Wednesday, November 30, 2011



The flowerless night rain of late November,

radiant in the window screen

of the Smokin’ Eagles hamburger pitstop trailer

closed for the season,

a loom of jewels

weaving a flying carpet of water

out of the warp and woof of its tears

as if it too had somewhere urgent to go

at this migratory time of year.

Rain on the bushes in the flooded fields

that have rendered what they had to yield,

cattle corn, mustard, purple loosestrife,

pasture for the cow the sheep the horse

and here and there llamas and apathetic buffalo,

stony midwives as brusque as Scotch thistles

disposing of the afterbirth of stillborn lambs

like a sky burial for the turkey-vultures

that circle like an aerial ballet of banshees

high and relentless overhead

for the mother to stop nudging the dead.

Roadkill from their point of view,

not making a waste of death,

and a reminder to me that life’s

got no special feelings for anyone.

And yet despite what the Zen master said

about not trying to stuff

the impersonal secret of the universe

into your tiny sentimental heart

how could you fail not to

or realize that you didn’t need to

in the face of such desolation

given you can see the universe

unscrolling space and time and light

in every grain and star cell of your being

with the same cold-hearted disposition that kills lambs.

Yes, but the bushes God spoke from in September

throughout the Valley like a ventriloquist

are now so deeply brown you can see

the occasional flaring of a flame

of dark mahogany ground willow

the colour of dry blood

still burning in the rain

and understand why brown

was Rembrandt’s favourite mystic background.

And there’s the albino steeple

of the local white-washed church

with its congregation of shadows

sitting dejected at the side of the highway

miles of farmland beyond

to say what a small thing a crucifix is

compared to a plough

with hands that used to pray

holding its head up on its knees

like a gravestone

that had given up waiting

to get its own cemetery

because people have the lifespan

of their great grandfather’s

home-made bookshelves around here

except for the under-rated suicidal adolescents

playing chicken

with vehicular and pharmaceutical roadkill.

The highway’s a tramp.

It’s got too much lipstick on

and it’s painted its asphalt eyelids

with artificial fireflies

to up the amperage of its radiance

in the cosmetic mirrors

of its rear view crocodile tears.

But I’ve got a black gangster hat on

that fits me like the moon fits a total eclipse

and I’m not about to take a bath in my own grave

to save a siren on the rocks

that hisses and spits at every car that goes by

as if she were raised

like an ill-mannered bird in a mailbox

that never got a loveletter back

though she sang her heart out

like a boat-tailed grackle in the rain.

The long blond manes of yesterday’s

palomino pampas grass

have thrown their gauchos off like hairdos

and soaking wet

gone for the quizzical long-necked emu look

of exiled Chileans

being water-boarded by the weather

in a country that doesn’t believe in torture.

A phalanx of brake-light spearmen up ahead

dripping in the blood of a wounded highway

waiting for the long slow

periodic sentence of an empty freight train to pass

like one co-ordinate conjunction after another,

all medium and no message

and there on the town side of the tracks

beyond the last gate before home

a garden of traffic lights and streetlamps,

lots of flash

but nothing much illuminated

in the flowerless night rain of late November

when novels that have been waiting in the wings all year

playing solitaire with their anonymous narratives

as they change with the seasons

losing their inspiration for the loneliest of reasons

begin to think about taking creative writing lessons

to give a boost to their morale

by jump-starting their muses

with borrowed battery cables

in a chilly room off a long heritage hall

in a super-sized red brick building

with a brass plaque to the right

of the heartwood of a heavy oak door

that’s more enduring than it is original.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011



Trying to put some distance between myself and my past

is like trying to stale-mate a cloud with a mountain

by resorting to the last hope of all experienced liars,

objectivity. Third person singular pronouns,

he, she, it. Shipping containers from alien places

stacked neatly on the dock

like coffins and cord wood

you can talk and write about as if

you weren’t buried in anyone of them

and none of the stowaways

and none of the illegal immigrants

and none of the corpses

were anymore related to you

than Cantonese graffiti from Seattle that rode the rails

all the way to Jakarta like one long sentence

about something you dreamed last night in your sleep.

Somebody’s else’s views in somebody elses’ language.

You can stand on one side of the tracks

in the red glare of the most serious-minded lights

at the road block with the crossed swords

and half-bored with waiting for things to pass

read the story of your life on the sides

of the train going past gene by gene

in the most unlikely couplings of a chromosome.

You can read your own genome

like beads in the rosary you’re kneading

between your thumb and your forefinger

as if you were counting the prophetic skulls

of the full moons that have passed

without any sign of a harvest on an abacus.

You can hide your past under the death mask of someone else.

You can play scrabble with the sign of the zodiac

you were born under,

you can rearrange your stars

and lie to your scars about which among many wounds

was their real birth mother,

you can spin a new myth of origin like a changeling

to explain why your axis is tilted beneath the equator

but when you’re finishing patching over to another gang

and you’ve got new top and bottom rockers

and a brand new mandala on your back to empower you

and your winding down the Malahat on Vancouver Island

that writhes along the side of the mountain

like a snake with its head pinned by your front wheel fork

two hundred feet above the tiny eyelids

of the waves with the white lashes

on the surface of the sea below,

thinking of Jefferson Airplane’s

tongue in cheek retort to John Donne

that no man’s an island.

