...the first Arts Council in Ontario

back to Literature >>


Steven Heighton

Helen Humphreys




















After bedtime the child climbed on her dresser
and peeled phosphorescent stars off the sloped
gable-wall, dimming the night vault of her ceiling
like a haze or the interfering glow
of a great city, small hands anticipating
eons as they raided the playful patterns
her father had mapped for her—black holes now
where the raised thumb-stubs and ears of the Bat
had been, the feet of the Turtle, wakeful
eyes of the Mourning Dove. She stuck those paper
stars on herself. One on each foot, the backs
of her hands, navel, tip of nose and so on,
then turned on the lamp by her bed and stood close
like a child chilled after a winter bath
pressed up to an air duct or a radiator
until those paper stars absorbed more light
than they could hold. Then turned off the lamp,
walked out into the dark hallway and called.

Her father came up. He heard her breathing
as he clomped upstairs preoccupied, wrenched
out of a rented film just now taking grip
on him and the child's mother, his day-end
bottle of beer set carefully on the stairs,
marking the trail back down into that evening
adult world—he could hear her breathing (or
really, more an anxious, breathy giggle) but
couldn’t see her, then in the hallway stopped,
mind spinning to sort the apparition
of fireflies hovering ahead, till he sensed
his daughter and heard in her breathing
the pent, grave concentration of her pose,
mapped onto the star-chart of the darkness,
arms stretched high, head back, one foot slightly raised—
the Dancer, he supposed, and all his love
spun to centre with crushing force, to find her
momentarily fixed, as unchanging
as he and her mother must seem to her,
and the way the stars are; as if the stars are.

Steven Heighton

to top>>


We waited all evening for it,
with candles and beer, in the unfinished
part of the house. All around us the slow
progress of your new life - everything still exposed,
the stiff uprights that would support the walls,
the nests of wire.

We gave up, went to bed, and then I heard you scream
when the tree fell behind the house, missing it
by inches. When we opened the back door, a mesh
of leaves covered our faces. We went out then,
unwisely, into the swirling wind and the bright
green sky, the pop of transformers blowing, and

the entrails of wires dripping from the trees.
The wind was wild above us and we walked
below in a canopy of stillness. You are lucky,
although you would never say that about yourself,
but the night had spared your house, your car,
your boyfriend’s truck, the plans you have together.

The streets smelled of wet, green wood. Huge
trees had fallen in an instant, each still shod
in a giant, earthen slipper, leaning wearily
into each other or resting on a sagging net of wires.
How hard it is to know what is the new life
and what is the world ending.

by Helen Humphreys

Helen Humphreys is an award-winning poet and novelist. Her novel "Afterimage" was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize in 2001. "The Lost Garden" was a 2003 Canada Reads selection. Her latest novel "Wild Dogs" was published in 2004 to more critical praise. Helen Humphreys lives in Kingston and often appears at poetry readings.