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The Book of Steve
by Elise Partridge

Scene from a romance: rambling through the wood,
suddenly I stumble across a giant.
"Are you a creature of good?" You nod.
Together we adventure to the next scene.

The kitten that followed you home one day -
how did it scent your benevolence?
Tentative shadow glimpsed through the screen,
shyly at dusk it would slip from the curb,
ears radaring forward when it caught your tone,
nuzzling your gentling fingertips.

Fifteen years later, each time I appear
you set down bowl after bowl for me.

What would I find, touring your sweet head?
Nooks packed with facts, quartz-glitters of wit,
green terraces orderly thoughts plash down;
knowledges bundled, a forklift memory
to scoop them out. Scenes with cousins; alcoves
cluttered with dumptrucks, bubblegum cards,
papier-mGchT models - Saturn, Mars, Earth -
plastic weaponry, a catcher's thumped glove.
Quiet zones like pools we found up the mountain,
truths as plain as a prairie sky.

I moved west to join you with what I could lug
in one stuffed suitcase. Coyotes yowled
from salmonberry clumps, minor alps loomed
at our street's end. Rain pattering on grape,
twinflower, bedstraw, bird's-foot trefoil -
every moment sponsored new blossoms.
Marsh wren swaying in a barely-tethered nest
on our cattail stalk, I clung, bowed, sang.

Minarets shimmying in mauve pools . . .
Jahan, you have nothing on my edifice,
this perfect dwelling I've designed for Steve.
The former tenant, a book-collector,
left basement troves we're still discovering -
eighteen-clause titles, rococo colophons.
Our chimney bricks are precisely aligned
so winds play themes from Mozart concerti.
Self-cleaning gutters, lawnmowing sheep. . . .
Miraculous for a temperate climate,
our back yard sports a banana tree;
you pluck your snack each night from its fronds.
Birds of paradise nest in our eaves.

Driving cross-country, in the prairie center,
I leapt out to capture a sunset blaze
and snapped you instead, poised at the wheel.
How many crumpled maps have I squinted at
on long peregrinations north, south, east?
Let me accompany you everyplace,
imp of the gas-cap, glove-compartment gnome -
glance in your rear-view, you'll catch me winking,
flip down the sunshield, I'll slip to your wrist,
tune the radio above the stations
past crackling static, then hear me hum.

Pink "Stargazers," white lilies you planted
that spring brocaded the garage's hem;
dabbing in each with affectionate thumbs,
you coaxed up seedlings an eyelash wide.
And that dahlia that tried so hard to live!
Translucent fist-bud almost pulsing,
it looked like it would burst, aching green.
The light-ration dwindled, but it stretched, leaned, craned
till even the sturdy chestnut-trees flared.
Hoping for petals till the very last,
swivelling, basking under your smile,
if I had to go, I would yearn toward you.

Travel memories: thatch, oriels -
we would have been peasants in the Old World,
you monitoring a herd of deer
in a sullen drizzle; evenings I'd have shone
the master's salt cellars, scraped blobs of wax
from a Great Hall sconce. But together we'd have crept
along draughty halls under long-nosed portraits
when the lord was riding, to his library:
mysteries of miniscule; parchment grails.
In the Brueghel painting of the villagefest,
everyone's armwrestling, leapfrogging, whacking a ball;
we hunch on stumps teaching ourselves to read.

Exchanging jokes no one can overhear -
me trailing robes, you flourishing a hat -
we embrace in the parchment initial's ring.
Or, crimson birds with implausible tails,
we go on calling across the margins
over Gothic letters of a demande d'amour:
"Who was the most free?" Arveragus
or Dorigen? You're first - no, you are, dear . . .
we tumble in a lattice of forget-me-nots.

Our particular parliament of fowls:
each year, southering from Siberia,
squawking the whole three thousand miles,
the snow geese glide to Vancouver marsh.
What are they doing so far from home,
skidding amid these alien pumpkins?
Basking in the shallows, they gab and gab,
weary, weary - yet they mate for life.
- No hemlock owls bearing swooping doom,
but paired bald eagles in pine candelabra:
I want that for us, leisure, long views,
sharing through decades one dauntless raft.
- The yellow-headed blackbird, once-a-life vision:
gold vouchsafed on a rusting sedge.

Whenever you look up, there I shall be,
and whenever I look up, there will be you,
said Gabriel Oak to Miss Everdene
the wild girl who didn't have the wisdom
to curl with her shepherd by the inglenook.
He sought her when she was lost and silly,
not for a pen but to set her free.

- I stumble in, shaky on my legs,
I nestle in the crook of your arms.

And I have found Demetrius like a jewel,
Mine own, and not mine own. Yes, you are both,
rare nugget blazing in the general slab,
coveted, safe in my pouch of a heart;
fortuitous prize whose shine I want to share
with others who admire its brilliance too.
Untarnished, rustproof, through fire and ice
your adamant lasts. Glinting on my finger
I wear a hint of you, etched "Courage, Truth, Love."

Our idea of paradise: a night at Stuart's -
cafT of wobbling tables, coffeemaker lamps,
choice of paperbacks comfortably slumped,
students gnawing pens on scraped velvet chairs.
The nearby pawnshop is stacked with striped frisbees,
tie-dyes are fluttering by the Seed 'N Feed.
Chocolate cake, two forks; folksinger twanging -
here I can almost pretend we're twenty,
we've just escaped home, we've got enough verve
to light city blocks. All these years with you!
A sense of infinite possibility
flares before me as you touch my hand.

Let's age together like old-growth trees,
our knobby elbows sueded with moss,
draped over each other in a tipsy embrace
like a couple after their thousandth waltz.
Woodpecker pendants, mushroom-studded ankles,
we'll toast each year with another ring,
welcome hawks like finials to our balding heights.

When the end comes, shall we crash to earth
as comic and good-natured about it
as the bridal couple in the video
toppling as they tango the town-hall floor?
Thudding to the ferns, we'll sleep like spoons again,
looped with huckleberry, frogs booming at our feet,
nurse-logs to saplings bowering a new age.


1. "Are you a creature of good or not?" - adapted from ChrTtien de Troyes, Yvain. In this romance, someone wandering through a forest meets a giant and asks him this question.

5. Shah Jahan was the builder of the Taj Mahal.

9. Demande d'amour - "Who was the most free?" -Chaucer, "The Franklin's Tale." In Chaucer's usage here, "free" meant "generous."

11. "Whenever you look up, there I shall be. . . ." -Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd. This is what Farmer Gabriel Oak says to Bathsheba Everdene when he first proposes to her.

Elise Partridges's poetry debut Fielders' Choice will be published this fall. She lives in Vancouver.


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