from ‘The November Optimist’ by David Zieroth


I saw you on the bus, on the 239 going up Lonsdale while I was walking down. That street is either up or down and never level, and always someone is going the direction I am not. I hadn’t thought of you as a bus rider but someone in a sporty foreign car. I wanted to wave to you. I wanted to free you from the reverie of the bus rider who gazes out as the world flows past in the reflected moody face in the window. I wanted you to notice me waving. But you would only wonder mildly, momentarily about who that man was. These wants of mine swoop upon me as your bus accelerates up the hill in a haze of noisy diesel fumes.

Standing there, I realize I want to live in a different time, when I could ask: ‘Has anyone told you … that the rustling of your silk skirt is like the whispering of moss in the forest in June where both happy and unhappy 32 lovers have kissed? Has anyone told you they would die for you and that life without you would be pointless and hopeless?’ The age when such words could be said—why has it passed out of fashion into the realm of the utterly unsayable?

Or rather why has it passed for me?

Perhaps it wasn’t you after all.


So you want to be pursued, it’s in your XX chromosomes. You want to be made to feel special. Even at this age? Well, of course, yes, and to ask the question reveals a lack of understanding and sensitivity verging on offence; but perhaps for today we can say with Henry Pulling, ‘One’s life is more formed, I sometimes think, by books than by human beings: it is out of books one learns about love and pain at second hand. Even if we have the happy chance to fall in love, it is because we have been conditioned by what we have read….’

So what kind of mysteries do you like? Yes, novels. Henning Mankell’s, with his character’s ‘tendency to self-criticise, growing gloomy, filled with melancholy’? You laugh! Allow me to reveal my fondness for Inspector Kurt Wallander, bleak-seeing and post-Protestant, an overweight divorced detective reaching an age when only opera soothes, and yet so intuitive, almost mystical, in his ability to solve murders connected to horrific world events now come to rest in his provincial corner of Sweden.

Kurt does indeed pursue the former wife of a dead police officer in Latvia (‘Baiba, the woman he cared so much about but never called’) across a cold inland sea—and he does so poorly, self-sabotaging, unsure how things stand, stalling, white-lying, sweating, ready to return to the case, to run through information again, obsessively looking for the missing detail that will connect the several scenarios of death and thus lead him to the identity of the killer, which we already know and know as well how high the odds are stacked against our hero/ anti-hero/post-anti-hero and his path to that discovery: near misses, false leads, tensions, physical toll, and the killer’s sudden awareness of his need to kill Kurt.

So what does he want? Success, of course, and love, connection without a lot of fuss (and distractions from sex, relief from his lurking wariness), peace of mind, holidays in Italy, continual pleasurable awareness that south Sweden in June is a most beautiful world: yellow fields, hills, pine forests, piers and wind—but Kurt the northerner reminds us not to be forgetting squalls and snow, icy fog.

Mostly he wants to get his man, to outwit the devil. Perhaps such a guy can be forgiven for not putting forward his most attractive side first. You think? Or would you prefer Donna Leon’s character? Commissario Guido Brunetti, happily married to Paola (with her dissertation on Henry James and ‘finding the obvious in real life,’ her helpful—to Guido—and ‘hopeless addiction to the gutter press’), his Venetian eye for marble and glass and incongruities in a suspect’s tale, and always, in questioning women, a gentleman’s manner, delicate but firm.

Whoever your choice, let him be exotic—and, as a corollary, let no sudden public corpses under tarps be arranged near here, no police cars nosing in and parked dramatically, a squinting RCMP pushing down his heavy gun belt and scanning those beyond the cordons, his quick fierce eye contact with the curious, some inarticulate accusation driving us away.

Reprinted with permission of the publisher from The November Optimist by David Zieroth, Gaspereau Press, available here.

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David Zieroth

David Zieroth has published several books of poetry including The Fly in Autumn, which won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry, and How I Joined Humanity at Last, which won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. He taught at Douglas College in New Westminster, BC, before retiring and founding The Alfred Gustav Press. Born in Neepawa, Manitoba, he lives in North Vancouver, BC.