He’s the Saanich Peninsula

though they didn’t say Saanich

but if the peninsula fits wear it

and that’s where I was at the time.

You can tear the wire you’ve been wearing

like the narrative of your life

as if your own mind were listening in on you

from another room in the hotel across the street

and your silence would still provide enough evidence

to prosecute you for living outside the box

instead of just sitting in it

and trying to think of a way out.

All those improbable entrances with impossible exits

you walked through to change your life irreparably

like some crude street rendition

of the Eleusinian Mysteries in Edmonton

just to verify your right to exist

in a world that rejected its own extremities

like the left hand of fate and circumstance.

And it wasn’t so much the actuality you were after,

that would come of its own accord

like an apple after the blossom,

but just the mere chance

of being someone you weren’t

who wasn’t burnt and bitter

wary, angry, cruelly clear-sighted

as a spider-mount on a telescope

waiting to catch stars in the webs

of the glimmering constellations

they mistook for dreamcatchers.

Every cubic centimetre of me back then

as dense and intense as a black dwarf

that sucked all the light out of the air

so that even in broad daylight

I always felt this darkness within me

like a night too heavy for the world to bear.

My mind was always a wavelength shy of a snake pit

when I was around other people

that hadn’t been chronically humiliated

by growing up poor

and my heart would condemn itself out of hand

just to deny them the privilege

of doing it for themselves eventually

and to show them the difference between

a passive scapegoat and a demonized pariah

that wouldn’t hesitate to use his horns

on any matador of the moon

who thought he had the crescents for it.

Alone under the microscope

I furnished my solitude like a habitable planet

with converging mindstreams

that carried me out to sea

like an empty lifeboat

drifting down the Milky Way

like a leaf, like a poem, like

a deep insight into the radiance of nothing

as soon as it got dark enough to see the stars.

Out of the void I sought shelter in

emerged a truce of aloof familiars

who were multilingually conversant

with my kind of madness and imagination.

And I called them Azazel, Blue Flower, Black Dog,

Dead Dog’s Dream Self, Character and Womanpit,

and of the ones that appeared the most benign

one was a mystically empowered altruistic idiot,

one was the tabla rasa Adamic blank slate of everyman

and one the female sister demon of my right brain

that was dark and artistic and long-suffering.

And of the first magnitude black hole constellations

with eyes like dice pricked out like fang marks

on an occult starmap of dark matter,

one was a Satanic standard bearer

who had gone from being a scapegoat

to being the master of a Renaissance of evil

with the Machiavellian curiosity of a reptile

intrigued by its deepening insight into mammals

and the other two were the black farces

of their own burnt out legends

passively-aggressive as extinct volcanoes

growling at each other

in the nightmare of their waking hours

like fortune-cookies strung out along the same fault line

like junkies who rage at the futures

that keeping give up on them

like a species that knows its endangered

all the way from southern California

through West Vancouver up to Alaska.

There’s a big part of everyone

that wasn’t born of man or woman

when they’re alone with their own cartoons

and the mythic inflation and deflation of themselves

makes them feel the whole universe

is breathing along in unison with them

between rapturous moments of solar exhilaration

and dead seabeds of lunar depression

like a musician with his finger on the pulse

of the copulating wavelengths

of a blues guitar in heat at high tide

he’s going to ride out like providence into the flood.

These were my Sahaba,

my lost tribe of desert companions,

the nightwinds that came all wrapped in black

like lone Tuariq out of the southern Libyan Sahara

like dark energy in a whirlwind of stars

ready to kill you from a great distance

for drawing the waters of life

out of one of their wells

without tribal consent.

And who knows what flows down into the mind

from what mountaintops

or through the valleys of whose heart before you?

Maybe there’s some leftover starlight in the mix

and the taste of a full moon

lingering on the tongue of a corpse

like a coin some loved one put there

like a sacred syllable to protect it against the dark.

And the tears of someone you never knew

for things you’re not aware of

crying like a waterclock from life to life

like the dream theme of a mindstream

that keeps the whole thing together

like the loose thread of a flying carpet

that just keeps on unravelling.

Life is a geriatric medium with a young message.

The oasis mentors the mirage

like a dance company rehearses Swan Lake.

Dark matter is strung out through the universe

like a junkie neurally connected to the same mind

we all are the way water is to intelligence and lucidity.

We’re all drinking from the same mindstream

in our own skull.

And when I pass mine around

like a sacred chalice of the moon

around a common fire

to each of my familiars and anti-selves

thrown together in this desert of stars

like symbols that made a habit of each other

for mutual survival,

the big question

that’s always greeted with silence

is whether life’s an exorcism or a seance.

Were we driven out of somewhere

we all long for

for things we can’t recall

to never be summoned back,

or were we invited here

by an anonymous unresponsive host

possessed by his own imagination

to guess at who or what he might be

so the hidden secret can know itself

in every one of us?

And I ask myself creatively

is the potential for darkness

greater than the reality of light?

Is the one infinite

and the other doomed to be exhausted

by living it one insight at a time

some with the lifespan of stars

some like fireflies and lightning

some in the shadows of black walnut trees

and some like me

who dream under the eyelids of past eclipses

like a dragon who once swallowed

a black cosmic egg whole

to bring rain to the new moon

without putting its ancient root fires out?


