In town, people were unzipping their coats,
carrying knit hats. It was the kind of day
strangers step aside for each other readily,
bestowing small gestures, the shoulder pull,
the bent arm aside, the chin tuck, the almost nod.
I cruised the block and parked in the last spot
behind an idling truck.
It was the shady side, and I found it
a different world when I got out and began to walk,
a world of clutched fabric and flapping ends,
rough winds roiling up among buildings.
A phrase from an old song came to me
about walking on the sunny side of the street,
meant, I knew, as a lesson about complaining.
Such simplification is a hallmark of moral lessons.
Can it ever be otherwise?
Learning happens in retrospect, except in those most
charged and fortunate circumstances
when it drops on us like clear northern light.
The day before, I had walked the back field
through gem fires bursting from snow.
This, I thought, this is my beating heart.
Nothing had ever been more exciting or exact.
The world had opened, revealed its inner minerals.
I had no sense of having left my body
the way sometimes I have felt beside myself,
yet my body too could have been flaring out,
Was it a vision of the end?
I came indoors, made coffee, went to my study as usual.
Each time I spoke of it reduced it a little
while expanding it in my mind.
This is how we reach knowledge of others:
finding what we cannot make understood.
Did we share a smile as we approached the door,
you and I?
The story lies; all stories lie;
they are like snow,
bodies formed by solidification of elements
with regular repeating structures of atoms and faces.
Most of the time they are all we have,
selves we reach out to
or hurry past, depending.
Susan Gillis’s most recent book, Yellow Crane (Brick Books), was a 2019 Jury Selection in the Grand prix du livre de Montreal and a finalist for the 2019 ASLE book award. She lives in Montreal and rural Ontario.
To view other content published in this issue, 14:2, please visit Vallum’s website.
Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE! Visit our website for details.