for private reasons I will take this journey

much more seriously than is strictly necessary

armed with a double dose of vaccine

I am still convinced of a fatal weakness

in my auto-immune defenses

the sleek sublimity of an airplane

seems like the ideal implement

to penetrate my porous borders

and this is the coward’s conviction

that I have set a course to conquer

with an eye to posterity

never mind that I’m fleeing failure

and shunning sadness on the way

the second chance that I hope to discover

may or may not be granted me

and I will live in regret forever

no matter how far the plane takes me


already there is the first ill omen

my driver distracted by the malfunctioning GPS

but the stern rebuke I formulate mentally

works like a charm to remind me

there’s nothing wrong that some magical thinking

can’t turn into reassurance

the casual annunciation of a new bureaucratic challenge

is just old fashioned security in a puzzlingly convenient form

and the first refusal is hardly final

even a stubborn app will change its mind

given different data and the proper passport

this is the benefit claimed in doubt by doubt itself

to travel again as a Canadian

affords me a secretly pleasing guilt

as I see there are new pale flags to decode

even at my right elbow while I wolf my food

with atypical speed

and the yearning glare of a handy soldier to meet or avoid

[ctd over]

I wonder who notices I’m double-masking

one worn two years ago made waves

and though I am slight and compact

on the plane I am man-spreading

arm-rests, neutral zones, are mine

so I am a teenager splaying once again albeit in pain


finally the unlikeliness of airborne flight

takes pride of place and I understand

that this is no banal occurrence

we are risking something by our very absence

from the earth’s surface population

we have ascended beyond the imaginings

of kings and emperors

while getting a tissue from my back pocket

seems to be something of a production

so how far should I say we have really come?

an infant’s appalled and appalling squeal

is testimony that we’re awake earlier

than is normally tolerable

I slowly fossilize into sleep

a scab on my lower lip starts to thicken

I chew this grisly evidence that I am still

a sickly vessel of cellular malevolence


questions may be both real and rhetorical

answerable if not open to reply

poets are self-taught philosophers

endlessly responsible for all magic words

and their misadventures

the truth serum of turbulent metaphors

will there never be a moment

when I simply say I can go no further

and not find my paralysis refreshed

by a newly uttered purpose?

perhaps such resilience

is what Heraclitus perceived and expressed

the eternal joys of uncertainty

amid the strenuous limitations

[ctd over]

of all shapes and forms of motion

the energy sensed at the brink of exhaustion

what if gravity was gravitas

and eloquence a moment of dizziness?

call it downright vertigo

and in that phrase confess it all


a stranger asks me to take her picture

with her daughter and granddaughter

from a crowded coign of vantage

and I manage it with no more

than the usual awkwardness

in that instant there is magic

a sudden rush of trustfulness

encompasses me in this vibrant city

where I wander largely unmasked

on a mission of reconnaissance

renewing wisps of frayed acquaintance

reconnecting my saved scraps of French

jadis and radin are particular favorites

as they sum up so much cheap nostalgia

reborn under these charmed auspices

joie de vivre is not an abstraction

but the daily practice of citizens

emerging smiling from under their masks


how else to scout out one’s return home

but under cover of nostalgia

to hide intentions behind sentiments

and the vague regrets of an emigre?

have I become a double agent

working for my future self

against my present incarnation?

that would be a strange way to come back to life

if such is still the object

of these recurrent journeys through the bush

to places where I will always be

as much predator as prey

where all the old short cuts usher me

[ctd over]

to a recognition

this is where I should die most peacefully

framed by a childish dream

of heroism for my native country

which would amount to a betrayal

of everything achieved this long while


a clump of towering shady trees

stands like a rudimentary maze

neither forbidding nor welcoming intrusion

the boy who danced amongst them once

was swiftly and solemnly convinced

that they housed antediluvian ghosts

who wanted him to hop the fence

his primal fantasy was escape

the chain links have closed in ever since


once more on the move

through the fire-retardant greenery

my phone thinks I’m driving

but I’m on the train

with acute nervous energy

in defiance of pain medication

and nausea pills

I watch an old man just come aboard

with his mask well under his nose

riding his roller bag down the aisle

as if in some cramped rodeo

and so the nightmare resumes again

with bystanders waving from a backyard

among them a child stares wondering where

such a concatenation of cars

might be destined

he gulps sudden tears

whether for the departed

or because he’s been left behind

I will never know

the clouds roam slowly while the trees

are shuttling past as if magnetized

[ctd over]

fleeing the crush of the present day

on the cyclical crest of history

lulling me right back into lush


This is Smith’s Falls. The next stop will be Brockville.


leaving a city, you understand its simplest pattern:

traffic and time collide in a million predictable ways

the denizens take them all for granted

for you there is this fleeting pathos:

missing a flight or a long-standing friendship

there is a sensation of urgency

and yet bittersweetness in every delay

so many possibilities abandoned

while your grave impatience idles like a destiny postponed


the trappings of a traveler

may include the most intimate treasures

medications and a cracked laptop

to be scrutinized with disdainful care

and passports optimized for each audience

with the accustomed preceptor

who proves to be uninterested

in any chance particular

and gently assists the technology

of recognition and threat prevention


an Instagram self-chronicler

in filmy pink and beige cover-up

keeps an artfully stiffened upper lip

as she toasts her first international voyage

with a glass of rather overpriced water

and then rechecks the video evidence

for flaws in her grim, grinning countenance

and too late I see that I am just like her

[ctd over]

though my medium is far less popular

I will revise myself before my mirror:

the slowly breaking screen of metaphor


the sing-song commands of the flight attendant

imply the banality of each requirement

even the strictures of federal law

are contemptibly familiar

so spelled out in the pressurized space

above our acquiescent heads

an outgoing or returning herd

each with our private reservations

we accelerate up to clouds

that further mask our earthly intentions

elevated by separation

from our safe and debasing routines

we peer from a more than Olympian height

on a patchwork planet of rights and wrongs

our silence signaling agreement

to this concourse of guarded dreams


home is no more than combustible desert

broken by highways

framed by infection

and a habit of knowing when

to say this has all gone far enough

I reach my limit and settle down

again awaiting the cataclysm

or consummation of California

to retell the story of my origin

Brad Buchanan, 51 years of age, lives in Sacramento, California, and is Emeritus Professor of English at Sacramento State University.