Monday, November 28, 2011



Estranged from my myth of origin

by the astronomical catastrophe

that alienated me from my own kind

life just kept on happening ark after ark.

I wasn’t consulted.

I wasn’t warned.

I wasn’t misguided

by some miscreance of happenstance.

Whatever excruciating transformations you go through

and however perverse your mutations might seem

to the jump-started creationists

holding up a limp finger to God

like the red-capped pole of a positive battery terminal

that hasn’t been fully charged yet

to be is just to be.

That’s it.

That’s all.

It’s as unsayably clear and open ended as that

without the stopwatch of an opposite

to measure the ten paces you walk out

before you turn in a last duel with yourself

with time as the second that stands up

for the defeated honour of your corpse

lying at its feet like a matador gored by a rose.

It’s the darkest inkwells

that reveal the deepest insights

you can bring out indelibly

like a total eclipse of the moon

into the light through words

like night birds in inaccessible groves

whose voices take flight over the hills

and across the lakes

like an echo in an urn

heard like a lonely mantra

under the eras of the stars

but seldom seen for what they are.

So many masks of meaning

without eyelids

I outgrew in the late spring of my life

when I effaced myself

like a Japanese plum tree

until nothing but the wind was behind me

and the gutter of a residential street

that ran through downtown Victoria

intermingling genies of gasoline

with the fragrance of the rain

that doubled as my version of homesick poets

studying Zen in southern China

like ugly ducklings

among the enlightened swans

sailing down the Yangtze to the great sea

where sentience doesn’t taste of such distinctions.

Ask any moment in passing like a stranger

you accosted on the street

like your own reflection

in a storefront windowpane

who you are now

or make discrete enquiries

among the wisest of the spiritual death masks

you sought in the past to emulate

like plastic surgery on the face of a gangster

on the run from himself

and they’ll all ask you for an alibi

and publish your poems

like unwanted posters

with a bounty on your head

for identity theft among the great imposters.

And you might come to think of yourself

as a great trickster,

Loki, a crow, a fox,

a sacred clown of the Ogallala Sioux,

the gleeman of a greater god

with a blacker sense of humour than you

and come to realize in the course of time

your god is a fraud

but his disguise is real.

Tears painted on a clown’s face

are always wetter than the real ones

and there’s nothing you can do to peel them off

like the skins and colours of a bike gang

but let go like a Japanese plum blossom in the spring

or a silver Russian olive in the fall

down by the Ottawa Canal

when the fish are too polluted

for the drunks to eat.

We’re all damaged goods

one way or another.

No one gets out alive or unwounded

and it’s anyone’s fanatical guess

between love life time death God and the Devil

which is the hardest to relate to

when most of the time

you can’t even tell

the fruits of one from another

when you use that as a way to get to know them.

Kafka said that we all lie in the lap

of a vast intelligence

and on a good day

part of me can relate to that.

And on a bad

I’d say most people lie in the lap of their own

as if they were looking after some pet

they called themselves

that spoiled them.

Because of all the miseries they’ve had to endure.

Because of all the places they’ll never be from.

Because of all the times

they offered up more than they had to give

for love

and it was rejected

and they had no use for it after that.

How many times has someone said to me

I’m looking for myself

and when I asked them

what they called the part

that was doing the looking

they immediately saw how impossible

it was to be lost

because the mind

which isn’t anything at all

is just one big cosmic lost and found

and you can fall anywhere in it

and it amounts to the same as rising.


but even the stars aspire to the unattainable

and it can be incredibly exalting

to perish in your own defeat

fighting for something

you don’t know if you really believe in

but never need to doubt your motives

for getting behind

because you just prefer it that way

and that about says it all.

You just prefer it that way.

You don’t need to analyze, disguise

revise, anathematize, apotheosize,

or cover your eyes in an interview

with chameleonic irises

because, yes, there’s a pot

at the end of the rainbow

but there’s as much shit in it

as there is gold

and it’s always been your preference

what you stuff your pockets with,

what you take home

and it’s by that and that alone

not your ideology

not your mystic philosophy

not your myth of origin

not your sense of morality

as if your senses knew anything about ethics

but your preference, just your preference

your simple, single-minded, indefensible preference

that you’re known.




Taking an upbeat flambuoyant approach toward catastrophe.

A good attitude to go on perishing by.

Adept at it.

Like Atlantis happy enough

if it can find a horizon

let alone a lifeboat on it.

Been doing it my whole life.

Because more than once I’ve contended

for and against myself

I was born fortunately too stupid to be a cynic.

Optimism is the heaviest cross of all to bear

up a hill of skulls stacked there by Mongols

who wanted to know if the myth of Sisyphus

were true or not and somehow got my apostasy

mixed up with his

and mistakenly crucified the absurd

on top of Mt. Sumeru, the world mountain,

to get the city of God to surrender without a fight.

I’m the last two apocryphal commandments

that were driven out into the desert

like the twin scapegoats

of the baker’s dozen

and the carpenter’ inch

when the other ten went metric.

Love a lot and you’ll know what to do

without being told to.

Or, option B, heed none of the above

and take your chances

freelancing out along the razor’s edge

like an ice breaker

looking for a northwest passage through your throat.

Pretty radical for a rootless tree like me

who didn’t set out in life to be

the rolling stone that kicked off an avalanche

like a slow boy playing toe-hockey with a mountain

on a thatched road on his way home from night school.

