Four from Solitary

Remembrance Day, Vancouver.

“You only need a couch to make a porno,”
the Irishman notes in the dive bar on skid row.
How much one can learn from inebriates!
Lonely in the city of my birth, that kissing
monster from adolescence plays lip
roulette again, then vanishes into the dark.
Yes, you can feel me trying to write this poem
today as a form of straining towards victory,
between sips of sour coffee and no birds
singing anymore around the childhood manse.
When I stop breathing at depth, almost any
poem will help, even this faltering beast of words
that can’t recall how it got home last night,
past the neon of the Ovaltine and the Savoy’s
door-less toilets, where a one-armed woman
calls out to me, “You look attractive, doll!
Modest. But attractive.”

A small commemoration of Jean Garrigue punctuated by a few weather reports

We will all be lost.
This is no cause for sorrow.
What is freer than disappearance.

Jean Garrigue, do you read her now?
Only a single name among the many vanished.
She prayed to be condensed to one desire.

Because we are unsettled by female yearning.
But only death makes this possible.
A grey day with the slight aftermath of rain.

A promise, perhaps, of more.


The solitude breaking down.
She wrote in a letter to the ineffable.
Love going back on what it said.

How at the end your grand pronouncements
are unredeemed. You sit saying no regrets
like a bird who forgot to migrate, to shift

its plumage in the night. Why are you telling me this.
We will all be lost. At 4 pm, the sun creased through
a smooth cover of clouds. How

long the light can last: uncertain.


All is recklessness at the core, wild dividends,
a churning. She thanked the light for falling and also,
called grief a kind of gift. It seems she is being

remembered, but we will all be lost. Language
will change, the blossoms of our knowledge wilt.
Jean understood this. Her thin body clung to shadows;
she did not anticipate a glamour; what fades fast
is what is most real. It could hail tomorrow.
There could be a thin lip of early frost

on the garden. Or maybe, dryness, dry
as memory. The weather has been erratic now
for some time. We can’t count on its immortality.

We don’t say: this is the forever report on the world.


Considering vaginal atrophy I made sure my boots were Sorels
and that je ne sais quoi was the de rigeur of my aesthetic palette.

“You’re prey, that’s all you are to them,” said the patrons to the server
and they laughed, together, in the 21st century, so that made it ok.

A wheat beer was then served in lieu of. Suicidal ideation didn’t stop
when he changed his name and sometimes I think the only recent

hope in the world is that a missionary was pinned thick with arrows,
his waterproof bible bullseyed and that the tribe cannot be prosecuted.

If only the smallpox blankets, the edicts against language had met
with a similar death, back in the century before the ocean swam with plastic.

But all we have is the now: relentless rainfall and incessant fires,
the slow onset of menopause and two men at the bar noting their plight:

“If a woman knows what she wants then it’s alright, easy job for me,
but if she doesn’t, I gotta think for two, and then it’s fucked.”

You are so courageous, the host noted
                                                Alberta Avenue, Litfest, October 2018

Is this what it means to be woke?
At the book launch, she admits she couldn’t
Help the young woman who wanted in
Her car when she was being chased by some
Undefinable “bad men” because she was
Worried about her safety, or that she did
Not go out of her way to re-connect with a now-
Homeless former classmate, a Native, making
Sure to describe him as “eyes glazed and vanishing
Fast,” that she’d noticed the old lady suffering
With arthritis at the library but wanted to take
Quick solace in the fact she was reading Hello
Magazine and tittering over Kate’s jaunty
Wardrobe. O I am no better, white too,
And essentially middle class and basically
Comfortable, and a home owner now, whatever
Illusion of permanence that entails and I
Will admit to my general shittiness in the face
Of pain, my own as well, just wanting it to
Go away, to stop guilting me, to be lifted
By someone else, or to simply evaporate
Before the growing-colder nights begin.

Photography Credit: Jason Rice
Catherine Owen has published 13 collections of poetry and prose. Her most recent book is Dear Ghost, (Buckrider Books, 2017) and her next publication is an anthology of 24 memoirists called Locations of Grief: An Emotional Geography (Wolsak & Wynn, 2020).