Calling to mind the knotty rhythms of Gerard Manly Hopkins, these two poems by kerry rawlinson, explore the ways we try to find our emotional and spiritual home in landscapes — natural or manmade — we find ourselves: “…teetering along the steely/ edges of our syncopated social overpasses,/ halfway between heaven// & hard cement.”
by: kerry rawlinson
halfway between heaven and hard cementϯ
The oxblood stairwell’s marred
with mystery stains, pocked
with gunshot. Gang Sanskrit & symbolism
tag it, curses blurred by decades of piss.
Peeling doors bar
any chink of timid northern sun;
floor-tiles link the map over bottomless
cracks. Ceilings bloat mold-black.
[fear itches just under the skin]—
Ears & noses lean away
from lumpy walls that can’t contain
the leaks: life, draining from
powerless neighbours. A baby screams
24/ 7. Each hour, earthquakes
heave beneath their feet!
An avalanche! No. It’s only the Metro,
vanishing papa each evening
to his first & second jobs, washing dishes
in the pits of far bistro’s;
only tracks stapled to the earth’s spine
rumbling mama her packing line.
[discomfort makes you look away]—
Swearing erupts in their own tongue
once parents are gone.
Older kids mind littler siblings, who clamber
snowbanks, giggling; to stare pop-eyed over
our neat domestic fences, desperate to spot
a niche where they’d fit in.
Brave in thrift-store parkas, they drift
through man-made mazes in the malls
[we tighten pursestraps over shoulders]—
They’re homesick for small memories.
There was gold perfume
& shoeless freedom. A holy sun, unlocked
doors & weightless play. Dismayed
how every day in this new place
they wake to the same
strange landscape of icicle-white
lifelessness, they climb vertiginous
cultural heights, one tentative tread
at a time. Spatters of laughter
follow the way ahead, marked by hand-out
crumbs. Fragile & bright as thimbles
of hand-blown glass, they dare us to climb
after, teetering along the steely
edges of our syncopated social overpasses,
halfway between heaven
& hard cement. Our sphinctres tighten,
thinking: we should
catch them! Catch them before
Duty silts up the hollows between our
knees & armpits & atrophies,
fly-blown as a landfill pyramid.
I’d like to believe you’ll take a spade
someday, & a
screed, then grade a road sloping down
to the sea so we can lower a lifeboat—
Blockages of obligations mound around
the crawlspace of our clay-pipe hearts,
shored-apart with hardening cement.
I hope you meant to take a shovel, maybe,
& a level,
then erect an infinite spiral stair so we can
climb higher than the basement—
& touch the stars.
Branches of commitments stack high
inside our splintered brains,
abandoned & bankrupt as woodchip mills.
Perhaps you’ll offer to hitch a crane;
start-up an excavator;
then choose. Carve out an oasis for our
future or turn your back—
& prove my mistake.
Decades ago, autodidact & bloody-minded optimist kerry rawlinson gravitated from sunny Zambian skies to solid Canadian soil. Fast-forward: she follows Literature & Art’s Muses around the Okanagan, barefoot, her patient husband ensuring she’s fed. She’s won contests, e.g. for Geist; Honourable Mention in 2019 Fish Poetry Prize; and features lately in: Spelk, Painted Bride, Connecticut River Review, Pedestal, Prelude, RiddledwArrows, ArcPoetry, amongst others. http://kerryrawlinson.tumblr.com/; @kerryrawli.