Fool, said my muse to me

as if it were talking to Sir Philip Sydney

look into your heart and write.

And you can tell by the colour of my lips

I’ve been drinking eclipses out of an inkwell ever since

convinced I’m a fallen sparrow in an ailing kingdom

that’s been sipping elixirs like cocktails

out of a holy grail with little black umbrellas in it

that keep blooming in the house

like a black mass of bad luck.

I tried emptiness once

like a home-brewed remedy for heart burn

that tasted like Peking duck on a pyre of gasoline.

But the void spit me out

like the Johnny Appleseed of sacred syllables

so whenever I try to meditate my way back into the void

through the backdoor

I don’t chant aum, but ouch

and the dark night of my soul

deepens into the anti-enlightenment

of the sinister dark matter at hand

like a Sicilian family at the beginning

of twentieth century New York

where they ghettoize the scapegoats

each according to their ethnicity

so you can recognize them

like the logos of brand-names

the yellow stars, the black hands,

the four leaf clovers, the West Side stories

of the Spanish moons in partial eclipse

or if there’s anyone else there like me

the skull and crossbones

I wear like my heart on my sleeve.

It’s three a.m., for example,

in a crummy Holiday Inn hotel room

overlooking Lake Ontario

where the dead fish

surface belly-up like U-boats along the shore

and a naked fan of my poetry

off in dreamland without me

looks like a mermaid washed up

in the surf of the bedsheets on her own rocks.

I’m sitting in the dark

before a wide-screen window

trying to make out the constellations

through the light pollution of Kingston

the way I used to reconstruct secret messages

like the Rosetta Stone

in grade four

from the few letters that were left

when the chalkboard wasn’t completely erased

by some windshield wiper of a teacher

trying to change the subject in a hurry

like some white-wash graffiti artist under a bridge

that didn’t want to get caught in the cover-up

that lied to the whole class

about the iron pyrite truths

that lay ahead of us

like a bright future of fools’ gold.

But even if the starlight’s been diminished

by a smear campaign

that’s going to take more than Windex to undo

and they’ve lost some of their criminal lustre

I still see in each of those rogue stars

the dark boat of a rum-runner

beached like me with a mermaid

in the labyrinth of the Thousand Islands

ten years after the lifting of prohibition left

everyone with a hangover for the rest of their lives

knocking their heads against a locked door

like the yachts in the docks below me.

There are some poets like Shakespeare

who recommend giving airy nothing

a local habitation and a name

and I’m not calling him a rat;

it’s good advice for all honest citizens of the universe

when they’re talking to the cops,

but it smacks a little too much of the snitch to me

and I’m sitting here with my mouth shut

staring blankly out

into the airy nothing of this night sky

trying to write a poetic alibi

for why I’ve got nothing to say

and even when the heat gets turned up so high

there’s sweat on the inside of the one-way windows,

I still refuse to squeal on yesterday.


Sunday, November 27, 2011



I see you little brother, little asp, little junkie-adder.


You slide silently and slyly through the grass.

A single wavelength

but with just enough sting

to burn somebody’s ass,

nip them in the heel

and drag somebody down

into the underworld with you.

Compassion makes me look like a fool to you.

People feel sorry for you

and then you twist it like a blade

you think of as your edgy intelligence

and they end up feeling

like the dupe of their own best ideals.

And yet your power base,

that little charge you give your ego

as if you just hit the enemy submarine

and you were exalting

in that mean little smirk of glee

that squirts out from the corners of your eyes

while you’re machine-gunning the survivors,

that kind of power is strategically weak

because it depends upon

the approbation of its inferiors

for a mythically inflated estimation of itself.

You shouldn’t underestimate your enemies

but you shouldn’t overestimate yourself either.

What you lack, little brother, is clarity, accuracy.

You hide behind those heavy eyelids of yours

as if you were competing with rose-petals

and there’s an ambivalent scent

of patchouli oil in the air

mingled with just a touch of agent orange

to begin defoliating the rain forests in the room

to prove you know where everybody’s at

better than they do

but they can’t know you because you’re so deep

your mystic cloud of unknowing

has turned into mustard gas

the wind can only come near at its own peril.

Are you some kind of black hole

that’s got to suck the light out of the hearts

of the people around you

as if it were a privilege you accorded them

to let them care

you found a new way to degrade the darkness

by what you’re doing to yourself?

Every friend you’ve got

feels like collateral damage

because they loved you at one time or another

well enough in the midst

of their own frailties and catastrophes

to want to see better things for you than you do.

But what’s the point of all these oases

holding out real water to you

while you wallow in that mirage of star mud

like a dry wishing well

looking for something to drink on the moon

that tastes like nectar

in the land of the lotus-eaters in pill form?

You want to drink stars

out of your own hands

and blood out of everybody else’s skulls.

Little brother, there you are again

sitting on my couch pendulously

going through one of your famous

retrograde Martian mood swings

trying to give that grandfather clock face of yours

that went geriatric before you were forty

a face-lift by insinuating

anyone that finds the least fault in you

because you won’t do the job for yourself

is as hopeless and pathetic as you are

and when you shift it into second

on your mountain gears

when you really get going, worse.

