“DOWN THE JETWAY”: POETRY FROM THERESA MUÑOZ’S NEW COLLECTION ‘SETTLE’
THERESA MUÑOZ was born in Vancouver and lives in Edinburgh. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and a PhD in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow where she was Overseas Research Scholar and wrote the first doctoral thesis on the Glasgow poet Tom Leonard. Her work has appeared in several journals in both Canada and the United Kingdom, including in Canadian Literature, The Poetry Review and Best Scottish Poems. She has been shortlisted for the Melita Hume Poetry Prize and has been a prizewinner in the McLellan and Troubadour competitions. She is a regular contributor to the Scottish Review of Books and The Herald’s book pages, and is the author of the pamphlet Close (HappenStance Press, 2012). She works as a university tutor and a researcher in digital poetics and Scotlit.
The age my mother and I emigrated to cities
we had never been, years apart
but some things were the same:
same church-like shuffle
down the jetway,
same keyhole window seeping light.
Same long-haul flight leaving us
sand-tongued, the chilled air
a punch in the face
when she landed mid-winter.
Surrounded by concrete towers,
she dropped her first payslip
down a gutter,
the snow landing like large moths.
And me from Vancouver to Glasgow,
35 Kelvinhaugh Gate, a flat so damp
I slept in a wool hat for months
and got lost coming back from a place
I’d been twice, so in a pub’s doorway
I spread out my map, leaf-thin.
Once I heard her say,
twenty-two is the age I left Manila…
left the only patch of land she knew
to wonder as I did, on that cold step:
should I go back, or have I begun again?
Simpsons department store, Toronto
My parents could have met in Manila
on a sweaty Jeepney
or down a market alley.
Instead, as two foreigners
not used to hats, scarves or heavy coats.
They laughed when I asked where.
Oh, in the stationary aisle.
Mom hunted a present for a nun,
Dad searched for paper clips.
Two years later, married at St. Michael’s:
Dad in a rumpled suit, Mom in a bargain dress,
clutching winter roses.
But they could have met at a hospital.
The years uncovered this fact:
in Manila, Mom was nurse to Dad’s sick aunt.
But back to the day in the stationary aisle.
Mom chose a fountain pen.
Dad said That’s a good present, for a nun.
I tell their story to feel less lonely.
The sweet rush
of one leaving first, then the other
beyond the store’s bold signs
and frosted steps,
into Toronto’s starry expanse
as if this was how you came in,
twin dark heads in the snow.
We tell the story differently each time,
it’s how we say it, we sound brave and braver.
Usually we start with the reek of sweat and metal,
how I saw him chatting up girls
and when those girls turned away
he slipped into our circle, sidled up to you
whispered something in your ear,
and you said: who the hell are you?
The man laughed with yellow teeth,
I said what is this about and —
it’s funny, each time we get here, we laugh
about the slowest fight ever,
how the man reached for your neck with big thumbs,
you gripped both shoulders like a linebacker
toppling a ring of chairs, and voices echoed
hey! stop! hey! as you tumbled out
sliding on wet cobbles
into a zone of mud and cigarettes.
Then I kicked his ankle, kicked that gobstopper bone,
I was angry and ashamed
but I would do it again.
We left him choked as a fish
shouting about those immigrants
as we fell into a cab, slumped on tartan blankets
stroking the new welt under your eye
damning that phrase
the one we now say easily, jokingly, though it stings:
Hey— where did you buy her?
This is the only type of love I can promise.
The type that duct tapes out the winter draught
or waits till after midnight on the couch,
to not disrupt your night out.
Or goes to the supermarket
in the slanting rain
for twice-forgotten milk.
And saves you the best of everything:
window seat, the bigger half, the last bite.
The kind pledging to be
your best friend, co-editor and wife.
And wants nothing more than to
read your words, style your hair,
fill your plate each night
promising to see the world together,
linger at the corner table together,
until our last day’s light.
how to get up in the dark
how to get out of debt
how to find your keys
how to find the courage
how to run a business
how to run long distances
how to build confidence
how to build credit
how to be a better listener
how to be a better lover
how to relax
how to rewrite
how to live on little money
how to live without anybody
how to stop losing
when to stop googling
Googling the other Theresa’s
If I could be one of them,
I’d paint in watercolours, deserts with low suns
in my life’s last month
or I’d be an athlete, chasing the cork path
my chin level
till I crossed, sweat lacing my neck
or I’d be a surgeon in blue scrubs
mending others with precise cuts
and their grateful eyes after
would be enough, or high on heroin
I’d rob a corner store
and plunge a steak knife
into a man’s apple heart,
and before my damning mugshot
before the camera clicked twice,
it would all become real.
And I could become real.