I think, because I’m a novelist, my poems are often quite story-centred. In Wayworn Wooden Floors I have written several series composed of five poems in that vein, but none of these is more inspired by story than the set I did on abandoned things (an abandoned car, resort, toys, grave, and a farm), all of which were things I had come across in my travels.
When something is abandoned, it’s not discarded, not simply tossed aside for something new. No, it’s a thing that shouldn’t have been discarded, a thing that works perfectly fine as it is, but because of some extraneous circumstance, had to be left behind. Because of this, I think finding something abandoned inspires the part of us that wants to know the story, that wonders, hypothesises, and in turn, formulates an odd form of empathy. Those very questions are what I wanted to draw out of the reader, and delve into myself, in writing the abandoned series in the collection.
The most dramatic story in the series is about an abandoned car. I set out into the Californian desert on a climbing road trip one year, and after a long stretch of driving through the most arid scrubland imaginable, arrived at our destination. It was extremely hot, and you could climb only at certain times of the day. From atop the building-sized rocks, you could see far out into the inhospitable wasteland, and the one road, like a pencil line drawn with a ruler over a sheet of parchment paper, linked the climbing site with the outside world. On the first day there, I noticed a car, a dot, out in the wide expanse, parked on the side of that road, and thought it was simply someone who had stopped for a moment to take a picture or a bathroom break, something reasonable, and I soon forgot about it.
A couple of days later, however, there were whispers around the campfire. Someone had passed by the car, and, having noticed it had been parked there for days, got out to inspect it. It was a newish model and had been left open, the keys in the ignition, with the gas tank three-quarters full, and an unlocked briefcase with some not very intriguing papers inside. There were questions in the firelight that evening, passing from camp to camp. Did anyone know anything about it? No? Well, what should we do? Which authorities should we call, and what should we say? There’s no sign of violence or wrongdoing. It’s just a car, with a quiet film of dust settling on it, left on the side of an anonymous desert highway.
The next day, from the top of a climb, I saw a police car, and later a tow truck taking it away. A few climbers went out to speak with the policemen, and learned that the car belonged to a man who was missing, and who had apparently left behind a suicide note. From then on, when I got to the top of a climb, I would look out into the endless, dry expanse, and think about him. To kill oneself with a bottle of pills and some vodka is one thing, but to willingly choose a death by gradual dehydration and exposure, is somehow more. There is no small amount of suffering involved. This man, whoever he was, had some sort of conviction that we can only guess at, and I found myself thinking about that conviction, as the elements slowly, inevitably, claimed him.
He hurled his watch into the one bit of water he’d seen,
single glop shaking the pollen-filmed surface for only
a stark few Swiss-steel-Self-winding-Jewel-pivot seconds
before stillness settled onto the edges like silence.
Later, wrist-rubbing, he caught himself wondering the time,
the sun pinned bold to the blue like a hole on a silkscreen,
crackling the mud into angled plates, concave curls of clay
crumbling so brittle beneath the easing weight of his socks.
Double-breasted jacket javelined away, he has toweled
his dress shirt over his scalp to block the slow sizzle out,
breathing in vivid colours and air as sharp as needles,
he greets a lizard by name as it scuttles for cover.
Stopping on the crest of a dune to scout, hand on his brow,
a sweep of the gasoline-vapour skyline, squint-frown,
a sigh, smack on the roof of his mouth with a tongue gone dry,
he measures in flights of a crow, still nudging him: go man, go.
Mark Lavorato was raised on the Canadian Prairies, but has spent most of his adult life living, working, and writing on his travels throughout Central and North America, the Caribbean, and Europe. He was inspired to begin writing while living in the Austrian Alps, reflecting on unsettling true stories he’d heard in the jungles of Guatemala. Aside from his writing, Mark is also a photographer and composer, and author of the recent novel Believing Cedric.
Wayworn Wooden Floors launches in Toronto at Nicholas Hoare Books on Thursday, June 21, from 6-8pm.
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