Kieran Egan lives in Vancouver, Canada. His chapbook, Among the branches, was published by Alfred Gustav Press, Vancouver, Canada (2019). He was shortlisted for the Times Literary Supplement Mick Imlah prize in 2017, and the Acumen International Poetry Competition, 2020, and his poems have appeared in about a dozen US, a dozen Canadian, and a dozen UK magazines.
Getting through winter
reluctantly prepared for work,
I stand at a hotel window after dawn,
dazed by snow and ice to the horizon.
Two ragged columns of smoke hang
like decomposing angels in the frigid air.
Railway tracks and bridges, steel tight with cold,
curve around and span a frozen river.
In last night’s over-heated restaurant
the locals boasted to stunned, then wilting, visitors
about the toughness of the wildlife here:
the chickadees surviving minus thirty
and forty mile an hour ball-wincing winds,
and tree frogs that freeze until their hearts stop,
then wait for spring to kick them back to life.
Below, my colleague in the parking lot,
black-suited, garment bag over one arm
brief-case, keys, and high-heels gathered in the other,
walking stiff-legged towards her car.
I too must get down into the metal-bound throng
and drive past woods with hidden chickadees
and tree frogs whose frozen hearts wait, wait for
the north to tilt towards the sun.
I got the dog
I got the flea-tormented dog, brown matted fur and smell,
and the sorrier job of burying its master, my friend.
I swung the mattock to clear the last foot of clay —
ochre, blotched with olive, hard and knotty,
unyielding to the spade.
It may be a damp final house, but he never minded
being wet to the bone.
A curtain of black rain hisses across the corn,
sends ahead a shudder of wind.
A kind man, many friends
want first to fill his grave with flowers.
Standing on the base of his eternal house
I find climbing out a struggle,
even helped by the hands of my dead friend’s father.
Worse for him as the coffin is quickly lowered.
Then the smash of rain, and the soil, clay first,
is shoveled clattering down.
At the foot, his father wanted —‘an old man’s fancy’—
a rowan tree, something to do with
singing to my friend when he was small.
Time now for us to scatter.
Neither its mother nor nature made the dog
an effective hunter of fleas in matted fur,
doing more damage to itself than to its tormentors.
In the rattling cart on the road that will become familiar,
the dog, tied in the back, bewildered, tried a whine.
Unprepared also for his first bath in a year.
Not an early death, like boys cut down in battle,
yet too soon, too much still to see and say and hold.
Perhaps it will comfort the dog and me to sit
where they so often sat together
looking over the corn field
even in rain.
I have walked all day
At day’s end I have run out of beach and woods.
The retreating tide and hush around the bay
signal the night shift coming on
to work the sea and sand and trees.
The wide silver plate of still water —
a mirror of the sky, a window of the earth.
We came here with our children,
to see the geese, the smear of herring roe
that also feeds the fish that feed the howling seals
that feed the silent killer whales.
We’d mimic the raucous gulls and seals,
as now their children do with them.
Long lines of Brant geese,
gather strength and protein
from the suppurating tides of pale herring roe
weeping onto the sands, clinging to stones,
sucking at boots, profligate superabundance.
I have walked all day by the sea,
partly through woods
from which I catch its glimmer
and hear the aggressive gossip of seagulls.
A plump seal pushed up the beach by waves
lies peacefully dead on the stones, seeming to smile.
Solemn children gather round it, keeping a safe distance.