Prose Poem by Koby Braidek
My lizard brain knows it’s beer he’s sipping. Instinct. But soon can and person become
indistinguishable—metal and beard, the leather face beneath, his stony eyes. Shapes
converge into an earthy mess, stumbling over themselves with sliding textures behind
a summer-turgid heat. I reposition my legs, the bell is pulled, and a viscous ribbon of
advertisements envelope him from above; from below the floor’s hard ridges slope wildly in
threat to pummel. I can’t focus well—my gaze keeps pulling sideways and back in
accommodation of the whole view. I squint; he’s pouring some daytime juice-beer, the
sweat of August heat smearing it into the blue seats below; a gradient ribbon from gold to
cobalt. Edges continue to recede behind the fumes and glare, vibrations shaking my back.
Slow roasting in a sun-blasted interior, windows hot to the touch, one reflecting a hand
tossing a fan side to side. Where can I get a fan like that? Back in Chinatown, probably—the
Northbound direction. Elderly women wheeling carts, steadfast expressions etched out in
wrinkles. Their choppy Cantonese. Cheap pork buns in Chinatown— among other buns. A
lurching knocks me back. I know where we are by the shadows the buildings outside, looming
shapes stamping out square holes over the boxed sun. A momentum thrusts bullheaded
through the years; stolid inertia. A heritage of fumes and glare erupting through the asphalt
in a grinding of alloy, tires, soot, and springs; front door exits, backdoor sneak-ins, long
Sunday waits, into an end seat; coffee spills, protein bars, textbooks, headphones, work
schedules and sidelong stares. A legacy multidisciplinary, multiethnic, and intergenerational.
My fingers drum on the leather beneath me, then on the standing-pole. Tires grip a concrete
nerve pathway quickened by use—a hardened memory firing easily. Time as rubber and
gears, leather and steel, mud rain. A decade of commutes crush down on me many times
more massive than the bus itself, affixed to a sedimented trajectory. I doze. Somewhere with
fig trees, a man tells me they should be ripe now, but everything I pick is spoiled and black
inside. I wake up. A trembling. The pavement might just crumble into useless grains of stone
and twisted metal before long, lack dust, evaporated gasoline— greasy, luminescent rings—
and its odour; that odour. I remember digging with the miniature construction-scoop in the
playground as a child. My activities stirred up tremendous dust from the excavation pit.
Spiralling grey clouds of the verdant summer. But within the eyes of these fierce desert
storms I’m never able to construct any lasting shape. The holes stubbornly collapse
into themselves while the mountain peaks sputter into sand puddles. Still I dig hard, as if
trying to make up for lost time, every minute dying into the uncultivated past. Another bell.
Mount Pleasant now—sputtering as well. That elevated parkade on precarious metal stilts.
He’s pouring the beer from above his mouth in ecstasy, eyes closed. His yellow fingers tilt
the can with casual dexterity. Humble and entrenched—this brand of alcoholism strikes
me as an almost mercantile skill. Like a street-food chef, caricature artist, or busker—his
drinking seems a high-stakes craft whose charm is launched by desperation but lands
as brilliance. Silence pulls at my ears. People never have conversations on transit until noon.