The Sky in Essex is Not Like the Sky in Ontario

Haley Down is a current Wild Writing MA student from Ontario, Canada living in Essex. She writes environmental poetry and in her free time she can be found talking to the trees, at her sewing machine, or playing board games with her friends.

Clouds like unspun silk (Photo by the author)

The sky in Essex is not like the sky in Ontario. 
When I’m feeling homesick or, more truthfully, 
friendsick, I watch the sky and pretend 
they’re seeing the same one. 

I know it’s not true. 
While my sun rises through heavy golden mist, 
theirs rests low in clear, dewy dawn. 

While my sun sets in this strange, vast sky, 
theirs is small and distant and shines directly 
on their faces. They don’t understand me 
when I say it has more colour —
a whole spectrum from amber to violet, 
disclosing themselves to me for what feels like the first time. 
I don’t understand it either. 

Back home, 
behind the house I grew up in, is a forest 
with a dead tree we named The Bus. 

My parents took me there when I cried 
that my brother boarded the school bus 
and I was too young to go with him. 
They’d take me to the forest 
and we’d ride The Bus to “school”, 
studying maples all afternoon. 

When I was old enough 
I trailed behind my brother like a baby duck, 
waddling up the school bus steps. 
A few times, he paid me to do his homework. 
I’d carry it with me to the river, 
proudly showing my work to The Bus. 

That tree had long been hollow and lifeless 
but it had been a companion, a confidant 
as I searched for answers to the great mysteries…

rabbit droppings,
pencil-nubbed, beaver-chewed stumps.

That tree absorbed my tears when once 
a leech stuck itself to my pinky toe
and clung so hard it took flesh 
when I ripped it off in panic. 

I distinctly remember how the clouds over the forest 
flattened, grew wispy just before dusk 
began its descent. They looked like unspun silk. 
I imagined that if I could only reach high enough 
to tug on one end 
I’d wind myself in satiny white.  

The clouds in Essex are firm, 
holding the same shape all day. 
They’re persistent. 
This, too, is a comfort. 

Here, people offer me words like 
“pushchair” and 
“loo roll” and 
in return, I can only ask questions 
about these foreign shapes, 
turning them over in my mind, 
slowly tying them to more familiar phrases: 

Cambridge
Norfolk
Burford
London

Town names which also populate 
the landscape of my Canadian childhood, 
but these steady clouds ground me 
not in the familiarities of home 
but the particularities of this place. 

I hadn’t visited The Bus in many years. 
I’d been too busy writing papers, 
reading books, driving myself to school. 
I knew I needed to visit my old friend 
before I left Canada altogether. 

I sat on the wrinkly, rotted trunk 
and had a strange sense of my young self 
sitting beside me. I saw how she’d smiled 
with pride, holding up her brother’s homework. 
I wanted to hug her, 
thank her for the belief she’d had in us. 

Instead, I patted the tree 
I’d sat on through all my ages. 
Had had my first kiss on, 
had grieved my first heartbreak on 
and every one since then. 

My Essex sky is vast, 
close, 
thrillingly unfamiliar. 
I study it and tonight
I confess.
The sky in Essex is not like the sky in Ontario. 
It might be better. 
It will never be home. 

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2 Responses to The Sky in Essex is Not Like the Sky in Ontario

  1. oysternative says:

    A beautiful, evocative piece of writing.

  2. Sam Pyrah says:

    I love this, Haley. Such nice imagery. Following your brother like a baby duck… and the pencil-nubbed beaver-chewed stumps.

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