Dark and Bright

Newfoundland Spring © Allie Duff


Something alive under the snow
makes it shiver
like it’s asking not to be
shovelled, scraped, or salted.

For a few days
we get a taste
of living in the dark.

We get a taste
but are comfortable in the novelty
of seeing whole roads without electricity —

streetlights swing playground-wild
on their posts, taking a break
from the evening’s usual illumination.

When some light returns,
NLPower begs us to conserve energy
and for once we listen, understanding
the word
when it rekindles our warmth;
we spread the message on Twitter,

every possible disaster
whittled down
to a hashtag.

My Nan,
forced to miss General Hospital
for the first time in twenty years,
naps instead, dreams
of Sonny Corinthos coming to Newfoundland
to meet her at Tim Hortons;
his iconic slicked-back hair
gets all ruffled,
messed and tangled
in the melodramatic wind.

Topsail Beach © Allie Duff
Topsail Beach © Allie Duff


Already sick of the viral plot twist, the story written
to make you gasp, instead

makes you hack and cough; in winter I travelled
by train each morning to work.

Outside, construction was delayed,
half empty buses ran late;

my co-workers, immunocompromised,
were forced into deeper isolation.

Terrified, I moved back to Newfoundland,

and by luck became a stand-in on a TV show.
On my first day they said

stand on your mark like a statue
made of skin. Behind my mask I fretted.

Didn’t we all? Lit up day-for-night, swallowing panic
as we crowded into small rooms, grips

carrying ladders, apple boxes, rope …
I pulled down my mask

for a second, they needed to see my mouth;
how the light played on my face. This wasn’t

how I imagined myself
reintroduced to heat, to breath,

after months of sweatless quarantine.

brushed aside as bodies brushed against me,

remembering the summer when I hid
in a house too big for the three of us;

me, the girl, and the mother.
Me, almost thirty; a live-in nanny.

Living rent-free for the first time in seven years
an old tension lifted, like tugging down a mask
to take a gulp of fresh air.

On the beach
the child and I learned the Spanish words
for star, sand, and rolling, then forgot them

as we frolicked to see a watercolour scene: cottonweed
spread on the air at sunset. And I forgot

for a second how much it costs to live
and how much I’m afraid to keep going.

Twenty-one Years of Friendship © Allie Duff
Twenty-one Years of Friendship © Allie Duff

On (twenty-one years of) Friendship

We’re the ones who came to queerness late,
finding it with our fingers
like the first sign of laugh lines
at the ripe age of twenty-eight.

The ones who wear lipstick
under our masks like a fresh wound.
We burst into gas station bathrooms
labelled with the “wrong” gender, make
patrons stare as they pump and scratch
and squeeze ketchup onto blistered meat.

We’re the ones who live with too many
roommates because Toronto;

who live with twenty-two many plants
because Toronto, again;

who were tomboys, weirdos, losers, depressed,

We’re the ones screaming, Is this the real
life, is this just fantasy?
at the funeral,
because that’s what he wanted.

We’re the ones who had too many sleepovers
to count, who walked to Jumbo Video every day
for free popcorn. Newly released,
the scent, inexplicably pleasurable,
of hard plastic and butter.

The ones who won the final game of spotlight
before the sun came up, changing the name
of the game;

the ones
who have no children,
and have many children;

who wear winter boots at weddings
and leave the ceremony on a skidoo.

The ones who carry birthmarks and tattoos,
freckles and car accidents;
who went to the D.M.V.
on our sixteenth birthday
to pass the test.

The ones who say
we never lost our virginity, just
gained a sex life,
then twirl the duvet
around our finally happy bodies.

We’re the ones who convince stubborn
relatives to compost and recycle,
the ones who haven’t been back
to visit
in years.

We’re the ones who became
teachers whose students
have it hard at home,
and wear their resilience like a familiar coat,
two sizes too heavy.

The ones who have a mattress on the floor
because we never saw the allure of adulting;
and who miss the comfort of the bed
shared with someone we called soulmate.

We march in protests
even though we fear
we’ll trip over our despair.

We’re the ones who type on the bright side
as our chapped lips silently mouth the words
I love you.

Allie Duff is a multidisciplinary artist from St. John’s, Newfoundland. Her first book of poetry, I Dreamed I Was an Afterthought, is due out in 2024 with Guernica Editions. Follow Allie on Instagram @allieduffrosytones.