Poetry

Burnt

EVELYN LAU

There was a fire in your former home, it was on the news. 

On the ground floor, a Greek restaurant 

scorched and soaked, second and third storeys 

engulfed. The room where you once wrote, 

a black mouth open to the sea. 

I walked past the ruins on Easter Sunday, 

spooning mango gelato from a waffle cone, 

along with the other sun seekers 

after a record month of rain. Children zigzagged 

past in a daze of pleasure, old women 

shuffled in glittering saris, tourists held up 

cellphones to the mile-long train carting 

its load of coal. You brought me here, 

once, in my youth when nothing impressed me. 

The buildings on the beach too faded 

to charm, paint flaking, balconies 

rusting from salt air— 

I liked shiny and new, black leather, 

smoked glass, it was the 90’s. Grimaced 

as you crept up the side stairs, hand on rail, 

your careful old-man’s gait

rousing my disgust. You wanted to share 

this relic of your former life, the lair 

where you’d written your famous books— 

it was your ex-wife’s by then, of course. 

It still smells like home, you said 

when you unlocked the door. 

I wandered through modest rooms 

strewn with pillows, sticky with your past. 

Every surface smudged with sand, the air moist 

and personal, clogged with intimate history. 

Your old desk at the window overlooked 

the beach. Look at the wonderful view, you said— 

but it was a grey day, the tide far out 

on a stretch of wet beach where a few forlorn 

seabirds staggered. All of it was dumpy. 

I couldn’t wait to leave. Now it was burnt up, 

like so much else, and I was walking past 

in my middle age, partner at my side. 

I looked up at your room and then away, 

as if from the scene of an accident. Blown-out 

windows gaped open, blasted and gone. 

He and I walked along the pier, the warmth 

of the sun crowding our faces, our exposed necks. 

Later we would go for fish tacos and laugh 

at how he tried not to notice the teenage waitress, 

blond and blue-eyed, still baby-faced.

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EVELYN LAU

Evelyn Lau is a lifelong Vancouverite who has published thirteen books, including eight volumes of poetry. Her fiction and non-fiction have been translated into a dozen languages; her poetry has received the Milton Acorn Award, the Pat Lowther Award and a National Magazine Award. From 2011–2014, she served as Vancouver’s Poet Laureate. Her most recent collection is Pineapple Express (Anvil, 2020).


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