Trailer Park Elegy (selections from the long poem)
To see our marbled planet from space,
you’d never guess the tiny dramas,
the human family in masquerade: polished
Sunday shoes, starched dress, a boy-sized suit.
Backstage, we six immigrants awaiting our cues
never broke silence. We still don’t
His last three yakkety years he spilled
the beans. Oh, the beans, the split--
open jar exploding the permissible
thickness of peanut butter
on a slice of toast; the Father and Son
of the Holy Trinity teaming up
with Maple Leafs’ Johnny Bower as Goalie Host.
My brother played our dour lives for laughs,
parodied Dad’s This is what we do.
Cozied up to religious feeling then
stoned with punchlines. When he was
a kid, it was the wise crack
delivered under his breath. His death-
defying human freefalls
in the face of Because I said so.
Whenever he dropped little depth-charges
I reverted to being an anxious child. Had to
remind myself he was not twelve, but fifty--
my brother talking, telling, saying who he was.
Little brat, running
with flowers stolen
from the newly turned graves
after the cortège
slides out the cemetery gates.
Roses in particular,
cape of red
petals streaming behind you.
In the era of black and white
greys, westerlies, rain--
small boy in all that colour.
Hey. From this one syllable
I was to discern whose voice
was on the other end of the phone.
Then the deluge—detail on detail
’til my ear was cauliflower.
He had more characters than Dickens,
and I got to know them:
Nurse Ratched at rehab,
Eddy the knife collector, fish stories
in Skinny Al’s tremulous voice.
Funny. My brother the butt
of his own story, the fall guy.
He wasn’t always, he became that;
man who knew he was the punchline.
No, wait, it gets better.
We shared bad knees. Both knees, he said
to his doctor, do them both. Now it’s my turn,
I’m wheeled into the operating room, cold,
I’m thinking ligaments, torn meniscus,
nerves like fingers, signaling. My insides,
obscure as caves and ocean floors, the long arms
of galaxies we’re swirling in. Those, together
with tables, chairs and observable phenomena,
are a puny 4% of the total mass of the universe.
And here’s the kicker: the remaining 96%
of the material world is invisible dark matter!
The doctor asks if I’d like to watch the procedure
on a screen. You’d think I’d grab the chance.
My insides revealed, view magnified.
Turns out I want to rest my head
on the pillow and stare at the green ceiling.
That’s when “Just Breathe” by Pearl Jam
comes on the radio. Huh? You? Here?
I laugh, can’t help it, it’s crazy.
The doctor scowls. A nurse hands me
a Kleenex, points to my eyes. My brother,
I want to explain, post knee surgery,
dripping sweat as he crab-walked
on his hands over the floor
in that time we were both alive.