For Paul O’Reilly; after Mike Scott
I spent 2020 sitting at my desk in my study,
saw the daily life of the boulevard through the window:
the traffic, walkers, runners, landscapers, delivery drivers,
crescent moon, thunderstorms, autumn leaves, February snow.
You spent most of the year within five kilometers of home,
saw your wife, daughter, son-in-law, grandkids, manicured
the garden, pruned rosebushes, pulled weeds, trimmed hedges, watered lawns.
Whole communities raised their drawbridges, dug moats, locked gates, afraid
of the invisible threat. We sent words and images through
the air, across continents, beneath the sea, watched the same
moon, waited for science to save us, for the borders to open,
the governments to cooperate, for reunion to make us
whole. We survived and endured, turned our focus inward, dreamt
of recovered times, learnt to appreciate the local,
the homegrown. We stand in our backyards hemispheres apart,
moon shedding light on us both, golden, silver, pink and blue.
Dear English woman,
because you were half an hour late for our first date
& kept me waiting alone on the Underground
platform (& I was young and easily wounded
& didn’t fully forgive you), you will never
know about the depression in my chest, the names
of my parents & siblings, where I went to school
& university, the names of my former
girlfriends, the titles of my favourite books, the name
& location of my birthplace, the story
about my ancestors who lived near Stonehenge
& were shipwrecked at the end of their months-long
voyage to Australia, how fast I can run a mile,
how many poems I’ve written, how many pancakes
I can eat for breakfast, how I smell when I wake,
which side of the bed I sleep on, whether or not
I sleep naked, how long I spend in the shower,
just how big my feet are, that my favourite colour
is blue, that I keep a bottle of eucalyptus
oil to inhale when I’m homesick, how many scars
I have beneath my clothes, exactly how blue
my eyes are, how many grey hairs I have grown,
how I spend my time & money, the content
of my dreams, the kind of husband & father I am.
Meet in the parking lot near the picnic pavilions
after sunrise, shake hands with fellow runners, catch up
on the week, stretch, empty bladders behind poplars. Set
out on the four-mile loop east-southeast along Lower
Mountain Road, loosen muscles, control breathing, find rhythm
and stride. Chat with fellow runners about past races,
family news, the passing of old boys. Turn right onto Townline Road,
cease chatter and prepare for the long climb up the hill
to Pekin. Crest the summit, slow heartrate and breathing.
Cross to the west side of the road and turn into Grove Street,
pass through the village to Upper Mountain Road, turn left
and run west towards the Niagara River and Canada.
Turn north onto Meyers Hill Road and speed downhill, pass
ploughed fields, sycamores, oaks, ash, maples, poplar and pine.
Run on the shoulder alert to passing pick-up trucks,
step over dead mice, squirrels and racoons. Turn west
onto Lower Mountain Road. Pass green fields, asphalt-paved
driveways, parked boats and RVs, acres of mown lawns
punctuated with trampolines and aboveground
pools. Pick up the pace along the straight to the parking
lot, cheered on by birdsong, pause your watch, grab a water
bottle from your car’s windshield, hydrate, recover
for a minute, head back out for another loop or two.
When the loops are complete and the miles logged, cool down
with cold breakfast beers from the cooler in the trunk, trade
race stories and personal records, savor the weary
satisfaction of miles banked, never regret a run.
They’re dying to cross the border,
drowning in the Rio Grande
within reach of Texas, walking
fifteen-hundred miles in three months,
carrying toddlers on their backs,
sleeping in the desert, eluding
coyotes, thieves and kidnappers,
enduring hunger, fatigue, thirst,
assault, despair, indifference.
They walk all day, day after day,
week after week, month after month,
persisting beyond understanding
to seek asylum, shelter,
protection, the chance to live.
How can we ever turn away?