Poetry

Dull Emergency

EVELYN LAU

What’s up with these open-ended days?

Under-employed, we shuffle to the beach,

stoop for shells as if for souvenirs from afar—

Sanibel Island, maybe, where once we stuffed

our luggage with shells the size of fists.

Now we point overhead and grunt like cavemen,

agog at the novelty of a plane searing the sky

as if it were the first flight out of here.

Stranded, a year into the pandemic,

no one has any news to share, vocabularies

reduced to virus, vaccine, variants—

that dull emergency of the daily count.

Time stretches, sags, goes pear-shaped.

There’s little to say but still we mumble

behind our masks, eyes widening or squinting

in exaggerated empathy or sorrow, desperate

to communicate. A straggling sun

casts dips and hollows in the sand,

washes the shore in weak light. Campers crowd

the parking lot, snowbirds shivering in portable saunas,

pop-up tents in this California of Canada.

But we’re lucky, so lucky. Driftwood in strange,

soft-serve shapes algae-green water. Given

another chance, we’ll snorkel with mantas at midnight,

paraglide from cliff-faces, jounce on camels

across blinding deserts. We’ll squeeze

into seats on prop planes, knees to chins, and scream

with joy at the next adventure. All those words

we held back? Next time. Just you wait.

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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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