Truck Song, You and I

The radio is hobbled in this mottled blue truck with its touches of cancerous rust,

the antenna a broken stub,

but the truck sings a 200,000 mile tune. Between muffler sputters and engine knocks,

who needs Elvis or Sheryl Crow?

The tires' rhythmic thrumming, the periodic squeak, keep us humming into the night.

Lying in bed at the hilltop,

we wonder who waits for the stars to burn out? The fuel gauge shows empty,

it always does,

and the odometer is unreliable. On the way home you start to worry

about how much farther we can go.

:: Gregory Stapp, in qaartsiluni



Mrs. Howison from the Highlands;
her heaven chime with Devon,
mine with midden.

Mrs. McCanna, no stranger to a fish supper,
skin clammy with salt'n'vinegar,
declared me out-of-order.

Mr. Beckham replaced his stroboscope
with a boy, propped on a box,
set to shout "flash" every five seonds.

Mrs. Cash balanced breasts and maths
on my shoulder until I keeled over
on first contact with her mouthwash.

These were my teachers
and I have spent my life unlearning
every lesson they taught me.

Today, in a grocery store, a stone's throw
from Turin's multi-ethnic centre,
a child barged into me at the fish-counter.

Scusa, I said, with enough sarcasm
to poison an ocean.
He didn't even look at me.

Foreigner of shit! he replied
in BBC vowels, and I wondered
who had taught him that one.

:: Rob A. Mackenzie, in qaartsiluni


Old Professions

POET: I told them to look for the right words in the bluest place. Some turned to the sky. Some observed an odd bruise on an old one. My star students closed their eyes. I knew even if they did not find words, they found sparkling black.

CARPENTER: There were no new nails. We burned dwn houses and sifted ashes to reclaim old nails. But the houses had been fixed with wooden pegs. So I told the boys to make nails of forks and spoons and wedding rings.

CLOCKSMITH: One was two and two was three. What's the difference? One hour was no better or worse than another. Only the shadow of a dying tree remained loyal to time. The girls were most stubborn. How do you make twenty-five out of twenty-four? They pouted.

COBBLER: If you run out of cowhide, there's always pigskin. Or the hides from dogs or goats or sheep. If it came down to it, you could peel your skin off your own thighs for shoes, but I wouldn't recommend it.

SINGER: It was easy to teach them to sing. It was less easy to teach them to sing with joy. How could I teach them something I didn't know? My melodies were suspected. We sang songs of frogs, of cranes, of bats.

COBBLER: The fact was, we didn't have anywhere to walk to anyway.

CLOCKSMITH: And since we didn't know what day it was, why track the hours?

CARPENTER: Our team built seventeen houses but there was nobody to live in even one of them.

POET: We gnawed on the words we did not forget. The words became smaller but never lost their flavour.

:: Tammy Ho Lai-ming & Reid Mitchell, in qaartsiluni


It Was My First Nursing Job

and I was stupid in it. I thought a doctor would not be unkind.
One wouldn't wait for a laboring woman to dilate to ten cm.

He'd brace one hand up his patient's vagina,
clamp the other on her pregnant belly, and force the fetus

through an eight-centimeter cervix.
She tore, of course. Bled.

Stellate lacerations extend from the cervix
like an asterisk. The staff nurses stormed and hissed

but the head nurse shrugged, He doesn't like to wait around.
No other doctor witnessed what he did. The man was an elder

in his church. He chattered and smiled broadly as he worked.
He wore the biggest gloves we could stock.

It was my first real job and I was scared in it.
One night a patient of his was admitted

bleeding. The charge nurse said, He won't rip her.
You take this one.

So I took her.
She quickly delivered a dead baby boy.

Not long dead--you could tell by the skin, intact.
But long enough.

When I wrapped him in a blanket, the doctor flipped open the cover
to let the mother view the body, according to custom.

The baby lay beside her.
He lay stretched out and still.

What a pity, the doctor said.
He seized the baby's penis between his own forefinger and thumb.

It was the first time I had ever seen a male not circumcised
and I was taken aback by the beauty of it.

Look, said the doctor. A little boy. Just what we wanted.
His hand, huge on the child,held the penis as if he'd found

a lovecharm hidden in his grandmother's linen.
And then he dropped it.

The mother didn't make a sound.
When the doctor left, she said to me in a flat voice

I called and told him I was bleeding bad.
He told me not to worry.

I don't remember what I said. Just that
when I escorted her husband from the lobby

the doctor had already gone home. The new father followed me
with a joyful strut. I thought Sweet Jesus Christ

--Did the doctor speak to you?
--No ma'am, the father said.

I said quick-as-I-could-so-I-wouldn't-have-to-think--
The baby didn't make it.

The man doubled over. I told him all wrong.
I would do it all over again.

Please, sir. Sit down. I'm so very sorry to tell you--

No. It's been sixteen years.
I would say, I am your witness.

No. I have never told the whole truth.
Forgive me.

It was my first job
and I was lost in it.

:: Belle Waring, Dark Blonde (Sarabande, 1997)