But I’m not going to

exorcise, curse, demonize, pariah, or cast you out,

or try not to understand you

because the one thing about love

that’s impervious to someone like you

is that it’s got more antidotes on hand

than you’ve got poison

whether you bite them in the heart

or release it drop by drop into their ears

from one of your fangs like a morphine drip

beside that hospital bed

we’re always adjusting for you

so you can see yourself from another angle,

or dew from the last crescent of the moon

from the tiny tusk of that spider

that sits in the middle of your dream catcher

and puts you into a coma

where you hallucinate

you’re drinking soma in the company

of Indo-Iranian gods

as it sups on your body fluids

like an oil rig over the amphora of a fly.




Always this great knot of sadness,

this wounded bird inside

that beats its wings against my rib cage

like one woman did once on my chest in tears

many manic years ago

to be let out to fly back

to whatever chimney she thought she came from.

And I said here is the live green bough

and there the dead branch

but the song’s the same on both

and I’ve been listening for her voice

especially when it starts to get dark

early on a winter evening

when the kitchen lights go on

and glow on the snow

like the warmth of generous windows

stretching their light out like a cat full length ever since.

Dead air in my studio.

The two big twin master easels

I’ve been apprenticed to for the last half century

have turned into praying mantises

and started practising censorship.

The imageless air.

The hiss of traffic.

No bird tracks in the snow on my windowsill

where the golden seeds of summer

wonder what kind of soil it is

they’ve been planted in

and what’s expected of them now.

Not a wavelength of picture-music in my head.

There’s been an exorcism while I slept

that’s taken the changelings from the orphanage stairs

but has put nothing back

except this sadness in my heart

that isn’t mine alone to suffer

but share empathetically

even with the agony of my tormented paintbrushes

and the life I’ve crushed out of

these tortured tubes of paint

as weird as that sounds

as if I were quietly weeping

for everything else that couldn’t.

Lachrymae rerum. Tears

deep down in the very substance of things

as if suffering were the afterbirth of existence

the background cosmic hiss

of greater things to come

and the universe isn’t big enough yet to bury it.

This might be why

my heartwood gets choked up

every time I look at what’s happening to the trees

and why I want to cry

when I see an old man with white hair

swipe a wedge of snow off the ledge

of a cement garbage can for the publicly disposable

across the street in front of the bank one story below

and make a quick snowball of it

as if it’s something he’s being doing

every first snowfall of the year

like some superstitious ritualistic initiation

into the marvellous fact that, yeah, it’s here again

and so is he

and then just throw it away like a casual aside

not at anyone

but just away

as if to say

that’s that. It’s done.

Now I can take on anything that comes.

And sometimes it hurts so bad

when the colour of life goes south

with the Monarch butterflies

and the wet snow is effacing

the garish red logo on the bank

that affronts my studio window

like a commercial form of graffiti,

I’ve got to turn to words

like burgundy ground willow

in a bleak windswept winter landscape

and try to write myself to death

to keep from going mad

on behalf of people I haven’t even met.

That’s how sad it gets.


Saturday, November 26, 2011




The howling of wolves.

Venting the agony in the wasteland

of nightclubs, bars, jails, parking lots

in the grubby all night greasy spoons

with the pizza oven in the window

and a heavy snow falling outside

at three in the morning

when the ghouls like us were out

like afterhours carnies from the Ex

the hooker in the corner

the pervert in another

the dealer in a booth in the middle

and hot camera for sale

by a drunk in another

who isn’t ever sure of where or who he is.

And the Mexican restaurants where we were banned

permanently for life twice

because no body drank as much as us

and our outrageous bullshit was good for business.

And everybody knew how difficult it was

to be an alcoholic artist those days

and get some really good work done

that never pays much

until after your dead

and everybody puts your picture up on the wall

and thinks of it as a signal honour

you got arrested first in their restaurant.

You didn’t live in the big homey

awkward cheap rent run-down houses of the Glebe

before it was gentrified back then

by the real estate agents who crashed our parties

to entice our women away,

property for property,

you encamped, tribally.

Parties ran from house to house

like waterclocks of booze

and every fourth bucket of a house

had a porch and a beached whale of a couch

you could sit out on in the dark with a candle all night

and listen to the music coming from the back of the house

and three doors up the street

with a toke, and a girl

who thought

as you let the story of your life in art

drift off into the cool night air thematically

like smoke from the end of the spliff in your hand

you were a wickedly dangerous genius

who could only be saved from himself

if he took her beauty and her pain

and her body to bed for a muse.


The howling of wolves

like a displaced tribe of Sioux among the Seminoles

lamenting the only holy war path left to them

was the longest way home,

venting their agony

in a self-abusive wilderness

of longing, madness, and aspiration.

Ferocious false starts to damaged careers

as a litmus test of who was sincere or not

as we ran our tongues along the razor’s edge

of the things that we would say

and the things that we would not

and the things we would do

that we were willing to bleed for

to prove we were crazy enough

to be who we said we were

even in absentia.

Singers, poets, painters, mimes

and the wannabe agents

and mythically inflated producers,

the editors, publishers, girlfriends

trying to con a candle into a constellation

so they could be as important and controlling

as a contract with a bad ear.

And I still very much doubt

if there’s any more murder

in a terrorist cell

than there is in a room

that’s just given birth to a new poetry mag

and all the editors claiming paternity

are arguing among themselves

for equal visiting rights to the baby

even before it’s out of the incubator.

