Writings / Poetry: Stephen Brockwell

Biography of My Father, the Printer

I swept, the day after my father died,

a thousand pounds of scrap—plates, rods, wires, gears—
with an industrial broom three feet wide.
I didn’t have the energy for tears.

I hurled reams of 90lb cover stock,
rolls of blank newsprint, corrugated cardboard,
stacks of die-cut boxes packed in a shipping box
never delivered to a customer who never paid.

I dumped his confession from drawers of lead type
on the concrete floor of the loading dock
and shoveled it off into the bin below.

I poured a hundred gallons of wasted ink,
blending indigo, emerald, pink, gold and black
into this grey biography of his adulterous heart.


Constructing an Addition on the Old House

Come look at the overcast sky with me.

Without the Sun, the grey, amorphous clouds
buckle like an abandoned farmhouse ceiling­,
yawing and sagged, barely clearing six feet,
houseflies suspended in cobwebs for years
without a broom to brush them from the corners
(I’m thinking of a snapshot of the geese
and flurries on the background of these clouds,
weightless in those frozen milliseconds—
but sounds too much like a Kodak moment).
It reminds me—I shudder—that we have
a massive renovation underway.
They say the rubble foundation, shored up
with badly poured concrete thirty years ago,
hasn’t supported a pound of house for years,
eroded by moisture and rotting posts
of the old balloon frame. I’ve lived five years
in a dwelling propped up by half-inch-thick
old-fashioned stucco walls. Explains the cracks
I noticed when I bought the place. Good thing
Danica hibernates in the basement;
teens have keen instincts for self-preservation.

Gravity isn’t an impressive force.
The bats avoid it when they leave the cave
by merely flapping their hands. Look it up.
The parasailing tourists in Grand Cayman
defy it by barely moving a muscle—
Jetskis do all the work, hauling the sails
fifty feet above Caribbean waves.
A blade of grass grows straight up through the dirt
and bears the weight of its thousand-seed pod.
Even the atmosphere’s not held in place;
every minute, my weight in hydrogen
reaches escape velocity and wanders
with the solar wake beyond the planets.

A year-old baby stands up to gravity.
I feel as light of foot as Karen Kain.
I won’t even break a sweat in step class.

Hang on a sec, my mother’s on the phone.

So it’s not gravity but time that moves
the planets in their eccentric orbits,
inflames the knuckles in my mother’s hands,
makes porous her bones and erodes her hips.
Arthritis makes it tough for her to smoke.
And her tumour encroaches invisibly,
upward and inward, colonizing her
vital organs without regard to weight.

I think Martin Heidegger had the wrong
title for Being and Time. Being in Time
no other way to be. For all the ink
of ontologies since Parmenides,
anguish resists incarnation in words;
it dwells in the skin, the nerves and neurons.
That thought brings not one dose of consolation
to my mother. She resents every minute
she bears her aching joints with the wrong meds.

Without time, relentless Terminator—
daubing the back of my hand with its slow
sepia calligraphy, every year
marking me with another final point—
Gwen, we wouldn’t long for the rhythm of sex;
I couldn’t hear you sing or watch you breathe.

My membership in Aeroplan will end
with enough miles for one trip to the moon.
Book my ashes on a rocket there, sweetheart.
The moon’s too light to hold them anyway.

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