A New Proposal

A cement pole with 'could be fun' on it in black marker grafitti
by H. E. Casson
(CW: Pandemic, anxiety, mental illness, homelessness)

“I’ve made a deal with my anxiety,” I say to my partner.
He’s working from home, surrounded by screens. They are a living museum to all of the people he helps.
“What’s that?”
He doesn’t look up.
“I’m not going to worry about anything but keeping you and me alive and together.”

I’m a worrier, both by nature and circumstance. Before I knew him, I’d already been undone, been left unloved and unhoused. We met as teenagers and I brought him into the chaos with me. We lived nowhere, with fingers tangled together. We had no bed, but cushioned each other, blanketed each other, whispered good dreams in each others’ ears.

We sat on a balcony in a snow storm and we knew.
“This is good, isn’t it?” I asked.
“We’re going to get married, aren’t we?”
That was our proposal.

Still, I do not live with a sense of security. This house we’ve since bought belongs mostly to a bank. They might remember its more theirs than ours. Everything is temporary. Clothes wear out. Food goes bad. Cupboards can go from full to bare to someone else’s in no time flat. We could have nothing, again. We could be nowhere, again. I get that. I have to get that. I can’t count on anything.

Except him. Our balcony-promise has lasted more than twenty years. I build fences around him. Make him wear a mask. Clean everything. Put my hand on his neck and search for any trace of fever. I can prepare for losing anything — but not him.

I know that modern people aren’t supposed to love like this. It says something about my autonomy, my self-worth. But I do. I love like hunger. I love like I’m incomplete without him.

I know something else, too. All this insecurity, this planning for the worst, this anxiety, it won’t keep back a virus. The numbers say we’ll make it, but the numbers have never been friends of mine.

So this is my new proposal: if I keep my word, and keep him and me alive, I will learn to revel in good. (Yes, I know that bargaining is a stage of grief, but what’s to be lost by pointing toward what fills me up?)

If we see the end of this together, I’ll believe that we’ll always have a roof. I’ll believe that we’ll always be fed. I’ll believe that only good days are coming. I’ll stand up to my knees in Lake Ontario and shout out my happy to the clouds. I’ll overspend on birdseed and tomato plants and comfortable shoes. I’ll drink hot cocoa in the afternoon and toboggan down high hills.

If we see the end of this, I’ll have faith in our joy.

Or at least, I’ll try.

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Like Cherries

My poem, Like Cherries, is free to read at Malarkey Books. In it I explore one of the best days my partner and I had while experiencing homelessness in Toronto. It seems the right time for it to come out, as we are all of us trying to find our own best days in hard times.

Be well, and enjoy the poem.

At Times I Hate You, Emily

by H. E. Casson
(CW: Isolation, mental illness)

At times I hate you, Emily
Though as a poet my love is due you

I hate the legendary words
That grew in your ecstatic solitary
The words that have said it all
So simply
That my prose is a tease
Seeking attention
With unnecessary frills

I hate the room on the second floor
Where you hid out the world
Denying the worth of any
Save those words
All voices, to you, were letters
Shrouded in only white
The scholars say
You shut the door
And turned us all away
So every moment that I do not hold
Every thought that I do not translate to perfection
Every distraction I indulge in
Makes me less a poet than you

Still, I love you, Emily
Though as a poet my hate is due you

I love you for how little you lived
For now your words remain
Unmarred by an overshadowing woman
Until you are not Emily the poet
But Emily the poems
They seem to have been birthed from the very ground
Organic and untainted by human intervention
Poetic purity with no intercessor

I love you because you are already dead
Any your poems are a record
Of a poet before therapy
And self-help books
And Oprah made us whole
And stole our words
Abandoned us, silent
By unburdening our hearts
And curing our muse

Emily, I love you
For as a poet, my love is due you

Published in Jones Av by Oel Press in 2001.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.