Register Tuesday | March 21 | 2023

British Columbia

New poetry from Tim Bowling.

The smell of burnt toast
indicates a coming stroke.
The smell of charred salmon, then?
The death of childhood?

I woke, gasping, from a dream.
Instead of sockeye in the hold
of my father’s boat—
golden retrievers, their throats cut.
I had to take them by the fur
and cram them in the side-lockers.
They were heavy, and did not slide
on their oils. The bared teeth
in their death-grins seemed human
but the unyielding stare,
the contusions of flies
remembered ten thousand salmon
and a hundred years
of gaff work. But they were dogs,
and weighed as much as me
at ten. The odd one breathed.
I had to use the club we kept for seals.
Then, the river flowing around the boat
proved another artery to be cut,
the clouds coagulant at the wound
in the flesh between worlds.
I woke when I recognized the family pet.

And immediately wanted to run in the rain
over soaked grass for penance
the bloodied ends of leashes in my hands
ten thousand dogs turning back
on their owners with a growl,
on their god, whatever their god is,

and me, running,
who has no god, and never will,
unless it is these years
I turn back on
and take in my arms
and store at my father’s direction

unless it is these years.