Two Poems / by Esther McPhee


In a bar on Mary Street, Martin and Foggy
and Katie and I sing the same songs every night
after Liam locks the doors and lights a cigarette.
Fitzy calls for Katie and me to sing Amazing Grace,
says he was at a friend’s funeral that day

but everyone else says Fitzy’s a liar. The days
disappear into wind. Saturday night, Brian brings in the band
while in the back hallway I sing sloppily
something wordless into Foggy’s mouth.
Martin sings his favourite caoineadh

through the side of his mouth, lamenting
each human heart must know its grief.
The season puts a stumble in Austin's walk—arthritis
or old memories; the water rises
like the voice, the harbour aching in storm.

Fitzy comes in, tells us how Tommy got so drunk
the other day, he fell down in the street in the middle
of the afternoon. Foggy leans back against the bar
with his eyes closed and bawls out will you go,
and we'll all go together
; the voice

becomes a fist. Liam tells Katie and me about the Brent geese,
how they travel from Canada to County Waterford
for the winter. We all flock here after hours
with a kind of violent happiness, find there is an urgency
to our voices, to the momentary absence

of ghosts among us. Brian, the youngest of us—
only eighteen and everyone cheers for him to give
another song—sings you can't live on love,
on love alone
. Foggy’s on the bodhrán now, thunder
from the tipper, and we all sing together; the voice

the storm. It surges up from our bodies as we call
come fill to me the parting glass and good night and joy
be with you all
. The rain takes over then, water
swelling into a howl that holds what's left
of the night for us; we lay it down.







The lake a basin of fog with the moon dropped into it.
Us on the dock, breaking silence into quarters

with our silhouettes—poised, conjuring
night thick on our shoulders like a mist

stole. Michael Jackson on our minds.
It was his birthday that day and you

were shouting a sort of tribute
into the darkness; you'd been waiting to dance

all night for the occasion. Orion's Belt
sparkling on the invisible horizon.

Even unseen we could feel it fastening
us into our hemisphere, where all week

we'd been talking about Orion,
trying to figure out the truest turn of events

and who was to blame. No matter how you spin
the tale, it ends the same. Or begins. Someone,

somewhere, looking out across the night­time.
So what if sometimes we want

to be the kind of story someone else would tell.
Details, like how long we stood there in the rain,

waiting for the probability of a kiss—
the first one, unknown. Your dress

a sheet of starlight over the black lake.
There’s too much injustice in our own time

to worry over what went wrong thousands of years ago
so why are we so angry

about everything. Least of all hearsay
and the chances we never got. If they say, why,

why, tell them I don't want to lose
to history, love distorted

or buried by time and our own fearful mythologizing
of what really happened.

So what if music is just the sound
of what's already burnt out

piercing you new every time it alights
around the dark of your body.

I still liked when you hee hee’d higher
than I’d ever heard anyone go and then fell

into laughter. What does it take from a person
to turn into a constellation? Arrow­bright

and buoyant as a gem. There was a ridge of stars
we were waiting to become.





Esther McPhee is a writer, magic-maker, and collective organizer, who lives on unceded Coast Salish land and co-curates REVERB, Vancouver’s queer and anti-oppressive reading series. Esther's writing has appeared in various journals across North America and can be found online at