From Vancouver for Beginners
There are entire neighbourhoods you need to forgive. Streets, daylighted gutter creeks, morning shoulders, your legs still walking home. The ocean slumps at the end of the phone line. You sold this friendship to the pawnshop three different times before it finally went. You had the good sense to buy it back. On this city hill, they leave computers in the alleys for students who rove in hungry from the forests, rise with the heat from basement suites. Are you sure about leaving, again, this time? You can cut your ties with stories but not with certain bus stops. Teen-steamed glass booth in the long wait of spinal tap rain. A waist dawning in a white brick stairwell, salt under your fingernails, the morning’s widow’s walk around the seawall, gulls chanting your name, the climb to the turret where you grew up. Heaped. The reefs of bus cables against cloudline. The bridges fencing with tide. Knit the shores you step between. Friends fall through, chase geographical cure, send you emails from other decades: remember the rainforest endowed to transplant research? remember the elementary school that sank into the water table nothing left but the monkey bars, scrap metal pushing out of the earth? remember the one among us who drowned between the bridges, remember it was at dusk there was no sound that night the rushing remember the temperate monthlong fogs climate controlled to the drag of your blood, remember his voice swirling under the rockshelf boundary of knowing? Your first teenaged lover waits for weeks before writing back: if you think you hate Vancouver, you probably just hate yourself.
The Aquarium Collector
He starts small, assembles his cases before sunrises. Some would call him a hoarder, stockpiling clear rooms to the hip of the sky, high cubes molten with sunrise. One after another, a creek poking a glass bone down his false arm, he reaches, shakes the nuisance, swipes a grazing ground parking lot to Clark Street, decorates it with tinfoil, viaduct, direction, here is the steeple, here are the people. The aquarium collector thumbs the rubberneckers that bend against the city’s plexiglass cliffs, carves a cleft in the Pacific rim for his trotting fingers, twinned pale joggers. People side by side in lanterns that gleam with salt-polished want, he scatters food for the drifters who rappel down the sides of reefed neighbourhoods, trade griefcalls with seagulls. Packrat, he cannot stop adding to his collection. Always needs more. The aquarium collector sources his tanks from other oceans, demolished zoos and abandoned schools, he holds panes between his palms and feels the quiet promise of newness, the hum of construction. It’s easy to start over, lay down a new ocean floor, rippled blue and green, build upward with arms and mirrors. He strings Christmas lights, spreads his net, pushes his roller and paints the outer walls. The aquarium collector fills his glass rooms with worlds. The landlord is starting to get concerned about the mess.
Alex Leslie has published a collection of prose poems The things I heard about you (Nightwood, 2014), a collection of short stories People Who Disappear (Freehand, 2012), and a chapbook of microfictions 20 Objects for the New World (Nomados, 2011). Their work is in Best Canadian Poetry in English 2014 (Tightrope) and was shortlisted for the 2013 Robert Kroetsch Award for innovative poetry. This piece is from an ongoing prose poetry project entitled ‘Vancouver for Beginners,’ parts of which have been published in Descant, The Capilano Review, filling station, EVENT, and Dreamland. Alex lives outside Vancouver on the unceded traditional and ancestral territories of the Musqueam people. They are currently at work on a collection of stories entitled ‘We All Have To Eat.’
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