Caroline Misner’s work has appeared in numerous publications in the USA, Canada, India and the UK. She has been nominated for the prestigious McClelland & Stewart Journey Anthology Prize for the short story “Strange Fruit”; in 2011 another short story and a poem were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She lives in the beautiful Haliburton Highlands of Northern Ontario where she continues to draw inspiration for her work. She is the author of the Young Adult fantasy series The Daughters of Eldox. Her latest novel, The Spoon Asylum was released in May of 2018 by Thistledown Press and has been nominated for the Governor General Award.
Last summer’s leaves lay half-buried
and decomposing beneath the grass—
green stalks I’ve neglected to shorn
for six weeks
because they refuse to grow anymore.
The leaves are breathless, nestling
in the blue earth, the grassy lips,
sipping the white songs of their youth.
They swing like cradles in the wind.
This is the end for them;
their brittle skins have begun to flake away,
their hooked stems like copper springs.
When I walk upon them they release
a deathbed crack.
Twenty years ago my daughter buried herself
in mounds of leaves such as these,
collapsed in a crinkling duvet
that enclosed her like a burial shroud;
her body snuffed the incense of decay
and her eyes lifted to the patchy clouds
cruising along their wrecked lines,
profiting from our loss
and measuring time.
Your breath astonishes me—
each exhalation births another,
each inhalation swells your breast,
uncurls the creases in your back.
They say our air is as old
as the ruins of time,
resurrected and transforming,
moving the way ghosts do,
the plumes of the souls.
Your body rises when I embrace you,
cresting an unseen summit.
If you could only teach me to breathe like that,
I could be your epic, your opus,
your internal wind.
I am mollified knowing
your molecules are inside me,
teaching me to breathe.
To even presume you care that much
about me. When your breath
stutters in your throat
and you forget how much you love me,
I will die.
I’ve abandoned the last of my old collections,
the trinkets and novelties
that were once so important to me;
now they seem redundant and silly.
How much could I have possibly owned?
But that was another time, a life
I shed like a bridal veil on my wedding night.
I try to forget their grotesqueness and opulence
that so enamoured me at first
and drew me down a corridor
of damaged perspectives.
I had all the trappings of prosperity:
the Scandinavian nanny to watch
the kids so I could pursue other diversions;
an upright black piano I never learned to play,
but it was a birthday gift
and I wanted it;
crystal and china and figurines
signed in gold ink by their creators
that sat in a hutch unused
because they were too valuable
even for special occasions;
a landscaped garden mowed
twice a week by the hired handyman;
a closet full of dresses worn
only once and some never at all;
wine tours and casino vacations
that were passed off as business trips;
I had to pierce my earlobes twice
to make room for more baubles
so I could glitter like the queen
that I thought I could be.
I never thought anybody
could be so happy to see me;
you smile so seldom and laugh even less.
But I want to collect your laugh
and your smile, hoard them both
in my strongbox
and turn the key,
add them to my new collections:
a hand on my shoulder, just because;
brief conversations with new friends
that linger with me long
after I’ve said good bye:
the crease of nightfall between two clouds
that fracture the sky in two;
dreams so lucid I can’t distinguish
them from my waking life;
above a dark horizon,
the stars blooming shallow and bright;
a gift of lavender from a kind acquaintance
who believes in me and believes
Jesus will save me in the end.
An antique Victrola stands between two windows
in the dining room because
it has no place else to go.
It still plays music when I pump the crank
that falls loose more often than I deserve.
I polish its Cherrywood twice a year
because I play it so seldom.
When I do, the record wobbles
in a wavy orbit and the air
ignites with crackling sparks
that nearly drown the voices whose owners
have long since died and flaked to dust
like the paper sleeves of the records
I still collect.