Nightfall over the city

and the stars no brighter over the capital

than they were over Toronto and Montreal

but something colonial and sinister

about the way the ass-kissing

quislings and collaborators

thought they were dimmer somehow

and wheeled Toronto into their poetic agendas

like the Trojan horse through the gates of Ottawa.

So many sleepwalking through the snow

talking to themselves

as if they had a pillow over their mouths

they could scream through

or dream

as it dawned on them in the streetlights

outside a negligent poetry reading

things are often as true as they seem

and how hard it is,

what a lonely brutal discipline it is

to try and convince the moon you’re wounded

when you’re only bleeding for poetic effect

to howl with the wolves

so crazed by the lunacy of what they longed for

and knew was so utterly unattainable

even the echo of what they asked for

wouldn’t be given back

when they broke off the engagement

to the coyote pack that practised

mimicking their derangement

as if to feel that way

were creatively stimulating

and not self-destructively real.

Snarling backwards thirty years later,

raising an ear,

baring a fang to the past

as if it were a crucial snake pit

in my formative years,

trying to weave the downed powerlines

in an ice storm of broken chandeliers

into paradigmatic creatively visual

magical mystery tour flying carpets

bejewelled with my tears

that so many now are as threadbare as crosswalks

at the corner of Bank and Fifth

laid like welcome mats

for the public to wipe their feet on

before the revolving doors of aesthetic perception.

But it’s as hard to turn

the memory of a bad acid trip

it took years to come down from

into a flying carpet

that’s going to sell as well

as a genie’s latest line of touch lamps

where you only have to clap once

when you enter a room

like the light coming out of the darkness

and your reputation’s

made in the shade for a lifetime

until it gets real dark

and the full moon breaks out above the city

and the wolves begin to howl

and all up and down the Valley

from Ottawa to Kingston you can hear

the dogs, the cowed dogs, begin to whine

like a Japanese two stroke

compared to the big-hearted snarl of a bad Harley

with a throttle for a throat

with all the bridges it’s ever crossed

burning in a quarter ounce aluminum rear view mirror

with a big heart-shaped gas tank

metal-flaked in cherry red

full of fire and freedom and tears

that would rather wipe out honestly

on the newly gravelled dirt road ahead

than the black ice

of the treacherous highway behind it

that’s been unravelling like a snake with its head cut off

for light years.




Only thing I ever saved up for in my life.

A telescope when I was thirteen.

Sixty millimetre, alta-azimuth mount,

three lean skeletal folding crutches for legs

black rubber tips at the ends

old mens’s canes

that sat it down bluntly on the earth like a spider

with elbow eyepieces and extension lenses

and a cool blue white enamel tube

so smooth and pure

it felt like the skin of waterlilies

and tasted like the moon

on the lips of the morning glory

in a total eclipse of bliss

as I had known it up till then.

A wonderful object. A work of art.

Second only to a woman’s body.

Mystic tangibility at last

though one will bring you closer to the stars

than the other that just looks at them.

This was the glyph for A

in my very first alphabet

and that was all that would ever stand

between me and the stars

as I had known them up till then.

Late nights on a high rock shelf

up on Heartbreak Hill

the name of an old prison

converted into a junior high school

where seven hanged men

were rumoured to be buried on the grounds

that were all that remained of it

along with several dozen cows

away from the lights of the city.

Away away away

from the drunken fist fights,

the screaming wives,

the crying children no one could help

just me and my telescope and a stray cat

that waited for me every clear night

on the path up through

the wild fields full of scrubby broom

to follow me as if she weren’t quite sure

she wanted me to know she was there or not

to the one spot

in the whole, wide, wondering, fucked-up universe

I could focus on something

without being afraid of it

or in my neck of the woods

trying to hunt it down.

I was spaced way out there

with this great blue heron

eyeballing fish in the night

like a native with a spear of light

posed forever over a hole in the universe

as if another constellation

had just made the front cover of the sky.

I was in the mythic company

of radiant swans.

I was among cold bright remote things

that grew more mysterious

the greater the distance between us

and deepened in the darkness

that made us seem more like intimates

alone in a big vast space

with a stray cat and a brand new telescope;

none of us with any clue

about what we’re doing here

but anxious to find out.

Clarity can be a knife in the wrong hands

or the scalpel that takes the tumour out in the right.

But if you’re wounded by the truth

you can’t be healed by a lie

and you might like what you see

but have you seen what you’re not

always seemed like the best advice

I’ve ever given myself like a Zen mondo

I’ve found incredibly hard to take.

It’s like trying to tell the difference

between bad whiskey and good

by which one of them

is trying the hardest

to get drunk on you.

Stupid minds get stuck in the starmud.

Middling ones get lost

in the clouds and the moonlight.

But the true genius of insight

is clarity.

Is a cold, dry lense

with no dew on it

but the whole of the sky and all of its stars

like lapis luzuli

or the translucent immensities

of a star sapphire

for an iris

or emerald in the case of a cat

as I had known it up till then.


Thursday, November 24, 2011


The radiant nadirs of the underestimated,

all these small town upstairs windows at night

where people bloom like flowers,

trout lily, hepatica, wood violet

under the duff of life,

old books and teetering obelisks of magazines,

nobody’s ever going to see

in this hemisphere

unless their clockwise life

has gone down the wrong way

and the world’s been turned

up side down on its head

so you’re compelled to walk on stars

to keep from falling off.

