Shallow

“I want to be like the water,” he says.
I think about this wafer-thin thought,
eyes boring into birds in the distance
who warble as they flutter
like converging tree branches,
flow with the wind,
play cat’s cradle with cornsilk telephone wires.
The intersection of the flock is a vortex
that leads somewhere,
a compass that takes me
somewhere.

I think of when I was a pretty little girl,
an embryonic woman
in the backseat.
It always smelled of peach perfume and cooked leather
soaring down the 401,
the birch trees passing by the tinted Mercedes window
made the movie into liquid leisure.
Those trees used to melt into one another like flattened photography,
slipping by before my saccades could see the critical point of relationship.
Everything was always moving as I sat in stillness
on stiff leather.

He tells me of when he was a cute little tadpole boy in Ottawa
playing in public pools,
an embryonic man,
laughing with lifeguards over popsicles in the summer.
I ask him what his favourite water dance was.
He looks down,
“Breaststroke,” unitary and smooth.
He takes a long drag,
asks me the same.
I look up and exhale:
Backstroke,
because I could look through the windows that way,
and feel flat with the water.

It’s garbage day.
Dogs are barking at the green mobiles
like tin waste bins
rolling down roofs,
roof, roof.

If I was big enough,
I’d lie on this building bedspread
adorned with discordant satellite dishes
sticking out like earlobes
facing backyard stone altars
and pray to the clouds that skirt the skyline.
a tangential presence,
slim like time,
like window glass,
as shallow as the sky.

But I am a cute little girl still,
and I stare at the yards
and the Home Hardware pale orange paint
hanging off a broomstick
against a stack of trees,
formerly fragmented by slim steel,
jutted like Jenga,
facing a fence,
a frontline,
locking its
manufactured factory fingers with
mortal vines.
And I take a drag.

Illustration by Sumi Siddiqa