masquerader's manifesto


the guy next door is going to die soon. i am almost sure. he has this hacking cough i can hear even with the window closed, through the concrete wall. he’s gotten shakier, more strung out in the past few months. although i mean, to be fair, haven’t we all? but this is different. he’s slipping, tangibly, truly, before my eyes, and i can’t stop watching. 

i can hear things drifting in the window and muffled through the wall, and i’m a bum masquerading as an artist so i’m around to hear them, and what else is there to do? 

i hear an intimidating-sounding man shaking him down for money, him whimpering, sounding pathetic. i hear him on the phone, and i think at first he’s angry but then i hear “i’m hurt. you’re hurting me!” and i almost start crying right there, having a smoke by the window, listening. 

he’s going to die soon and i should find out his name. i know enough about him now. i hear everything since we apparently are both the type of people who like our windows open. his acoustic renditions of classic rock hits have become an important part of the background noise in my life. lately the coughing too. 

i’m just waiting. 

it sounds horrible. but i will be sad. i am not a vulture circling for inspiration or some kind of story. this is none of my business. 

it’s none of my business but i am involved; next door neighbour, drama voyeur, silent partner. when i hear the sirens i’ll go downstairs for a cigarette, watch. for closure. 


i know you’re going to forget my birthday

like you forgot my middle name and how i take my coffee

i told myself it’s because we are part of a bigger picture

whatever is between us is vast enough that my middle name could be margaret

or it could be amethyst and it wouldn’t matter whether you knew

somehow what we have is beyond names or sugar but no cream

it doesn’t matter when we were born we are beyond time we have evolved past this

but i’m realizing now that maybe it’s because you just don’t care

i know you’re going to forget my birthday but i remembered yours the first time you told me

jameson to brant

i walk to work in the rain. drops of water don’t take their time in distorting the lenses of my glasses so i take them off. i have no choice but to enjoy the blur. by the time i reach dufferin i am soaked to my very skin. in liberty village a construction worker smirks at me, calls out hey baby, you’re so wet. i keep walking, cup my cigarette under my palm, keep it alive. someone told me once that soldiers do this to keep enemies from discerning a target by the ember of their smokes. it’s all about survival, wherever you are, i guess.

the only time it doesn’t stink under the bridge in the summer is when it rains like this. i pass the bus shelter by the palace arms and think about stopping for a moment of respite but inside i can see an old man’s feet, yellowed and bare, gnarled with purplish toes, perched upon the footrest of his wheelchair. there is a woman with him and i imagine she is his daughter. i do not look at her, or the rest of him, because passing by them smells like a hospital, like i can smell how sick he is from a few feet away. i need no more than the sight of his feet and the scent of dying to know all i can handle.

at portland a gold pickup truck is being towed. a traffic cop is writing a ticket and i wonder if in some ways he feels impotent in his life. i think about the unpaid trespassing ticket on my coffee table. i think about the smell of rain and the bridge and sickness. i think about how the dying man’s feet could have belonged to someone already dead. i think about dying. i think, it’s a good life if you can stomach it.

when i walk into work brian is chopping parsley at the back counter. you’re all wet, he says. i say, i need to write this down.

big smoke

it’s been twice now you’ve watched the numbers on the streetcar transfers
reset themselves, three sixty five to one back to three sixty five
again. another year under all these many lights, seeing the trees
bud and bloom and fall asleep again under the snow. remember
how alone it was your first night here, how nobody knew
your name and you knew nobody’s face, how the first time
you took the bus you felt you might be swallowed whole?
you were not afraid, not exactly, just unsure, nervous
you’d accidentally spent your life dreaming of fucking off
to a place you didn’t realize would bleed you dry. it hasn’t:
your heart still beats, your brain moves faster than before and your feet too.
you have been hurt here but never by the city. all it has done
is pick you back up and push you back out into the street,
lit your cigarette and told you keep going kid,
there are so many eyes yours have not yet met and so many alleys
and candelit rooms your body has yet to occupy.
keep going kid,
the city whispers, and you must listen.
it has existed for centuries before you, been a school and a church
a playground and a cemetery for millions you will never meet, but
your footsteps overlap theirs every earthly place you go.
it has seen worse than you and it has seen better.
when it tells you to carry on you must know it is right.
you must do as the streetlights and cab horns and sidewalks tell you
for they will not make promises they cannot keep. you are home now
and if you ever feel alone again just step out your door and listen
for the humming and the heartbeats all around you.

russian standard

used to dream of falling asleep beside you, and other things too,

of skin, scarred hands around my ribcage, imperfect lips

brushing my body like the grass at the pond where we get high

whispering around my ankles.

