Letters to Mary


Mary you are the one who writes first
though I know you curse me
because I promised to
How quickly I open the envelope
sealed with the extra scotch tape
My hands sticky with excitement
or is it from the nights I clunt to
the doorhandle the dash the armrest
while you passed every car on the highway
after some guy
who dented your fender
or gave you the finger
or yelled at you out the window It is evening

You write to ask what I’m doing
You write to ask if I’m writing poetry
You write to say you’ve taken up hang-gliding
just for the exercise

I walk corridors
The rooms magnified mailboxes
Remembering the happy faces
the upside down sad faces
you painted on the wall
Bottles you kept on the sill
Footsteps you inked in red on the dull ceiling
above the door out the window It is dark
I scuttle hallways

In my rooms the walls are closing in
like wings or signs in a wind
or sheets of stapled paper
On my desk
your address.


Mary it is almost a year
and again you write to say
you are coming for a visit
and you’ve cut your orange hair
as though that could smoulder the glow
the days you cycled coulees
skipped classes
to skateboard sidewalks laughing
when you reached level ground
this city was too small for you

Mary I too have tamed this city
Every evening going home for supper
streets are my allegories
My metaphors turn avenues into
into twisted arms
Images intersect traffic

Tomorrow when you come
We will buy steaks
We will build an open fire
This city will eat from our hands.


Mary because you have phoned to say
you cannot come
And because my room is four walls of concrete
that will not allow me to breathe properly
I invite Flora to come with me
to the park Knowingly
I am teaching her to build a fire
She gathers wood by the river
I burn old news-
papers and letters

Today Flora will make many trips to the river
To build a fire she will carry many logs
She will smell the paper burn
She will see how an axe cuts
new angles
into old wood


someday when I am old
someday when I sit cold and crumpled
in a wheeled chair
you will come
you will come
dancing on high heels
wearing your peacock blue hat
with your orange hair
throwing fire
like a comet

You’ll breathe
eighty years
adventures into me
We’ll change wheeled chair
for chariot
You’ll fly
cupping a goblet of wine
I’ll ride without reigns
We’ll carry brown bread

Our arrival will be the stars
You’ll giggle cartwheels on their tips
I’ll balance on moon’s edge laughing
From where we are
the earth will be smaller
than the smallest city
It will be winter

From where we are
We’ll reflect orange glows
on silver icicles
in ever-

This poem “Letters to Mary” originally appeared in Poets’ Words. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 115 (Winter 1987): 6-8.

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