal chairs and falling plaster. And I saw them
as clearly as if they were figures in an old documentary,
the men with minds of children, moving in slow groups
from the dining hall to the outer villas, unearthing rows of
Basking on warm benches, wrapped in hospital blankets,
marveling from barred windows. Traipsing back
into semi-darkness, and in all the years that have followed
I thought it was a miracle such a place existed, that we had
By chance into a rare state of grace, and learned nothing.
All weekend the outboard engine
has been failing, unspooling rainbows
on the lake’s surface, slicking the fingers
of the drowned aspen, whose wheel of upturned
roots seems like the emblem of an ancient
cult of death, or nature, or both.
High on the ridge, the tents are collapsing.
It’s the end of the season, and the last families
gather at the taps to rinse battered pots,
undo the squalor of fire pits and laundry,
their children streaked in calamine and soot.
On the other side of the lake, spires of smoke
loosen into smog. Through the trees
a stream of leave-takings, Windstars
and Dodge Caravans, their cargo of faces lost
beneath the canopy of sky and branches
That flickers on the windscreens past
the carved mascots flanking the exit.
In winter the snow-swept cabins
will have the look of an abandoned village,
the cedar planks exhaling resins
into the half-buried interiors.
A hundred miles to the north
they’ve unearthed a Wendat city,
its tubers spread beneath a Toronto suburb:
longhouses, palisades and a gallery
of cornhusk effigies rotted to lace,
A rusted European axe-head at the exact centre,
lodged like an ache in the cerebrum.
A gust perturbs the water’s face,
the gunwales tilt and shudder.
We’re also in the middle of something,
Terse words and a stalling engine.
Tinged with blood and amber from the fallen
leaves, the run-off of centuries,
our semblances tremble in the waves.
Your winter coat, frayed at the wrists,
a cassette of your voice reciting verse.
A fear of King Lear. A belief in ghosts.