Monday, June 4, 2007


to the memory of Charles Fisher

Where did you go? In what absence,

what recess of the mind are you abiding,

that I cannot see you, and yet

on the mast of a man still above the lifeline

your auroral pennant of blood

arises within me,

the distant intimacy of an approaching wind?

Elusive these first grey days of spring, as you were,

not an oath of the snow forsworn,

but the advent of a suppler genius in the promising,

as true to its beginning as you were all the way

to Bangkok and the end,

or as you were fond of quoting Horace:

“now it’s time to go out.”

But I never encountered you once

you weren’t returning from somewhere,

so where are you now that you haven’t come back?

Is there a gate in the terminal

for the eternally delayed

where your life’s being x-rayed

for poetical contraband, and you

savagely amused by the confines of the search?

Welsh eagle on the bough of your pipe,

you never grew old,

even when you were, you never

hobbled along those expiring roads of smoke

you exorcised with every breath you took;

ninety and change the last time I saw you

and you were still turning heads like heliotropes.

If ever a man knew how to live,

if ever a man knew how

to make an impression on the moon,

if ever a man knew how

to refine the rapture of life from the ore of his sorrows

and shape it into a flute

and dance to his own music

like fireflies over the water at night,

to the joy of all, it was you, Charles,

your special gift

to alert the ambiguous profundities

of the usual tolling of the lead-footed bells

that the young might live for poetry,

but ageless,

the poetry lives for us. As this does,

does it not, Charles,

trying to find you again like dark matter

behind the small blaze

of all these occlusive lucidities

crowding into the mirror agog with the light

so that all I have to go by

is a starmap written in braille

and this abyss in my voice

I release like a dove

to summon your shining

back to this candle wicked for the leafing

as if a love-letter from the spring

could still tremble like an early blossom

in the hands of the dead branch,

and knowing you, might well be answered

by a scarf of fire

around the cold throat

of the gypsy air

warming up to the solar flares

of your irrepressible flamboyance.

You gave me an iron ashtray

from a Zen temple in Kyoto.

You gave me the yellow belt of a monk from Thailand.

You gave me Dylan Thomas’s sweater

and a bag of ties labelled with the names

of the famous writers of Britain

who had worn them.

You gave me money when things were desperate;

and whenever I met you

I was always greeted like a poet.

Once you even wept over coffee,

saying I would be the last you ever knew

as we stared at each other

not knowing who

was the more endangered species

and the tears overwhelmed your eyes

and when I asked

how it was with you,

you said imagine a train platform

choked with people,

vital with arrivals and departures,

children, lovers, friends, trainmen, trains,

the laughter, the smudged farewells,

the exuberance of the greetings,

and then imagine

stepping out onto the same platform

fifty years later, abandoned,

grass growing between the warped floorboards,

tracks rusty, tall weeds between the ties

and not a soul in sight,

nowhere to go,

nothing to come back to.

I loved you in that moment; I never forgot:

you, so much a fountain

outside Voltaire’s studied window,

suddenly a well

you dropped your heart into,

knowing it would fall unanswerably forever.

I said something vague and numbing

and we both let the silence observe itself.

The Greeks may have honed you,

and the Romans and the French,

but the blade that cut through the bullshit

of that moment

was Welsh.

And here you come now, my friend, imagine;

twenty years later

and you a shudder of light

among your own stars

and your heart flown back to Ottawa

and your body prompted for death

and the earth on the chest you were so proud of

more than you’ve ever bench-pressed before,

and now only these scintillant gusts

of commingled memories

slipping themselves like postcards from anywhere

out of the inscrutable night

through the iron mouth in the door

I’ve left ajar for you

like a forwarding address.

It’s time to come in, Charles;

it’s time to marry the gypsy night again

and be Carlos in the caves above Malaga;

it’s time to swing your black cape

across your shoulders

like the eclipse of the night before

that covered you like a woman

whose passing you and Dante were devoted to;

and look for typos and grammatical errors

among the more literate constellations;

time to finish your book

and add another ninety years to the prelude,

time again to play keyboards

in the hottest rock band in southeast Asia,

time to tell a nymph of the Thai moon

like an owl on the first impulse,

that you love her

and you must have her

and descend to your assignation

with Eurydice

in the labyrinth of a slum

that turns around to watch you disappear.

I see you standing in the man-sized hearth

of a great estate in England;

and reading the Bible with monks

in a monastery in northern Italy,

and stuffing a Luger into the cord

of a silk smoking-jacket

to interrogate a Nazi tank commander

in the rubble of France

over chess and sherry and Shostakovich,

letting the amicable silence of the cultural moment

pry his mouth and baffled apprehension open

because you didn’t ask him anything

for weeks.

