Poetry

Ash

TERENCE BYRNES

The old man on the balcony

across Ash

keeps watch over our street,

whose brief name

spells out the powdery end of things.

The public air transmits

his days wirelessly

to my open window:

the undisciplined bark of his phone alarm

the radio’s diffusion of weather and sports

the entreaties of grey-suited heralds of God

the greeting to an indifferent neighbour

the wet choke of his cough

the folding of his empty chair

the sighing exhaustion of day’s end.

As I listen,

it seems I should be able to step out

and walk on the thick summer air

across Ash below

to silently enter his flat,

where I imagine seeing:

an odalisque on black velvet

a sink rimmed with amber rust

car parts degreasing in a coffee can

the carcass of a blind television

the curling pages of last year’s calendar.

I don’t know. Perhaps that is unfair.

Perhaps his flat, like mine,

is spare and airy,

decorated with his daughter’s awards

for films on climate change, refugees,

the forthcoming vaccine,

his radio always tuned to CBC One,

as he listens and waits

as I listen and wait

for news of the annihilating fire.

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TERENCE BYRNES

Terence Byrnes’ intimate portraits have appeared in solo shows and publications around the world. Byrnes is a writer and photographer, and he is chair of the English Department at Concordia University, Montréal.

More of his photography can be found at terencebyrnes.com.

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