By Michael Lithgow
I see them driving home in darkness, giant
jackrabbits startled in the night like a landscape
spooked. I make a sound with my breath,
turn the music down and think of magic. Once,
there were three zig-zagging and barely discernible
against the snow, as if something inside me
had leapt from the car. It makes me like this suburb
more, like it’s full of surprises, like everything
we think might be wrong. Unexpected closeness
to something ancient and afraid. In the morning,
I see little balls of shit on my sidewalk (always
the same spot) and can trace their nocturnal flights
across my yard in the snow. Their nervous
proximity is like a tremor, like what might touch
a boat when something large moves far below
the surface. They feel intractable. Maybe it’s the way
in warmer weather they brazenly hold the road
at dusk, stopping to twist huge ears listening
for hunger. And it is hungry around here. It’s Easter,
most of the rabbits I see are chocolate and cartoon,
echoes of a pagan carnival of hope and yearly tribute
to someone rescued from the dead. The thing is,
every time I see their wild arses flee before me
I feel a little saved, too. And I’m not the only one
who thinks of hunger when I see them.
Slinking up from ravines at night are coyotes,
and behind them – well, there’s mountains,
eventually, and great plains in old glacial lake basins
and more rivers and all the rest of this ravening planet
spinning on its axis. It feels like the jackrabbits hold
some part of me together.
At the podiatrist's
By Michael Lithgow
At the podiatrist’s, I saw the bones of a human foot
made of plastic pieced together with wire. There’s a custom
I’ve heard discussed where families tend the dead by picking
bones from ashes after cremation with chopsticks, delicately
placing solid, brittle remains into an urn. Pieces of my feet
picked from dust by my daughter, my partner. Perhaps
a close friend. It makes the pain that drove me to the doctor
even more unbearable. In the waiting room, everyone
had a pinched look, not like the open smiling faces
of passengers on a plane to Florida. And there was something
tender; we instantly empathized and just as quick retreated
into shells of private exertions – pain is so hard to say.
In the waiting room, posters of feet revealed a complicated
treaty among tendons, muscle and bones. Mostly, it’s time
that pulls my metatarsals apart, puts pressure in the wrong
places, wears things down, cracks the skin and builds calluses
and corns on surfaces where gravity binds me at one end
to the planet, the other reaching into the cosmos. The doctor
told me he chose feet because he couldn’t dance and didn’t like
law. Neither of us laughed. He pressed and prodded my feet
and found something that works. This small, urban miracle
was enough to have me back on the street with confidence
I won’t be lamed by time just yet, but I’ve tasted its incivility,
and it’s not the first I’ve heard stardust roaring in my ears.
This time it clattered a little like small sticks clicking against
shivery calcium carbonate and hydroxyapatite. Yes, bones.
And so the pain that ties me to things through the bottoms
of my feet tethers me to some sort of walkabout across
the nebulae, my point of departure the same as the last points
of pain my feet will feel before I fall.
What revolutions I have left to live
By Michael Lithgow
There’s a layer of ice over grass I just noticed shoveling
snow away from my house. It’s fool’s work moving water
with a shovel, but I needed to bang at it – hard as dry leather –
long enough for lumps of sod to appear in chunks
tossed across the yard, long enough for the yard to be exposed,
to increase the melt, alter hydrology by speeding up
evaporation at low spots near the house on this side of a small
but significant watershed in my backyard. It’s so boring
I could scream.
What isn’t is the hunger I once had for upheaval,
tremors of instability attracting me like moths. Even now,
they often augur beauty, altho’ my angry hacking of a winter lawn
probably makes me the tremor around here. My neighbours
are more like flypaper than winged, doomed vessels of hunger.
But something feels doomed around here, that’s why
I’ve attacked the ice. I can’t shake feelings I used to have about
pounding at the foundations of things looking for a crack,
wanting to see castles in the sky falling. But here my hands get cold,
and I sweat through my clothes if I’m at it too long.
How am I going to stop all this water? Why do I think patterns
furrowed in snow will save anything?
Each night the horizon of black-roofed, mid-century bungalows
behind my house sucks the sun down into dusk. When only
half a bright yellow ball is left above the shingles something
extraordinary happens briefly, then this quiet grey light begins
to seep over everything. This time of year it brings the cold back.
Damp skirts of the afternoon’s warmth freeze. The moonscape
of ice chunks strewn in my yard glows a little in the dimming.
I stand in the kitchen watching darkness drag shadows
evenhandedly around me. The window flushes with the day’s last light,
my bungalow settles. The walls tick. Traffic chuffs faintly
through the insulation. A distant train sends a forgiving shiver
through the dark. A revolution never afraid
of cracked foundations had so little to fight for. And now
I have so much.
Michael Lithgow’s essays and poetry have appeared in academic and literary journals, including Poemeleon, LRC, Cultural Trends, CV 2, Seismopolite and TNQ. His first collection of poetry, Waking in the Tree House, was shortlisted for the Quebec Writers Federation First Book Award. Work from this collection was included in the 2012 Best Canadian Poetry in English (Tightrope Books). He lives in Edmonton, AB and teaches at Athabasca University.