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.