And show me a man now

who needs to know about the crow songs

the beggar children made up

to sing freely through the gates

of ancient Athens,

on the morning

of the festival of flowers,

and finds out:

and then takes a ’52 red Jaguar convertible

out of winter storage

and drives to Ottawa, top down,

as if Isadora Duncan sat beside him,

flaring like a scarf all the way

and there were no wheel

but the planet underneath them

to get caught up in.

Singular, Charles, unique, cavalierly specific,

people loved you, your character and style,

the intriguing simplicity of a potted cup

in a Japanese tea ceremony,

intimately regarded

for the masterful spontaneity

of the way the lacquers and glazes

flowed into each other

just so far up the shore of the clay

and no further as if not

to mask the elemental man

with more finish

than the moon or the cup

or the emptiness within demanded.

As the long and short of the bamboo would have it,

and the wind can’t help it,

and the fire doesn’t care,

you were always more of a guest

than a host,

more the leaf than the branch,

though the branch was always

amused and adorned

as it is now

on this first warm night of spring,

waiting like me to hear from you.

I heard a boy singing today

at the side of the road,

a stick in his hand,

mud, mud, mud, mud

and then pizzicato,

mud, mud, mud,

and I could feel you smiling within me

like an open gate

as if you had written the song

he entered by

and a genius as uncomprehending as spring

had inspired you both

to craft the new medium

into a ubiquitous longing fit for flowers.

So come in, come in, from everywhere

and wait with me, here, Charles

for the trains and the comets

and the blossoms and the children,

and the poems we will write

and the silence we won’t

to plume and blow in the offing,

and you can unfold the rising moon again

like a scrap of paper you took from your pocket

and read me the beginning of something new

that kept you up all night,

lines stronger than trains

and more elegant than willows,

the metre neat as whiskey,

as you travelled light

and declared much

in the terminals and stations

of your life and work.

Now I’m looking down

the long vista of these parallel tracks

keyed like guitar strings

to the distances they disappear into,

and my heart is the red lantern

of the spring’s first columbine,

waiting to flag you down at this crossing

like an overnight express switched back

into the nascent tumult of an unscheduled morning.

I’m trying to honour you

in the only way I know how,

but the margins are crammed with the inscriptions

of broken entablatures

and I will not suffer the redaction

of a pillar that is not fallen.

I will not rewrite you

in the weeds of a lighthouse in mourning;

I will not open my mouth up like a wound to the sky,

I will not lament the beads

of the returning geese

like the names of God on a rosary,

nor mulch the leaves of withered laurels

into your grave

when all of your life was the greening of the wreath.

What I owe you

for things you can’t even begin to imagine,

because there was no invention in the giving,

has enhanced the quality of my tears

so that now when the night urges me

to howl like a famine in a silo,

thinking of things that will never be again,

as if all of space to the limits

of what we are

were nothing but an acre of salted pain,

and poetry the mere tale of a scar

contracted in a holy war fought in vain,

I think of you, Charles,

buried like fire

among the roots of the living

preparing their flowers like floats

for the gala progressions of the spring,

the crow songs of the urchins,

Elueusis in the grain,

and I see your face through the mist,

a promontory off the mystic coast

of the country that wrote

the carol of your name

in the sprouting seeds of the firemusic

rising from the staves of the dull earth

like quavers of flame

and over the immeasureable worth

of everything that comes again like spring

to Almonte where you lived

as to me here in Perth,

as if it were always your calling

to enchant the fields like heavy bells

from their dark domain,

the godess ascending her stairwells,

fire in the vine,

over everything, Charles, over everything, everything

the gentle falling

of a warm Welsh rain,

the inextinguishable lyric

of passion and grace

that lingers on the face of a friend of mine.

I never knew from day to day

how young you’d be tomorrow

or under what star,

but I could read your face like a Spanish guitar

that had seasoned the vinegar into wine

and run it like a flag of blood

never at half mast, up your spine

to signal there would be no surrender to sorrow

lifeline after lifeline.

It’s right that we last embraced at a poetry reading,

You were the white stag on the hill,

looking back one last time,

the easy dignity of your bearing

before disappearing

deeper into the grove,

almost startling in the way it moved me,

the way it softened your eyes

like a cloud on the world mountain

that had shaken a man

out of the dream of a god

and raised him out of its shadow

like a fountain of stone

unravelling its streams in the light.

And I thought I heard

a wheel of distant thunder,

enjoining the clearest skies

you had ever wandered under

to drink their own reflections

from your peregrine lucidity

that they might know through your eyes

the vaster expanse

of the luckier perfections

that divine our chance humanity

and every once and awhile, Charles,

go that last, lucky, extra mile

that you always took,

with real style

and where they glanced

at the part about the heart of a man

who got up and danced with the wind,

the stars tangled like fireflies

in the hair of the willow

who was always your truest lover,

they marked that passage

with the tassel of a comet,

that page of the man and the book

that read like an ode

that even Horace couldn’t write,

and no one will write again,

you, Charles, you, my good friend,

who enlivened the light

like a tree full of morning birds

more vital than words

and when the wind turned your head

like the star above the eagle on the weathervane

so you could know the deeper skies

in the growing freedom of her eyes,

wiser than the lightning in the windowpane

that traces your name in its breath

and humbler than rain

that was never wasted on death.