used to imagine your arms around me as i drifted away at night.

funny how peaceful dreams become real-life nightmares

how now in the after i can see that letting myself fall asleep in your arms

turned out to be my biggest mistake.

blame me if you want

blame drugs or childhood trauma

we both know the truth, that there is decay

deep within you, masked like funeral home flowers

i didn’t smell it til it was too late

now instead of imagining your arms i try in vain

to remember where exactly you touched me so i know

which parts to scrub raw, which pieces of my flesh

may be rotting so i can amputate before the infection spreads

now i lie awake or wander until sunrise doing bumps off your house key

wishing someone would hold me til i fall asleep

but in your wake there’s no one i trust enough not to flinch

and wake up when they shift their weight beside me

we will talk though okay

sitting on the sidewalk holding my front teeth in my hand thinking about your scarred body and wanting to run my fingers across it feeling like i got punched in the stomach and i want to jump off something tall i want to feel my bones break want to feel your arms around me want to throw up or punch a wall or kiss you and feel dirty afterwards. i want to leave my mark on you and it might just be another scar. can we just keep this simple and fuck in the bathroom or the stairwell so i can go home and scrub myself in the shower to get the guilt and your smell off my skin. i know you’ve thought about my hands where no one else’s have been. let’s drag each other down this summer i don’t care anymore i’m ready to fuck things up i always knew it would go like this

this might be who we are

we fight. i want to tear
your fucking hair out but also
i want to be the one to brush it
out of your eyes or
give it a trim when it gets too long.
want to split the skin on your cheekbone and
patch it with a butterfly bandage
break your nose and clean you up on the bathroom floor.
i’ve seen your face crumble and
i know maybe i have left scars.
in between all the words there are things that we aren’t saying
underneath all the silence there’s things we might be missing out on
for every time i’ve imagined knocking your teeth out
there’s another where i’ve imagined you smiling at me.


this was before i was born but i’ve heard a lot about it and i know

that all you ever wanted was that mercedes-benz

glittering atop a pile of night shifts driving around the airport and

empty liquor bottles like your hungarian-canadian version

of the american dream. ‘that car’s not built,’ you’d say,

‘it’s engineered,’ and you’d probably take another drink.

fifty years since you married

your coming-to-canada sweetheart, met her on

the boat here and started your (shotgun) life, and my uncle drove that car

from california or arizona or wherever he’d found it by accident during

his fiftieth birthday road trip with a ‘for sale’ sign in the window

and you threw the keys back and told him to drive it away and before

the engine ignited you were gone. that’s how it always is,

whether behind filmy eyes or the wine on your breath or

the harsh corners of your voice through an accent

i can’t always understand, you’re hiding, gone before anybody can get a grasp.

men like you aren’t built, they’re engineered, and i know your little sister

couldn’t keep anything down until she died and i know your parents

sent your dog away somewhere bad and i know

somewhere underneath years of sitting in the same chair drinking

your homemade wine that looks and smells

like gasoline from old 7-up bottles is someone i’ll never meet.

your teeth are falling out now and i don’t know if or when i will see you again

but what i’ll remember most about you is how you used to yell at me

in a dizzy mix of english and hungarian when i coloured outside the lines.

somewhere there’s a bunch of pictures of us from that summer and we’re all smiling

the dirt here is red like sunset

(red sky at night, sailor’s delight)

and it stained all my shoes and some of my shorts

and the bottom of my bathing suit 

(two-piece, i’m too tall for one pieces)

and i rode my bike through the campground today all by myself but

i fell and it hurt a lot and when i looked down

my elbows and knees were dripping with

maple syrup tree sap like we learned about in science

but it’s not sticky enough and it’s reddish and it smells sick

like dirt and worms and copper and heat and i hear

bugs buzzing right inside my ears almost like the ringing

i’ll hear tomorrow after my cousin holds my head down

under the water in the pool (warmer than the ocean)

and he doesn’t let me go till my dad’s hollering (ryan what the hell

are you doing) and i can only see little pinpricks of 

light weaving like ufos inside my eye sockets

and i’m gonna puke in the pool oh god i can’t puke in the pool they’ll

make my mom and dad pay a fine or something and everything

smells like red dirt and red blood and bugs squished (sorry i’m sorry i’m sorry)

under the wheels of my bike while i ride it around in circles


periwinkle blue and edged with razor blades

more dangerous than roses because no one knows

how deep you can cut if someone brushes

up against you carelessly. the cold pale flesh

of your petals is so like veins beneath paper skin yet

brutal enough to slice an artery. you will never forget so 

why waste time trying?