Register Friday | September 21 | 2018

Poems among the Ads

New verse by Brian Bartlett

“Why am I up here,” wonders a poem on a bus,

“rubbing shoulders with cat-named cars

and sticks to suppress body smells?” This poem

wants to be built like a canoe, breathe

true, pungent odours—crushed ginger, forgotten

potatoes at the back of a cupboard.

As sunlight plays checkers on its face

it squints. Nagged by self-doubts, it thinks

“How can I be a voice crying in the wilderness,

a Cézanne-in-words

up here among the fried chicken and jeans?”

It has its pride, this poem, so it squirms

when anyone reads it, emits

a sigh of relief when nobody stands near.

All night in the Central Transit garage

the poem stays awake, plotting

the day it will disguise itself as a passenger

and disembark at the edge of town.

Down the aisle another poem—eavesdropper,

explorer, suffering fools gladly—opens

its white spaces to passengers’

laughter, whispered music from headphones, all

surprise greetings and quick farewells,

kisses of chapped lips. This poem concocts

jokes about being neighbours

with tissues named after a swan, a brand of beer

featuring a great-antlered mammal’s head.

While the bus lurches, brakes, and begins

again, this poem feels most itself

when someone sitting with a box in her lap

lifts her eyes above the windows and, startled

as if by prism-divided light, reads it.