Charmaine Cadeau


We like the idea of plain glass in our first house: bowls, apothecary jars, bottles on mantles or sills. We catch ourselves wondering if all this emptiness will make us feel hungry, or, in such a way we can’t put a finger on, the word for it tasteless, a dead nerve. Since glass is sand, can we call this place our beach home? We wonder what our neighbors would think if our walls were see-through, too, would we be too boring to watch. Could we harbor any illusions. We can’t cast stones, but maybe rip open feather pillows, the down clinging to our hair like movie snow. We talk about who will dust the glass, will we take turns, brighten it with vinegar, would we ever put anything inside: newsstand flowers, waxed fruit, warped bottle caps picked up while walking the dog? And who will collect these things anyway, and will we get a dog. And if the dog smells up the house at least the glass is odorless. We wonder if you can really shatter glass by screaming, a perfect treble, or is that only for crystal? And if in this way one of us or the dog with knobby legs breaks any glass, what then? Turn out all the lights, point a flashlight at the floor to pick up what winks back. And know for years to come because of what we won’t see, spaces we can’t reach, shards from this day will plant themselves under the pads of our feet, make those keen blood blooms. As always with glass, the threat of upset, and seeming irreplaceable still.


Because meteors cast off wishes as they flash and rattle overhead, because tea leaves still script your secrets in the bottom of the cup, because ESPers and mind-sharing twins make the rest of us feel left out, because love instigates an average number of children and an average rate of divorce, a plainclothes fortune teller works as a statistician. She adjusts the numbers accordingly.

She sees tomorrow as a tease hiking up its skirt at today’s loneliness. She sees the days ahead in a tangle of intestines, a shining mirage. The future is flagrant, revealing itself in quartz and moonstone, laundry basins and stainless steel. Try not to look. The future dreams its way onto billboards, makes thatches of branches on our palms, resides in question marks.

What can you take at its word? The gypsy with prophetic dreams and a government job, this future brimming with oracles stuffed in desktops, someone waiting for an answer. Here it is: we’re all destined to defeat. Here it is: you’re twice as likely to split the bill over cheeseburgers than beef bourguignon, you’re eighty-nine percent likely to pick up a penny than pass it by, and one in four dreams of being famous. Here it is: you do it for breathlessness and goosebumps, getting mail and remembering the steps, hearing whalesong and the dawn yaps of thrushes echoing from hollow, skyglow chests.


When someone says Old Timer’s instead of Alzheimer’s I keep the correction dangling with the uvula at the back of my throat because the first thing I noticed when he started to slip was something we all do, when the word at the tip of your tongue comes out like whoopdedoo or jiggerypoke, or even something more Freudian, calling water wine, or asking your date if his biological cock is ticking. Then sometimes our words don’t come out at all, hunched like dust bunnies bristly in your mouth. I’m no armchair psychiatrist but I do believe in wish fulfillment: he’d call me a stranger’s name; we’d hang on to lucid moments. I think about him aboard the ships he worked on those years ago, looking ahead to the harbor to see the faces and figures waving him home, knowing one is wife but not which one, through the haze.


Maybe to understand this story, you’d have to know something about my brother like that he’s stoic but unpredictable so when I was in the kitchen washing dishes and we were talking on the phone and I asked if he’s going to tie the knot, he said after the restaurant they were standing in snow turning to slop on the street, ring hot in his mitt, and I said ‘so,’ not in a ‘so what’ sort of way but more like how a champagne cork pops. As he mumbled on, I pictured him rocketing off the ground, alleyooping in a ninja-meets-superhero version of how he thought he’d grow up when we were young enough to play on the wood floor and not notice how hard it was. Then he said it again, louder for me to catch his drift, ‘so she left.’ She left.

Excerpted from Placeholder.
Published by arrangement with Brick Books. .


 Charmaine Cadeau was born in Toronto. Her first collection of poetry, What You Used to Wear, was published with Goose Lane in 2004. She is currently Assistant Professor at High Point University in North Carolina. Placeholder is her second poetry collection.