Hastings & Main

Only one of many, but what does it means to be only one
of many, in no way distinct yet exemplary, left as if by a natural economy
in a room over a shop, in a transit hotel, in a subsidized complex under a bridge, or simply
under a bridge, under cardboard, or here at the limit exposed at one of the crossings around Hastings & Main, on pavement never ceded
by his people, or any people, as if at the terminus of every route from the colder east to build under a milder if no less
severe regime a shelter of tarps, blankets, umbrellas, tents, shopping carts and rags on the sidewalk, against
blackened walls, torn fences, in distillation of desolation, but what is
desolation, can it be abstracted, made into an account of this neighborhood down slope
from better shelters, from the intimations of Mount Pleasant, just beyond any possible justifying
script, back story, passage leading in or out of this place or this day, all unjust, unfitting, maybe better unsaid since to say is always distortion, sunken
from the silvery streets rising west, broken from their clean industrial artisanal amnesic glitter into processions
of dusty autonomous sidewalk markets of syringes, flashlights and hot plates, disjointed
crowds in dozens, in pairs or threes, murmuring in bargain and exchange but stripped
of unnecessary text, sentences pitched to the urgency of that day, to ends no more distant than what might fall that night, released from any over
arching frame, yet meeting as they had always met in other ages or on other terrains, in deserts or forests, having abandoned
or been driven from their villages, no longer of use in the household, grown too lunatic or too frail, even their counsel out of phase, no longer
suited to the raising of cattle or poultry or crops, unable any more to plow in the requisite
straight lines, or with steady hand perform the ceremonies required, or keep in the approved manner the five fires of the old books, the fires of the sun
the sky, Earth, speech and desire, the fires that would never be eluded, would always in some manner be kept, even as far as the forests, the deserts, and even here
in the needling laneways, among the glass bottles crushed in paper sacks, the blackened walls, all under the same sublunary world, ravens in flight across, the seagulls scavenging, the five fires underlying
the manifest fires of rusty barrels, scuffles and bar fights, flights against, across, at angles to the flow of mistaken traffic, sacrifice in every fire, and always nearby
in summation the fire of the pyre revising, reversing or translating the rest, overwhelming the rest, known by its sudden onset
intense flames, opening it might be onto a simpler beyond, through the knowing of which
all else is known, at the needle exchange she was standing
in line as he was, but so thin, eyes so round, brown hair streaked with white and in wild stalks, in disarray
exemplary, their exchanges made, they walked for a while through formative and binding
passages, avoiding random bursts of unhousing along the walls, pursuits, falls and dispersals to where he left her
with longing at the edge of a grassland pressed between the streets and the inlet’s expanse of water in sight of mountains and the north shore, where she was in a tent
unhoused, to these places they would always be drawn
or left, to landmarks and natural expanses, to large bodies of water, upraisings of land, to planes and solids, trees and stones, to objects made of trees and stones
or their resemblance, to shelters constructed of hillsides and hedges, or their resemblance, whatever the hearth
or campfire, in a pit or at the zenith, fire was always the centre, never extinguished but only sometimes at rest, hidden in the kindling, they would deny
everything out of need but the fire, would always return to the fire, cold wind
at their back, the flames hot on their faces, fire that burned as the sun burned, rained as the sky rained, as the ground grew under the fire
of the great blue hall, in the morning they emerged
stiffly from cramped shelters, at the eastern end of a laneway, sunlight
unveiling behind, he saw her struggling to lift a broken appliance into a shopping cart, together
they let it drop, rattling, small pieces, bolts and washers jangling through the mesh to the ground, they pushed on
by a route only she knew to the back entrance of a bottle depot that was in fact a depot
for whatever she brought, the sun now truly risen, clearing the sky to burn, their days were elemental but not
easily charted, what could have been gradations in the density of crowded trees, foliage, clearings, the snap of twigs beneath
their steps, through the canopy intrusions of light, coronets of light reaching the forest floor, were now other
densities, clearings, other breaks and projections of light, yet still growing
like a forest up from the ground, articulate but hardly spoken, they gathered
as they had always gathered, a shirtless man that day insisted
on lumbering around her on the sidewalk, leaning in, shouting at her
on the sidewalk, while she held a cloth bag tightly to her chest, as if ejected
from a crowd across the street he careened through the traffic, tripped
over the curb, landed together with the shouter on the pavement in a thud of flesh, untangled
himself and with a few desultory kicks left him there, moaning, and followed
after her, trembling, as she hurried away, but what distinction
could there be between this moment and many others, between the common blows on any island or along any coast, the cloud and sunlight equitable
always, enacting always the moment as the same, what is it to understand what is identical
but utterly distinct, what is it to state the distinction of no distinction, whatever the illusory gaps between, what is it to mark out all beings
everywhere at play or at issue, to re-center each one again, unfolding as if yet another pristine beginning, undiminished, nobody in truth can say
that the light from stars is greater than the light from fires in railway yards, or from dangling light bulbs in rooms beneath stairs, or from moons
rather than mirrors, one light as unexpected as the next, deviously placed, with the same flesh and breath, trials and pleasures, in early
morning and night, the same for those still in the village as for those exiled to the desert or forest, the Earth was round
as an infant’s face, the rivers collected their names randomly from colors in the detritus of the soil they dissolved, or from the scales of fish, or from what they reflected
from the depths or from the surrounding trees and hills, or from a traveler who gave a name she took from some other river, the sky
was all light, all smoke, all fog and rain, the sun was hearth but also gateway, firebrand, the gods in cameo like brass platters
receded down the great blue hall sounding like gongs with every disturbance, every noise however faint from the ground
as if struck, the sun the old books say is a person found in the right eye, or it may be
that in each eye is a person on which everything turns, the day after
welfare Wednesday they were in Oppenheimer Park, where in summer
the Buddhists mark the return of ancestors and the Obon, where they sat on the grass
with mandarins, cheese and bread, and wine, all in a paper bag, from a battered van
on the street beside the park somebody saving or at least outfitting souls was giving out shirts, jackets and blankets at need from the sorted bins inside, with a sharp blade
he released a sharp scent as if in flames from a flame colored orange in the unanticipated air, at one
with the textures of cheese and bread, the red wine’s red taste on the grass, the burning blue fire of only that day’s sky.



M.W. Miller has appeared in Malahat Review, Capilano Review, Dalhousie Review and Antigonish Review, among other publications. He recommends Doctors without Borders.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Sunday, May 26, 2024 - 21:21