Paul Vermeersch * A Scorpion in Alcohol


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’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.