it was 1987, and my creative writing class
had created for me a community, stevie and mokina;
outside the academy’s walls, we’d drink tea
cheap beer, potato skins, and we’d walk
stevie and i, we would sometimes sing together
but we couldn’t harmonise. it was as if we were designed
in different keys.
he lived in a squalid midtown apartment
with a fat albino and a permanently stoned guy
the albino fancied himself a punk purist
and was fond of pontificating
against bands of the day; take U2 for example,
how they had sold out, with that joshua tree
no, now that the bourgeoise had cottoned on
true punkdom demanded a sneer
they were so much better when they kept it simple
never mind, i thought, that everyone knows
artistry asks us to open to growth, change
i also didn’t roll my eyes out loud
at the apple cores strewn on their floor
and the stink of unwashed black cotton
that day, one short of the first anniversary
of my brother’s fiery, futile death
i rose early and made cornbread
then walked to his place
and we loped out into
the empty dawn
edmonton, not new york
was wilderness still at 4 am
and just below the bank, a soft dust track
shadowed jasper avenue heading east
long grass moving into its golden age
we met mokina
down at the park
queen elisabeth, below the high level
and traipsed, wide eyed
toward the dim bang of drums
stuttering declaration of new age heart
taking its first bewildered breaths.
they all seemed to know each other
we three got a glance and a smile
and that shuffling aside of the quintessential
canadian, polite but awkward
caught navel-gazing in the lung-expanding
great wilderness of it all.
the chief officiant of this rite
was making it up, like the rest
and when he said how this ceremony
was, among its many things, recognising
“our red brothers and sisters” i shut my eyes
so i couldn’t see them not seeing
the uncomfortable truth.
did we sing? i don’t recall.
it was awkward, there was smoke
and drums in a circle.
the sun rose, that is all.
i brought steve and moke
back to the townhouse
fed them cornbread
we played and sang
a U2 song, of course
one tree hill, the one
where bono mispronounces
victor jara’s name, hiding
from me, at any rate, his inspiration
specifics always underlie any soaring paean
so it didn’t matter. i sang it for my brother.
and we all laughed.
maybe our voices were a little more together
the cornbread was definitely warm
i’d left it in the oven, and joey
had made coffee. the sun was up.
we were young enough
not to know just how unstretched we yet were
by the uncurling arc of our lives.