There’s a novelist across the street.

Window to window our apartments stare

blankly at each other

through the dirty winter grime

and the occasional moon

and ambivalent rose of the dawn

after a long sleepless night

when even the dead are appalled by the solitude.

Seven novels and he’s never published a word.

Seven novels. A mouth and a heart

like the Gulf of St. Lawrence

but no Cabot, Cartier, Champlain.

And there’s a poet I know

a mere four blocks away, beautiful,

a wild crazy witch of a woman

among muses that couldn’t hold a black candle

up to the serpent fire she can inspire

in any two lines of a poem

that could take a common garter snake

and give it the wings of a dragon,

a genius who’s laid herself aside to raise a baby

and write in between the cracks of concrete

her crackhead ex keeps trying to pave her with

like a parking lot on a coke binge.

She’s the spearhead of a blade of grass

trying to wound its way through stone

into the light

but it’s not likely

she’s ever going to make it

given the avalanche of circumstance

that waits for her like a mountain on the other side

to come up for air in the middle of a seal hunt.

Unknown geniuses, the gifted secrets

of heretical martyrs and orthodox suicides

like the Sylvia Plaths, the Emily Dickinsons,

the Kafkas, the Rimbauds, the Van Goghs

the hidden motherlodes of gold

that freak the fieldstones

of the small c conservative, rural, born again

redneck towns that overturn talent like tractors

all through the Ottawa Valley

on too steep a slope to make the grade

and crush the life out of it without

anyone really knowing what it was that died

or what it died for

or what it wanted to die in the name of.

The sole East Indian proprietor of Mac’s Milk

like a single ant in a glaring peony of light

that stays on all night,

the bartender at the Imperial,

the bouncer at the Shark and Bull,

the cook in the kitchen at Fiddlehead’s,

the adolescent in the doorway

with her elbows on her knees

and her hands on her head

like the flying buttresses of a small planet

blazing with comets and lightning bolts

of insights into life that even at her age

would put a wounded voodoo doll to shame.

I write this for the beaders who thrust thin needles

through the eyes of paradise

making rosaries of the ninety-nine names of God

and one hidden one on the back of a upside down cross,

for the Celtic smithies of silver jewellery

that wrap the world’s fingers and wrists

in kells of wild grapevines

and the Kufic script of copulating snakes

with star sapphires for eyes,

for the sculptors in their one room ghettoes

making hash-pipes out of soapstone,

Michelangelos trading David for a quarter ounce of pot,

the lame dancers that leap higher than Nureyev

like white tailed deer over a cedar rail fence,

and those who can carve guitars

out of the heartwood of their lives and tree-like souls

you can caress like the body of the Venus de Milo

and get a hard on.

I write this for all those small dark planets

that sustain the life of art

in the methane seas and magmatic mindscapes

of the most unlikely extremities

of time and place and circumstance

in the shadows of the obvious stars

whose light is barely dimmed by their passage.

This one’s for all those Luna moths

driven crazy by the light of their talent

like a candle they’ll never be immolated in

like an Arab spring in Tunisia

held back by the bug screens

that keep them beating their wings

against the windows into their minds and hearts and souls

until they drop from exhaustion, despair,

futility, the sheer absurdity of trying,

like a phoenix among dead houseflies on a windowsill.

Here’s to your lunacy,

here’s to your kind of madness

and the hill and the stone

that might have shown us how

to better deal with our own absurdity

by learning to listen to fire-hydrants

and abandoned house-wells

that echo with underground thunder

as if there were still cthonic gods beneath our feet

that wanted our attention.

Here I establish this poem

like the mother of all awards in your name

you never expected to win

like the published poets do

among small cartels of themselves

when they lose.

I raise this poem up

like a constellation, a sign at zenith,

a thirteenth house of the zodiac

to commemorate you.

I cut the ribbons of death and life.

I cut the Atropic filoes of fate.

I cut the knotted umbilical cords.

I cut the kites from their kite-strings.

I cut the chromosomes of the Neanderthals and Cro Magnons.

I cut the pie evenly like phases of the moon

from the fullness of the old harvest

to the darkness of the new.

I cut the spinal cords that moor your yachts

to the vertebrae of the assholes on the wharves

that hold you back like a gull against a headwind.

I cut your sentences short

on the basis of justice delayed is justice denied

and I parole you to halls of fame and victory

like Muhammad Ali’s conscientious objections.

I cut the veins of this poem

like a woman taking a bath in her own grave

to renew the virginity of the black rose like a new moon

just to show you how serious I am.

I cut through the bullshit the aesthetic necrophiliacs

with the taste and culture of an undertaker’s corpse

like a black hole they’ll never crawl out of

and I open their coffins up to the public

like a salon for the uniqueness

of the rejects at a Paris exhibition of your works,

or a new and selected volume of poems

dedicated to all those people and muses in your life

who hauled you into a lifeboat

like the moon on the waters of life

just as it was going down in the nick of time

when no one else would.

I open this poem up

like a mine in a Klondike gold rush

that just struck it rich

like a snake pit in the darkness,

to acknowledge how deeply you had to dig down

into the inner resources of your own lonely holy lives

with your fingernails, your teeth, your claws, your fangs

to sing in the darkness

like yellow canaries in the Burgess Shale

with diamonds in your eyes

and a beak for a pick-axe

and a pen for a jackhammer

just to keep the air sweet and breathable

for those of us who are down there with you

in word and body and spirit.

