Holes in the Snow
In Montreal storms alter the lives
of people we love. I think of shoppers
who no longer walk the streets buying
capicolla, hot baguettes, the freshest
Chinese greens. A man’s heart
attacks him on the way to his front door;
another dies, monoxide in a drifted
car, blinded by what continues to fall.
A woman fishes in trash
for the butt of a cigarette
discarded yesterday. Pubgoers sneak
their dogs into cold stone corners,
give them ashtrays puddled with beer.
In Montreal living is cheap.
The flower shops fold into
themselves, and fists of daffodils
and agapanthus haunt the tiny caves.
A woman in Montreal smokes
over her words. In the top
of a house where windows have frozen shut
and snow festoons the exits,
she addresses ‘Archangel.’
She wears black, she attempts
to scratch through the blackness.
I attempt to clean the woodstove glass
with fire, to burn through creosote,
the grimy vision. Are we outside
or inside? Here or Montreal?
the horses that work the old streets
are barricaded in barns, blanketed,
alfalfa piled within reach and
the man who grooms them wrapped
in the warmth of their breath,
unable to cross town.
A woman in Montreal paints
houses in Westmount, inside and
out, conservatories, sunrooms,
while snow piles up outside
the glass, and the begonias
grow long-stemmed and confused.
Montreal is a Disney city, glowing
at night with a blue fairy light.
Some of us are outside it: a place
we can’t enter. Out steps would burn
holes in the snow; lilies
would turn their heads to us
and shrivel; the horses would snort
at our heat, terrified, refuse
to leave the burning barn.
I begin this
conflagration with a finger on the map.
A woman in Montreal doesn’t flinch.
Her second-storey room is full
of snowlight. She presses
her forehead into the palm of one hand
and thinks about the Atlantic, about
the language contrived
by rocks and the sea, the wearing
of words into pebbles of meaning,
how the death of a dog in the snow means
no words at all in either language.
her way into permafrost, buries
the dog wrapped in her red sweatshirt.
In Montreal planes stop flying.
No one arrives or leaves. The spirit
burns or succumbs. The dog
returns in a dream, licking
its way from her toes to the inside
of her thigh. ‘Who are you?’ she
asks, pulling herself up into
the dark room, the words
pins and needles in her mouth.
In Montreal the snow creates another
element to swim in, the ghosts’ own
medium; the dead communicate. They
bloom in our brains like astonishing
hyacinths, waxy, essential—
and vanish, leaving us
sick with their absence.
stirs the balsam poplar. I translate
its breath into something suggestive of
speech: branches in a terra cotta wine
cooler. In Montreal the endless snow.
When I exhale, leafbuds withdraw
into their apple-seed sheaths. Hearts
encased, hatboxes of Barbie-doll
outfits for every occasion except
the onslaught of white, grain upon grain,
petals unending, ludicrous abundance.
The mobile possibility of each
crystal before it finally lands,
ash of the dead, egg timer upturned.
in Montreal the trains begin to move.
‘No, not yet:’ this, desire that speaks.
The blue is dimmed by astonishing sparks,
the drifts near houses pocked with yellow.
The boys have written their names in pee.
The hydro reconnects in Montreal.
In Montreal the groom breaks ice
in all the water buckets and climbs
through the window into the light.
From Double Somersaults (2005) by Marlene Cookshaw