Night Breathing

My children’s bedroom doors are open.
I stand in the hallway,
prop a palm against the wall,

try to shake free the thoughts that still flutter
against my skull like moths caught
inside a dying porch light, to listen

for the rattle of fevered breathing
between the coughs.

The air carries the scent
of vapo-rub and hot lemon with honey,
and the kids’ windows let in the webbed
shadows of the fifty-year-old Manitoba
Maple tree that runs its knuckles
up and down the rippled glass panes,
bare branches gnarled and reaching.

This is a rare moment of quiet
in a night of coughing,
and the only sounds now

are a slight whistle from my son’s
nostrils and a ragged whimper
from my daughter’s strained throat.

These imperfect breaths
recharge the parental battery, keep
a mother from pacing the night,
pressing an ear against a milk-white chest
to listen for the muffled beating under
flexed ribs and pink lungs.

I climb into bed,
those moths of thought still fluttering
in my head, and let our babes keep the pulse
of the night with their breathing

against the background thrum
of Blackfoot Trail traffic outside our window;

against the imperfect breaths of the city
whose coughs are the air breaks of semi
trucks hauling cattle;

against the pealing howl of a coyote
and the ensuing yelps of her mate—that
nourished laughter of animals after slaughter—
before they drift off to feed their young;

against the rumble of road construction,
twirling yellow lights and rollers that squeeze
steam from pavement and unravel a black
carpet procession of midnight drivers;

against the loose clatter of beer cans in shopping carts;

the thumb-flick of Bic lighters singeing the fabric of the night;

the churning volcano belly of the Saddledome with its
steel blades and chopped ice waiting to erupt another
red mile of hockey fans hypnotized by the smooth flicker
of flames along the ice;

flames that call back
to the Great Fire of 1886 when this city burned to the ground
before rising from the ashes and lurching
toward the Bow River to quench its charred lips,
scorched throat, silent voice;

back
to the grinding drag of sandstone that anchored us
to this shifting prairie earth with sculpted churches, schools and city buildings
that stand strong as gravestones against fire, rain, and
winter-crushing winds that eat snow from rooftops;

back
to the ghost-rumble of buffalo who stampede through our history
over dinosaur skeletons marinating in rich soil before shattering
their own bones against the jagged rock of the valley bed.

And now,
the crunching of concrete,
the bending of steel, the melding of glass.

Car tires spin down Blackfoot,
the Manitoba Maple scratches its knuckles
against my daughter’s bedroom window,

and I lie
in bed amid the coughing
while the last moth
flutters its dusty wings
inside my skull:

a vision of Calgary as a father,
strong as sandstone in the foothills, a palm
propped against the Rocky Mountains, gazing
into the singed fabric of the night, listening
for the fevered breathing of the city.

~ Tyler B. Perry

Tyler B. Perry works as a junior high teacher, and his first book of poetry, Lessons in Falling (2010, B House Publications), explores the world of school, drawing its inspiration from the events, personalities and physical surroundings he encounters in his daily work. Tyler is an active presence in Calgary’s poetry community, and along with a small group of poets, organizes and hosts the Ink Spot Collective monthly poetry slam. He was captain of the 2010 Calgary poetry slam team and has performed his work at venues across the city. Tyler is an MFA candidate at UBC and continues residing in Calgary with his wife and two young children. You can visit him on the web and read some of his poems at http://tbperry.com/.

Tyler is a founding member of the RE:ACT Art & Community Collective.

Read more of Tyler B. Perry’s poetry here.

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