Three Poems by Tanja Bartel
A Cat Pulling a Mouse Through a Crack With its Teeth
A man pulling at a woman in a slant-parked car. She’s too full of blood and bile so she stays put, kicks out a leg. Nobody will eat today. There was this house: A safety pin held the boards together against a confrontational wind. A braided rug, snug as. A tripping hazard. Red roses lay clumped on the counter, buds tight and dense as rolled-up steaks. Nobody will make it to water. A tiny pin holds the explosion inside the grenade (buried down inside the ficus plant). How like artichokes, grenades; how small and petty their meat. Neither he nor she owns a mustard seed to plant faith or forgiveness. Sugar dice tend to roll towards welcoming horses and flowered teacups. Even if the field is not slanted. Even if the table is not upturned.
I could do a small bit of damage to my body today, and leave it at that. But a wind gust shakes the leaves from a crew of skinny trees, and a deck of cards flutters down, all spades. Half this town is slapping around in the damp with their mutts. A ruthless bichon frisée makes small cuts across the short-shaved grass. It’s later now, and this whole business—my situation, this sticky night—sags in a relentless sweat. Neighbours are close and unsavoury, and I’m thinking about expiration dates and that murderer on death row tonight, eating his last meal of fried chicken—and how that chicken also had a last meal. The fact that maggots are babies after all, whose cuteness we deny. What can be fished from below the darkness but more darkness?
The Time I Saw Someone’s Childhood Without Them Knowing
She slid her hand across the air, gestured at the table saying, “This is where it all goes down.” A long antique table. Two silver candlesticks, a tall white candle in each, burning whether we were there or not. They didn’t have much, considering who they were. In the sunken living room, a love seat, with a white sheet over it, and a stereo on the floor with a stack of vinyl records leaning against the wall. A small painting she’d done of two trees leaning against each other. She told me who they represented, and there was a note of secrecy in it. He said I reminded him of one of Leonard Cohen’s backup singers. Her and I smoked a whole pack of cigarettes, there at the table. She had one bare foot hiked up on her chair. Hugged her knee with her smoking hand. There was Indian food and too much wine. Our men compared broken childhoods. I wore long beads that night. An eight-year-old girl asleep on the loveseat, my future teaching colleague, the smoke circling her hip like a halo.
Tanja Bartel is a poet and high school teacher who holds an MFA from the University of British Columbia. Her debut poetry collection, Everyone at This Party (Goose Lane/icehouse poetry) was released in 2020.
Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi