Civilization: Single Player Setup

 

I’ve been trying to up my people’s happiness.

The central tenet of our faith: water is good.

Ottawa is hash-tagged with rivers and canals;

today, we should be ecstatic to be alive.

 

One suicidal friend fled west, says

he is shamed by dignitaries. The downtown

BIA shuts down a t-shirt giveaway;

you must ask for the right to be generous.

 

Another suicidal friend ripens in subsidy.

She repays charity with other charity,

literally. She dreams of renewal;

to be made useful in the arrow of ex-pats

 

teaching English in the East. A third friend,

also suicidal, once East, appears automated.

From above he appears to be in perpetuity

finishing a painting, thick with better edits.

 

More friends, maybe also suicidal, pen odes

to their prescriptions, fatten with baggage.

I feel each draws on my productivity, heathers

my vision of a hundred percent self.

 

These are not my stories to tell but I am in them.

The rural legislator describes the defense

he pit against his arsonist son-in-law. His daughter

condemns what Hansard cannot deny;

 

it was not his story to tell. My friends

once saw themselves in my words for myself,

my baggy self-portrait. I am sorry

for saying nothing so long, and now so much.

 

My advisor has no answers. She assigns icons.

When I will not share she presents me a red shield.

To my common cloth she has affixed a purple medal.

But I do not know if the gold diamond or blue vial is better.

 

I have never been assigned a plain, smiling face.

The eye is winked or the tongue is stuck. Maybe

the Pac-Man’s cheek is blushed, but it is never

a plain, smiling face. I am sick with nuance.

 

This is my story but I am not in it.

This baggy caricature slips off my motion.

In three-hundred words, a stranger insists

Robin Williams did not die from suicide;

 

he died from depression. No one dies

from suicide, the stranger insists. This

they insist is requisite to development,

to people who live so long they stack.

 

I’ve been trying to up my people’s happiness

posturing as a provider of day-dates and texts.

My advisor has no answers. She identifies

my greatest share of costs is personnel.

 

I close my window, lift my red shield.

The sky is off-white with water, rain today

or snow tomorrow—either way the city wet.

I ask someone to chill, but fuck if they forget.

 

Tim Hortons are safe space

 

It’s been dusk for days. Cancelling moods.

Both of us back-pedaling and spacing.

 

Tim’s? Sure. Eye contact shitty. Lineless,

we abrupt small-talk, indulge disproportionately. Here?

 

Here: One-sided TMI to a jangle of anecdotal gossip

and gossipy anecdotes, then finally the meat:

 

the crash of the candy machine, the no-reply email,

the time to watch more day games, and the dead pet.

 

Strangers innocuous as variations on the jelly donut.

The absence of sugar packets focuses the heart.

There is a tradition of Canadian poets writing poems titled “Sex at 31” when they are 31 years of age. This poem is not titled Sex at 31 and contains a quote from the film 10 Things I Hate About You which I saw precisely half my life ago.

 

Accept it

when it’s almost over

 

Focus.

 

I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be

underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?

 

Again I’m asked if I feel I can express myself?

 

Again, a Russian jet is reckless.

 

Again I promise you a love poem.

Blame a hack, 2014

for Brendon

Honor is obviously easiest choice.
Why don’t you put a u in there
insists some schnook,
ah yes—a jibe there.

Build up allegiances. Trade’s important
but what I’ve learned is nice guys go mad
wrestling with why am I so nice all the time?
Experimenting follows.

Now you the substance have trickled off screen;
lolled. Never a good sign. Never,
literally, in ink. What’s become of your passive tone?
Why are you crying?

I’m sorry we were so close. I’m sorry I
I functioned so bravely now more than never.