Fifteen years in isopropyl alcohol
has burned the dull, brownish
pigment from its carapace,
but still you keep it, dead and pale,
in your kitchen, as a keepsake
of the time that you, too, almost died.
Or so you thought, until the Bahamian
graveshift doctor laughed
at the harmless juvenile specimen you brought him,
the one you found crawling on your nightie
after a midnight row of pinpricks,
bathroom lights and stifled screams.
This tiny, primeval question mark
curled up, lifeless, in its jar
once had the strength
to sink a small, dark drop of apprehension
beneath your skin — a venom so subtle, it lingers
and threatens to ruin you still.
I dreamt of finger bones
as thick as treesnakes,
of hands that possessed
a fierce, primeval strength,
and I awoke with swollen
knuckles, as though I had
smashed them hard against stone.
But my bed was soft and my back
ached from the excess of comfort.
Each night, the dreams grew worse.
I saw, severed from their body,
the heavy, black hands
of a mountain silverback.
It felt like wires tightening
around my wrists as I slept.
Ode to Amoeba proteus
Little one, you have mastered the arts of taking
and giving. Even the tiniest crumb you take
with the whole of yourself, enveloping it,
creating a hollow place inside of you
to keep it hidden, to keep yours, until that place
is empty again, and it collapses in upon itself,
and the need to fill it returns, and you take.
But when you give, there is no saint or saviour
who can match your generosity. Only you
can give yourself twice, each perfectly
to a different future, each from a single past.
I even believed it was possible, once, to give and take
the way you do, when the world seemed made of knives,
and all I wanted was flesh, and all I felt was want.
* PAUL VERMEERSCH
TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA
Paul Vermeersch’s new collection of poems is The Reinvention of the Human Hand, published by McClelland & Stewart in March 2010. He is also the author of the poetry collections Burn (ECW Press, 2000), a finalist for the 2001 Gerald Lampert Award, The Fat Kid (ECW Press, 2002), and Between the Walls (McClelland & Stewart, 2005). His poems have been translated into Polish, German and French. He is the also the editor of The Al Purdy A-frame Anthology, published in fall 2009 by Harbour Publishing. He lives in Toronto where he currently teaches at Sheridan College, studies at the University of Guelph, and works as poetry editor for Insomniac Press.