Letting Out String

I was eight years old and bored, floating inside myself. Ages ago, when I was four, at the foster home in Airdrie, I tumbled off the back of a bicycle Katie was doubling me on. I remember it so well, the soft bounce on freshly rained grass, and me rolling like a sac of potatoes down to the hose, coiled beside green-trimmed basement windows. And Aunt Mary’s vegetable garden, adorned with a border of daisies and bees. I got up slowly, and later, I was celebrated by Katie and everyone for not crying.

Now I’m eight and smarting a little, after my brother and the Parren brothers next door, up in their crab-apple tree, have driven me away from their make believe. Lucky I’m not Gregor Samsa, and the soft apples don’t sink into my back and rot there. Floating in anger that somehow brightens and slows down objects, I begin walking. Past the Parrens’ house, past the Cunninghams, Bidewells, Brookwells, and across 5th Street, into uncharted Italian territory. That’s where I find a large new spool of cotton string. Lifted from the detritus of a caragana hedge, it tells me immediately what to do with it.

I cross back to the previous block and tie the end around the base of a lilac bush. The string then spans 5th Street as I unwind it. Each step I take is electric with visions of how far this string will take me. Six blocks? A mile? Definitely not to the moon! I’ll disappear and Dad’ll get after my brother. Smack him. They’ll figure out to follow the string to find me. By then, they’ll just be glad I’m safe.

I pull on the vast weight of this string as it carries me further out. I raise the string high, hoping that back where the string crosses 5th Street, a car will come, and it will have to stop. Not long after I think this, a car does come. In fact I hear it before I see it. The police cruiser slams on its brakes. Out comes the officer, and by now I’ve dropped my spool of string, watching him, almost cheered by the prospect of trouble.

Where’d you get that string. Found it. I’ll need you to wind that string back up and give it to your Mom or Dad. Where do you live. Just down there. You can get hurt when you do things like this. Don’t you do this again, hear?

The situation was diffused. I became myself again, feet almost too heavy to walk. To this day, I’m still letting out string wherever I go—though the home I find my way back to is never the same.

~ Weyman Chan

Weyman Chan’s first book, Before a Blue Sky Moon, won the 2002 Writers Guild of Alberta Stephansson Poetry Award; his second book, Noise From the Laundry, was a finalist for the 2008 Governor General’s Award for Poetry. The poems included here are from his third book, Hypoderm, which will be published by Talonbooks in Spring, 2010.

“‘Home’ to me means any kind of real or imagined construct of familiarity, comfort or solace that I come to associate as part of who I am… so I then form emotional attachments to it: all of us need to build a sense of personal history, and finding a place to call home satisfies this deep, underlying need.”

Read more of Weyman Chan’s poetry:
Near Milk River, looking for the Sweetgrass Hills

Editor’s note: This poem is from Home and Away – a sequel to the bestselling Writing the Land (2007). Look for one poet to be featured each day as Alberta poets ponder the question “what is home?” and explore our complex relationship with working on, living with, exploiting and protecting our land and our home. For more information about the project, click here.

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