WHITE DOE after reading Robert Hass’s poem “On Squaw Peak” I want the rain, little Jackson sobbed, I want rain! It was after brunch and we were standing outside Joe’s Grill, taking up the sidewalk in our prelude to goodbye. Storefront windows gleamed with the residue of the morning’s downpour, the sun beating out of the sky heating every washed surface so bright it hurt his eyes. His dad explained these shifts in weather startled the two-year-old to tears. We went in for our hugs goodbye and in the chaos of strollers and jackets and gumboots you stooped and swung Jackson up onto your shoulders— the first time in fifteen years you’d held a child in your arms. A sharp sweetness flickered in my belly, like a menstrual cramp coupled with the ache of desire. It was like glimpsing Hass’s white doe in the woods. You were wearing a blue cotton shirt, crisp as linen, and you looked, in that split- second moment, like a father in a Ralph Lauren commercial— hoisted sails, open ocean, compass pointing the way. Jackson was too startled by the sudden height, the shift in perspective, to be shy. Grinned like he was yours, little monkey. When you set him safely back down to earth, his parents nudged him toward me for a hug and he hiccupped in horror and hid his face in his dad’s crotch. We laughed, recalling our own small selves pushed toward strangers who prodded our cheeks with stubby stale fingers, whose huge ruined faces leered into ours. Had I become that grotesque thing, that monster with age spots and dilated veins, breath spiked with fried potatoes and sausages swimming in hot sauce, lunging in for a kiss? Later you said no, Jackson was just disoriented from being swung in the air, all this up and down in strangers’ arms, pounding rain one minute and slap of sun the next, no control over any of it. What strangeness, to want anything like this— tiny gripping hand, silk of baby skin. The wails of his tantrum as we fled to our Sunday afternoon freedom, no one to look after but ourselves. PLUNGE Now you are looking up from the bottom of the lake. You are walking past the townhouses in April under the budding trees, and drowning. The doctor warned you about this time of year— how you needed to watch the trees, their pale fur coming in. Blink and that dusk would be smooth green leaves. At the Sylvia Bar the harsh sunlight pressed on your face like a wedge-shaped iron, and for the first time in years everyone was older than you. His hand in his hair, your hand in yours. Later, the seaweed trees overhead, swaying. Your bodies bumping together on the seawall. Sunset a silver bar weighted on the horizon, blinding. Forget the pink starfish, the flotilla of harlequin ducks, the geese honking across the massed sky. Already the surface is receding, dimming, and you are sinking into that spiral. If you’re lucky you’ll brush the sanded bottom, slice a heel on a mussel shell, kick for oxygen— the trail of blood behind you dispersing into the blue. JUMPER Then there is a glaze over everything, as if all the objects in my vision had been dipped in lacquer. Is it the meds? The surge in serotonin? There’s nowhere else to look, no turning away. It’s the same weekend you witness the aftermath of a suicide on the bridge. The man jumped straight into Granville Island, the craft galleries and food markets and souvenir stores, the mill of tourists on a Sunday afternoon. You leaned over and looked down just as the officers racing past said, Don’t look down. It was like something on CSI, you said—the splayed and crooked legs, the spatter of blood and brains. The ocean just steps away, its sunstruck dazzle stitched by marine traffic— sailboats, kayaks, paddleboarders— the creek lined with magnolias in bloom. This man had survived the winter dark to die in the month of the cherry blossoms. You didn’t tell me about it for days. All the shine and surge of the sea, and still he chose the concrete. FAMILY DAY Once you lived inside her body, heard its thumps and gurgles, that liquid house sloshing in the dark. Families of ducks squabble on the blue-grey water. You’ve started twitching the way your mother did in her forties— fingers plucking, plucking. You’re fighting it every day— the black roar of anxiety, skin a pincushion pricked with hives, the fizzes and hiccups of your brain as you lie in bed, insomniac. No one in your family speaks your name. Her drawn face, stretched nerves. But there’s medications for that now. In vivid antidepressant dreams it’s all pastels and ice cream, except when it’s blood, carcasses, screams. Your neighbour’s crying in the hall— I don’t know what’s worse, the days my mother doesn’t recognize me, or the days she does, and remembers how much she hates me. At least the weather knows what’s what, knows it’s a day for relentless rain. No families frolicking under sunny skies, in wildflower meadows. No picnics in the park. Once she ran after you and caught you in her trembling white arms. You could smell her— sour milk, yogurt, the space between her thighs. She hated the way you pressed your stomach against the sink while washing dishes. In your teenage bedroom you measured your doughy thighs and pondered where to cut. Hid Mars bars in the dresser, the desk, under the olive shag rug. Still, you remember plums in the grass. Snails, slugs in the backyard. The spider that crawled up your bare leg while you stood stock-still, calling for her.
See Knowledge Network's series Take Me Home for a short film containing more poetry by Evelyn Lau.