Two Po­ems

Prairie Fire - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - J. ROBERT FERGUSON

A friend of a friend from out west

comes call­ing to the ver­dant col­lege town

where I live like a ban­dit king, where I drink

wine made from dump­stered apri­cots by a stone bridge

over the Speed River (or was it the Eramosa?)

I read Max Stirner, pack on

ill-got­ten weight, eat­ing stolen wheels of brie.

I’ve forged a new aristocratic, dead­beat iden­tity

while the south­ern On­tario sum­mer sprawls

leans into farm­land, stretches its arms and yawns.

I have sticky fin­gers. I smell of rot.

I be­lieve I am happy. I’m prob­a­bly not.

I never meet him. He leaves

his back­pack on my porch, heads down­town

de­cides to swim the Eramosa

or per­haps the Speed. He’s young and able

and a chance cur­rent buries him

like a blade deep in the river.

I walk the gravel paths of the Eramosa

and Speed, call­ing out

a name I have no face for

was rit­ual to con­jure life.

What rise are Latin names

for dis­eases that sin­gled out class­mates

in the first-world back­wa­ter of my child­hood. I re­turn to the multi-faith ser­vices

for the silent girl from math class

loved fiercely by her few close friends

for the high school prin­ci­pal’s out­go­ing son—

flag­ging strug­gles that brought the town to­gether.

I res­ur­rect the yearly con­trac­tions

of ex­tended fam­i­lies, el­derly neigh­bours

who fell into black-hole re­tire­ment homes. A friend

lost her fa­ther in pre-school. As­sur­ing every­one

how lit­tle she thought of him

set the rhythm for her ner­vous tics. The sick

and old be­came less them­selves in well-mapped in­cre­ments. Sur­viv­ing

was within their ca­pac­ity, un­til it wasn’t.

All of this fol­lowed nat­u­rally, in stages

with grief coun­sel­lors and pam­phlets at ev­ery mile­stone

read­ing from their scripts made sense of life.

The spell breaks with morn­ing. He is found

down­stream a span, tan­gled in the town’s

flot­sam. I see the gur­ney

they carry him away on, the black sheet

that cov­ers him. What re­mains, awaits—

his army-green ruck­sack on the stoop

with its bound­ary-stone weight.

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