PLAYING RUSSIAN ROULETTE WITH THE MOON
Playing Russian roulette with the moon.
Nothing left to lose.
Nothing left to win.
Maybe it would advance
my literary career.
Everybody loves a dead poet.
And I’ve been putting it out
for the last forty-eight light years.
Mongolian immensities of agony.
Nothing less than everything all the time.
Through wives kids lovers afterlives
and more excruciations and devastations of myself
than even I can comprehend
how they’ve twisted space around me
like an anaconda
trying to make me bend.
Feast or famine
I’ve refused to equate
my financial situation with my emotional life.
And I hear from my compeers I have no common sense.
But then they haven’t been endowed
with the crazy wisdom I have
and I can see the assassin
in the shadows of their advice
even when they disguise their true intent
by wearing rose petals for eyelids.
Intense but ultimately irrelevant.
Most things kill me deeper into life.
So there’s really nothing to resent.
And society doesn’t owe me anything
as far as I’m concerned
because it didn’t put the gun to my head
and say write.
I did that all on my own.
And I’m so used to it now
it’s as easy as picking up a telephone
and calling ahead to see if I’m still at home.
Fool, said my muse to me.
Look into your heart and write.
Good advice from Sir Philip Sydney
and I’ve done that
whether what I saw
was an oracular snake pit
this singularity of a bullet
at the bottom of a black hole
or a star map of fireflies
trying to lead me to enlightenment.
I’ve been as loyally disobedient to the muse
as inspiration clarity and courage
have allowed me to be
to the point where I feel
I’m the lab rat
and she’s the experiment.
And he obeys even as he oversteps the bounds.
Orpheus and Rilke got it right.
But the night is not a reward
and insight can be a lot more brutal than ignorance
when it slashes you
like the interactive edge
of a broken mirror
that doesn’t like what it’s looking at.
I’ve had enough of a taste of fame
to know it’s bad water
and spit it out
and I hear I’ve established my name
in Canadian literature
like a pre-paid grave
in a teachable immortality
where my remains
will be mummified in paper.
I’ve published books
and made it into Poetry Chicago
when I was twenty-six.
I’ve done my time standing up
and paid my dues
in a hundred stupid interviews
where they asked the same questions of a poet
as they would a horse vet.
I’ve been the last poet laureate of
for the past twenty years
and I’ve got four literary awards
that don’t take themselves too seriously
and two shelves crammed with periodicals
that do nothing but sit on their hands
like literary credentials
that haven’t convinced me of anything
except how necessary it is to rebel
against my own authority
in a spontaneous west coast sixties way
that picked me up like a habit
when I went to university
to study the stars
like constellations of razor wire
with black holes
in a concentration camp fence.
And I can wince at the clown
that talked his way like face-paint
through nine documentaries
that always begin with a shot of my cowboy boots
as I’m walking down the road
desperately trying not to look
like the stem cell of a stereotype
dangerous mysterious and creatively sublime
at the same time
as kids eating ice-cream cones on skateboards
are trying to show off for the camera
by doing figure eights around me
that stop on a dime
as Gary Cooper walks down main street at high noon
wondering how Thomas Hardy would have handled this.
In my eyes
I’ve only ever been as good as my next gig
and that’s not the measure of anything.
I’m a constant beginner
that approaches experience like a future memory.
It keeps me empty and clear.
It’s a trick I picked up from the stars.
By the time your light catches up to your eyes
you should be already gone gone gone beyond
where you appear to be.
Don’t give them the lead
on a moving target in the dark
and if you’ve got a few to believe in
and even the mailman does
don’t believe in your own myths and legends
because the moment you do
they’ll immediately turn into a farce
starring you as a famous buffoon.
And it’s okay to render experience
communicable through form
but don’t forget that form itself
is just a special expression of chaos
the way a straight line in calculus
is just a special form of a curve.
And if you take a utilitarian approach to symbols
they become logos flags badges of rank
brands and prison tats.
The purpose of art
is to be purposeless from the first.
That’s why it can square
the abstract absurdity
of a concrete reality
with a human life in despair
playing Russian roulette with the moon
without losing its innocence.
And the sound of the empty’s
louder than the bullet
when I put my finger
on the trigger of the moon
and pull it.