I just walked the street of my father. The street is called North.
I paused in front of his white apartment building as the sun
fed me from the west. There were two shopping carts chained
together, one from the liquor store. My father turned empty
bottles into full ones, into food and into rent. He pushed
his cart across the city gathering emptiness.
North is the repository of our best intentions, Ursa Major
overhead when I am exactly this old in a winter
without fathers. He left when I was an infant
to take on liquid. He took himself away.
A cosmic stone cast into this ancestral wind
I cannot afford. The Pleiades still know me.
Seven sisters who know me to be as bold
as a conjectured fjord.
As I write this
in a Tim Hortons
a man next to me asks
what does this word mean?
pointing to a spot on the page
of a MacLean’s where the word
My father's skin had yellowed and the sclerae of his eyes,
half open but clouded by sedation. A tear slid
from the corner of his right eye to past the bone
of his indigenous cheek. This tear had not yet dried
when they began to withdraw life support, machine
by machine. The breathing machine that jerked his
head back and expanded his chest with decreasing
regularity was the last to be withdrawn. A nurse said,
"He is in the process of actively dying now."
In the ancient Near East a seer would look to
the stars or the livers of sheep for divination.
What does a liver show or hold? Spurinna
the haruspex foresaw the death of Caesar
in the entrails of a sacrifice. Paugak,
the cursed Anishinaabe skeleton
who flies through the Boreal forest,
is said to consume the livers of his victims.
Prometheus’ punishment for stealing fire
from the gods was to be chained to a rock
and have his liver torn out daily by an eagle.
Every night his liver would regenerate.
Two days have now passed. Two days I have been
in Halifax. Two days since my father has passed.
He has passed from mystery into appearance, laying
bare his totality on a death bed, distended cirrhotic belly
and ethereally beautiful face. He passed from unknowing
into eternity as I watched the neon lines above him lay flat.
I am still watching. I still do not know what I know. A nor'easter
now passing over me, spilling its moisture from the Atlantic,
heavy rain that by midnight may turn to snow.
What does it mean to actively die? Actively?
At this time Knausgaard is very much with me,
For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long
as it can. Then it stops. Full stop as in a period,
as a period is a flat line, extended. I have been
given my father's papers, his Polaroids and a pocket watch
that belonged to my great-grandfather. I have been
given his ball cap that kept the maritime sun
out of his eyes as he scavenged for bottles.
The band of this hat has collected his scent
which is lemongrass, earth, and discount smoke.
I have been given his small tools, cologne, nail
clippers, a water canister, a small plastic box of razors,
a picture of me as a baby, a drawing of electrical currents,
I'm here, wedged within three nor'easters.
The first fell after he died. The jaundice,
the eyes that are mine, the snow a white-out
of every street. The third will come Tuesday
and cover Halifax in a foot of lace. Today I
bought Ocean by Sue Goyette. A black dress
and a pair of tights. Today I ate berries
and drank black coffee. Today I felt
the harbour folding in. A sphere flinched
in my portal vein. Today I woke up late.
This evening I looked up at the constellation Orion.
Tomorrow I will see my father's body for the last time.
Tuesday he will become ash.
Liz Howard was born and raised in rural Northern Ontario and is currently a poet and cognition research officer in Toronto. She is co-curator of the feminist reading series AvantGarden and graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Her chapbook Skullambient (Ferno House Press) was shortlisted for the 2012 bp Nichol Chapbook Award. In 2014 she was invited to read at Princeton University as part of The Rhythm Party, a colloquium organized by the poet Lisa Robertson. Her first full-length collection, Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent, was published by McClelland & Stewart in April 2015
the Tuesday poem is curated by rob mclennan