Three Poems by Neil Surkan

Unbecoming

Night advances like molasses,
creeping over the carton-white
mountains. Next to this foreclosed
casino, a dormant bog shallow

breathes. Mealy ornamental apples
snick in tiny, frost-shocked trees
potted around the patio.
Across the valley, a last worker exits

the quarry, headlights glowing between
shale piles like a skull
placed on a candle. We’re due
for some luminous thinking –

this very early snow and all –
but why plan when you can gamble?
There’s only one guarantee:
nests naked without leaves,

vomit on the paving stones,
the world appears, exceeds, and un-
becomes too quickly for certainty,
just enough for love

to burn, burn with cold,
then go so numb –
blackening toe
we’ll salvage or cut tomorrow.

Reservoir

Carp lurk through suburbs
when runoff jumps the dam, sucks
manhole covers up like corks, slops
wallpaper with septic hands.

I mostly keep my body close – rove,
but rarely quit, its cul-de-sacs –
save in, say, a dense flicking
stand of thin birches, their tigered

stalks quivered by the spring
wind, cool light trickling
through the tossing stems.
Then, if lifted, if moved

to swim among the future
sprigs, balled now in burgundy-
armoured buds like tiny
minarets, I see it all

without me – abandoned nests,
old anthill dents – and am re-
minded that the verb to be
gears down but never loses speed

completely. I am not undying,
nor ever pre-bloom, just
a reservoir of energies
that pour in, spool around me, stream

in floods of words that,
like fish scales on furniture,
cling for a while and shine
the dull way dried tears shine.

Death Perception

and depth
perception
are pretty
tight fields
of vision –
near, far,
an in-between
that lurches.
In the dim
gallery, I
tried to
eye Simon
Starling’s Infest-
ation Piece –
a replica
of Moore’s Warrior
with Shield
that, plunged in
Lake Ontario,
grew shingly
zebra mussel
patches – but
she, stooped like
my dead
grandmother,
kept standing
in front
of me, moving
when I moved, so
close the sculpture
fogged. Her tin
hair, still
pillow-dented,
glittered with
skin flakes
as did
her cable-knit
shoulders, shingly
with invasive
time. The rest
of the vast,
nebular room
shied
from view,
save a lurid
exit sign.
The sculpture
has no
head. The ghost
could not
hear. I
saw clearly
there’s no
turning back.


Neil Surkan is the author of the poetry collection On High (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2018) and the chapbook Super, Natural (Anstruther Press, 2017). A new chapbook, Desire Path, is forthcoming from Knife-Fork-Book (Fall, 2020). His most recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in THIS Magazine, Prairie Fire, The Literary Review of Canada, PRISM international, and Riddle Fence, among others. He lives in Calgary, Alberta.

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