How severe I am with myself, as if I inflicted little pains to obviate the wound of the moon in my side. Love’s a broken mast and a torn sail in a tide. I say it with the absolute precision of a scalpel in a teaching hospital. I say it like a stake I’ve just hammered into the hands of the mountain I’m climbing. I say it like a door slamming on my own fingers. Because, because, because, love goes on leaving long after it left like all the different phases of the moon unveiling its spectral lament. The sunlight smashes its goblet on a wave, the musical rain of the windchimes gets hopelessly tangled in the lines of its own parachute and the nightjump to paradise is caught without a reserve. The poppy shop runs out of milk and the discrete addictions of dreams I never even knew I had, go into withdrawal. The rungs of a ladder are confused for the spokes of a wheel and everybody leaves on crutches. Cynical. Too neatly aphoristic. Blood rushing to a contusion as if it were a scar. The truth lies less flamboyantly elsewhere like the unseen radiant of all these kissing stones that pummel me like meteors into building them each a Kaaba where the sun was, that they might be circumambulated for a change, even if I alone am the only pilgrim, the solitary hajji to throw pebbles at the demon who shadows their shrines. I hurl the Kaaba every now and then like a brick at the mirror of my own reflection, just to see if I can dispel these memories that rise up in me like the perennial flags of exile lowered like the moon to half mast. Out of the blue, the ether, the zeitgeist, I am assailed by sudden flashes of zeal for the lost innocence of some moment, isolated in time, arrested like a penny from the flow of current inconsequence, some triviality of tenderness that refuses to believe it was ever estranged from its own afterlife, and refuses to go. As if the onceness of the flame could never be occluded by the ashes of the poem. But what poor creatures, we, who must change to endure, and adapt as we can to our perishing, improvising as we go, these antics and gestures of a life to flesh out the parts we play to a terrible vigilance. Then doused like torches in the eye of the night, as if the seeing wanted to make amends by its own effacement for intimately posing as us. The mirror’s indifferent to the loyalty of the face that always looks in on it. And even in fragments, it isn’t the face that cuts. Though all the paths and the woes, the ways and the roads, the bad guesses, the curses and blessings, the scaldings, the sugars, and the acids, have long ago settled into the journalistic shales of time like the old slug lines of another heart breaking event, it’s still as if we touched something more than ourselves some nights, as if the stars in the corners of our eyes that didn’t dazzle us, their shining subtler and more sublime, were to suddenly flare in the cold daylight long after the warm nights we sloughed like skin were done. But let the river keep to the banks of its old grim scriptures as it will. Me? It’s always been more than enough to drown in the transfusive drop of the occasional beatitude, my whole life flashing before me in tears.



States of mind that are the uninhabitable moons of methane giants, brown dwarfs with great red eyes that didn’t quite make the cut into shining, the spinster star, the last apple no one wants in the gravity bowl, an unmarried radio that tunes the listener out. More mud than star, I look for new roots, new lightning to show me something in the flash of its brilliant flower but it’s impossible to turn around quickly enough, to spin like a Sufi or a planet, to catch your mind at something that might explain everything. What happens when the snake eats its tail up to its head? Does its head eat its head, and if I struck one off, would it turn into a hydra and grow another and another and another, a cult of moons around me, each unsheathing their fangs like crescents, prophetic skulls in a roulette wheel? Which one, which one, which one is mine under the pods of my eyelids? Is it necessary to know? Should I hold a mirror up to space and exclaim, yes, yes, that’s it, that’s my face, or break the mirror and meet myself on the other side? This morning it seems I’m a labyrinth trying to find itself, an abyss with a name that’s looking for the door. Okay. Right now, I’m here and now. I’m glad we’ve got that settled. A continuity without a continuum, if space and time are one, and everybody says so. Which is to say, I might be a mere coincidence in the vast scheme of things, my being here, an unexpected guest at the elemental table, one of the softer swords of the alloys of chance, but if it comes down to surrendering it to a god or an atom, the wind rises up from its desert dream like a mahdi and stirs the blades of the armies of the grass into a holy war against the heresy of myself, and something stubborn within me ties me to the minute hand of the clock like a stake, like a planet on a wayward axis, as the numbers gather around me like wood, and the hours wait for me to recant, and arsonist to my own surprise, I start the fire, and burn like a lyric in my own immolation. Just to feel alive and free again, if only briefly. But later in the ashes, when the stars appear like martyrs to show me their wounds, and beatify my extinction with the halo of a black hole, I can’t tell if the voice they heard cry out to them was mine, or if I’m just hard on my own echoes.