Finalist for the 2016 Walrus Poetry Prize
St. Albert, Alberta
The black patina of wood tar
stinks and sticks to the soles of our shoes
as Matthew and I follow the rails
over a darkness named Sturgeon,
no longer a river but the last slow leak
of what inspired French Christians
to raise a white chapel and a convent
and this trestle bridge at the bottom
of a valley—a dry scar against the grain
of the boreal plains. It’s Canada Day.
I’ve come home to see my grandmother
through to the afterlife. The only light:
red and white Catherine Wheels
scorching the sky over Seven Hills.
Those distant cracks colour the boredom
of adolescent boys and girls leaning
into each other and another long July.
Matthew and I are alone on the bridge,
suspended in a bit of quiet, until two
men emerge from the tree line.
Their steps sink into gravel, words
slur and swell in volume. We back
onto the platform, four rotting planks
and a rust-gnawed railing, and they pass
then turn to say that if the two of us
were thrown down into the riverbed,
had our necks cut from right to left,
or our heads caved in around
the flat-bottom steel tracks, no one
would know who to point a finger at.
They laugh and walk away and I feel
the whole small world of this place
ripple through my hair and in my legs
as if a freight train from Redwater
or Westlock were ploughing on past me.
To think that all of it could end like this:
the brunt of some bad joke told
by two cheap drunks on a bridge meant
for trains in a town raised by saints
under the scarce light of fireworks.