Two Poems by Neil Aitken

April 10, 2022

Photo by Brice Brown on Unsplash



I don’t recall what we did that summer,
other than carry ourselves from place
to place with the memory of my father
rattling about in my heart grown empty,
like an old house forgotten in the prairie,
just a shell exposed to the wind and storms.

We crossed the plains again. The car
a swiftly hurtling silence. My mother
staring at the emptied road, her eyes
scanning for a rogue deer. I could only
see the ghostly drifts of snow, not snow,
just heat and vapor. The barely visible.
The never was or already gone.

At the heart of the trip, there’s a long
stretch of open nothing. A sigh of sorts.
What my body does now. Even years
later. There’s only words. Only the wind
and the sun and the fields. Only the towns
on the verge of forgetting everything.

My mother says nothing here. I say
nothing as well. We lay our nothings
side by side. We stare into the blankness.
I think of my father. I think of his grave.
Of the earth. Of the body vanished into flame.
Of the dust and ash. Of the way language
is a vapor, memory an evaporation. Or perhaps,
only a sublimation. How we don’t see it happen.

That final shift of states. The way words
become shuttered cities. Or ghosts. Or just
the shadows burned into surfaces. After
the world ends in brilliant light. How
in the perfect darkness, fish move sightless,
their hearts still beating.



Halfway to wherever I am bound, I find myself
lost in a dark wood, the path through gone,

and no guide before me. The earth beneath me
a shifting sea of leaves churning in the wind,

and my coat, not quite heavy enough for the chill,
still smelling faintly of the one who wore it last,

years before we laid him to rest, before his things
became mine.  A gift I had not asked for, though it fell

on the anniversary of my birth, and now every year,
like this one, I look forward and back, and see

my unfolding days through the lens of my father’s past.
It’s not exactly grief, but somehow still akin to sorrow,

the echo of loss. In another language, this year sounds
unfortunate to the ear, the doubling of death and dying,

a mirror that sits midway through a life, or perhaps,
a labyrinth where one might stand at a juncture. 

In one hand, a torch. In the other, a wadded paper ball
filled with unspoken names—how it trails behind,

unfolding itself into a ribbon that rises into the darkness,
binding itself to something I cannot see.



Neil Aitken

Neil Aitken is the author of Babbage’s Dream (Sundress Publications, 2017) and The Lost Country of Sight (Anhinga Press, 2008), winner of the Philip Levine Prize. The founding editor of Boxcar Poetry Review, a former computer games programmer, and a past Kundiman poetry fellow, he is also co-directs De-Canon: A Library and presently serves as the Writer-in-Residence for the Regina Public Library. Visit him online at