Current Phobia



I came up from under the essays,
longed for sea-soaked beaches. A paper hound,
building-bound, I’ve overdosed on chalk, talk.
Desks, sweater vests. I’m done repeating,
beating the life out of every dead poet.
Which is to say, I want a new job. I’m at a loss.
Where do schoolteachers go when their eyes dry out?
Trolling the job search sites, sending out resumés,
I hit only my current boss,
with every boomerang I toss.
Been too long indoors, tracing the same halls
like an Etch-a-Sketch. Security footage: me abandoning
my class, disappearing on one screen, reappearing
on another—now with coffee, papers lost. Large bottle
of painkillers in my tote bouncing against my hip
like a maraca, I plod through the blur
to file report cards like taxes. Isolated in my classroom,
I’ve inflamed passersby with my rants. Each desperate
colleague who escapes my chamber,
wobbles off to clobber a neighbour.
At a posh resort I’ll be a dishwasher, that’s what.
I’ll stand all day—no sitting at a desk for me!—
arms in a mini hot tub, a half-spa, swirling my cloth
in creamy white mugs, facing the ocean
over a silvery sink where cutlery chimes
like lobsters inside metal traps.
Someone quiet and likeable will pass me plates.
My hands sponge gravy, but worry seeps in,
my mind drifts from scraping scraps,
to my stack of job apps.
Customers crowd into my dream, wreck it.
The clatter of others rushing around me. Bastards in line
waiting to pay, staring me down for my greasy whites.
Bitchy customers, their faces through the horizontal space
between eating area and dish pit, where rubber-gloved
arms cycle in an endless waterwheel.
Clean corporate hands straighten silk ties
this way, then that way. A different job is still a job.
The dream dissipates, uncurls like an eel,
circles back to chain me to this desk of steel.


Sprung from the hair salon with a smooth
backcombed flip, I looked like Betty Draper
in her fat phase. Went in unkempt, came out
kempt. Asked for sexy-messy beach
hair, paid for a docile bob. Everyone
is trying to tone me down. Inwardly I scream.
I conjure charisma, inventory my expired
cosmetics caboodle. Create infected
smoldering eyes. I believe in pipe dreams.
I am in the age of ointments and creams.
I wear baggy-shouldered blazers, the same
black loafers with various dull skirts.
Know all about healthy eating,
. Kale
and cauliflower, good; mini-donuts and wieners,
bad. A skinny boy-principal evaluated me once:
stroking his silky chin hairs he nitpicked
while I bootlicked. For relief I cobbled
together a rhubarb cobbler. I climb out
on the ledge, my resolve derelict.
Sometimes I make it out to the cake district.
Sleep deprivation has become a thing. Except
in meetings, screenings. Dream of my dead friend,
a little plump in a red pencil skirt, curled up
with a glass of wine. She drinks forever
in my head at night. Perspiring
and coffeed-up, a beige upholstered creep,
I roam the hallways’ 90-degree angles
in 90-degree heat. My deodorant is a liar.
Lately, I want nothing as dangerous or deep
as a good night’s sleep.
Love bite, now there’s a term I connect with.
Sideswipe, not as much. Current phobias:
allodoxaphobia, fear of opinions.
A class discussion is me talking; yet,
acousticophobia, fear of noise, includes my voice.
Arithmophobia, fear of numerals, is ample
on my bathroom scale. Atelophobia, dread
of imperfection, cowers with atephobia, fear of ruin.
Each morning I awake anxious but cheerful;
it reminds me renewal (not change) is possible.


I feed a careworn buffalo in my sleep. She grazes
on my faux pas all night and won’t let me rest.
I introduced my neighbour as “the bastard
who parks his motorhome in the cul de sac.”
Now he’s erecting a higher fence. Don’t worry
yourself awake. One day we’ll all be released.
It’s possible to hate someone after they’re dead.
I do it all the time. The alcoholic’s children twice
traumatized: years of yelling, then find him deceased.
Maybe I shouldn’t have high-fived the priest.
I’m beading my noose to make it pretty.
A flat-footed angel comes to take me home.
Lilac is not my colour. I chop my wedding ring
on the cutting board. Resentment has its
consequences: a pizza stone can be a weapon
or a shield. I sow what I reap.
My Venus flytrap is full. And you
should see what’s in the woodshed sometime.
One catheter in a lifetime is too deep.
Maybe it was a mistake to fall asleep.
I drank beer in an inflatable boat within weeks
of nearly drowning in one. If planets
are idiots stuck circling the sun, what chance
do I have? Criminologists say only pedophiles
are incapable of change. Yet the pile
of hamburgers sold continues to grow.
We’re diamonds trapped in the record’s rut.
I will always love cheese. But there was no
Asiago at the Don Ho anniversary show.
I crave warmth, but knit holes; build
ladders, but can’t climb them; smile,
but look medicated; plant peas,
but can’t shell them; adore pizza,
but dread the man who delivers it; keep
my pencils sharpened, but to a nub.
Groom myself with an oversized hairbrush
that shreds my skin into tiny white flags.
I’m a shabby cherub.
Still, I forgave myself at Crookback’s Pub.



Tanja Bartel is a writer and high school teacher. Her first poetry collection is forthcoming. She lives in Pitt Meadows, BC.

“Dream Job” references “Dish Bitches” by Gabe Foreman. “Unkempt” and “Inept” reference “Tonight’s Episode: The Eyes Lie Twice” and “If Jesus Drove…” by David McGimpsey.


Toby Sharpe


I don’t know where a person can go when they disappear, apart from underwater.


Young Earle Birney in Banff: September 1913¹

what a day!at the Basin2 dove from the tufa overhanginto the water, playing my trick ofseeming to drown, not coming up until I finish wrigglingthrough that underwater chimneyand burst into air. always startles the tourists.


Zamboni Driver’s Lament

i know hate, its line-mates. believe me. you kids have, i’m sure, wasted—all early morning anxious and weak-ankled—their first impatient shuffle-kicks and curses on me.