This is for all the unknown geniuses and junoes

who went down like Orpheus into the underworld

to see things through the eyes and the jewels of the dead

with nothing but a harp stuck

like a wishbone in their throats

and divining where the stars were buried

in the frozen watersheds of their lunar seabeds

brought them up to the surface like pearl divers

to make their own inestimable contribution

to the sun that shines at midnight

and the moon that rises at noon

in the radiant nadirs of the underestimated.

I award this poem to your intrepid anonymity

like a Canada Council A-grant with a travel allowance

like a Nobel Prize to the moonrise of your dark genius

or a Guggenheim Fellowship

to all true warriors of the forlorn hope

who fight their homely holy wars

like distant rumours of legends yet to come

rising out of the shadows of a farce of stars

to make all the lies, even the biggest of them,

even the ones you couldn’t bring yourself to believe

though you told them to the night

and the streetlamps outside your window

like you, come true, come shining through

like prime-time supernovas

at the radiant nadirs of the underestimated.

I give you this poem

like the eye of a hurricane

from the bottom of my life in art

to say you have not laboured in vain

beyond the border stones

of the anthologized gardens

of more ornamental strains

like a November rain

at the roots of the wildflowers

in the high starfields that bloom

like astrolabes and sundials

and tuning forks fashioned

like witching wands from the dead branch

with the moon in full blossom

when the wolves and the frogs

and the night birds sing

for nothing, for everything

for a gust of fireflies, dust,

stars on the wind

at the radiant nadirs of the underestimated.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011



Old gate off its hinge.

Matted like a lapwing in the long blond grass.

What is there to distract me from?

I pass, but not as a predator.

I seek the high field at the end

of this narrow dark road at dusk.

I’m out for stars. I’m out for solitude.

Like these deep cuts in the road

my scars have taken me out for a walk

in the gathering darkness,

nothing to keep in

nothing to let out.

The sumac denuded.

The last of the asters ruined.

There’s a farmhouse back here

abandoned years ago

like an old book in the basement

under the covers of its collapsing roof.

And the ghosts of two children

hidden deep in the woods

from the authorities,

autistic prodigies

who could fix anything mechanical,

clocks, watches, small engines

anything the neighbours brought them

but their own hearts and minds

and that’s how they lived for years,

with nothing but their own estrangement for company,

fixing things the neighbours broke.

A cage. But with the door open.

A road. But nowhere to go.

A house. But no one to shelter.

A mind. But no one to know it.

The chassis of a rusting car.

A bear.

I get caught in the glare

of my own mental headlights

wary of making more noise than I should.

And then my eyes

adjust my fear to the darkness again

and I’m not sure I should be here at all

unworthy of the silence,

unknown to the trees at the side of the road,

no clockwork universe

to bring these backwoods geniuses

that even they could fix.

A fox on the path. A startled bird.

The barking of a farmyard dog

way off in the low-key distance.

Stars in the ripening twilight.

A clearing with maple saplings to say

here nature picked up where it left off

and broken shards of moonlight

still clinging to the windowframes

as if it had to break through its own ice

to draw water from a stream.

Perseus holding Medusa’s head

above a barn drunker than it looks

swaying from side to side

gaping through its doorless loft in shock

at what is happening to it.

Aldebaran in Taurus, the Pleiades,

Castor, Pollux, Auriga and the kids,

an airliner leaving Ottawa without a sound,

and something that sweeps over me

like the shadow of a thought

with an owl for an eyelid.

So little harmony

so much tension among the stars

and their conflicting myths of origin

in the chaos and confusion of creation

and yet around here

in the stillness and profusion of their radiance

blessed and hexed alike

they all seem fixed.

Here where the unknown breathes

and eternity doesn’t seem

like anybody’s business but its own.




Brutal blue.

Deadly nightshade.

The heritage streetlamps coming on,

blooming without petals.

In the gloaming, lovely word,

the winter sky acts as if

it’s never even heard of us

and things do not so much appear

as emerge.

Brake-light poppies in the parking lots.

Musical chairs for cop cars and ambulances.

Afflictions of concrete.

The asphalt backs a dark horse.

It sweats light

that someone’s made a liar out of

from Jersey Joe’s Pizza Parlour,

the Giant Tiger department store,

and smeared like lipstick across a mirror

as if to say, yes, there was a kiss

but I didn’t mean it.

Separation where there should be love.

Miscarriages among the roses

bleeding on bedsheets from their eyes.

I’m one small town away from nowhere.

My heart on ice

as if it had just been pulled out of a river

like Rasputin, a northern pike,

an overturned boater.

My words curl in my mouth

like the scrolls of the gnostic leaves

and the bitter cold air

is trying to pierce my nostrils

and insert Venus

burning ferociously in the west

like a nose-ring

I’ll never be able to get out again.

Commotion and gaggle of geese on the ground

but high over head

lost in the glare of the light pollution

the wild ones

are haunting their way through my poems.




These words turn homeward

toward you, my dark wood,

because of all assignations of the night

you are West, you are dream and secret

you, deeper than jewels, sweeter

than the taste of stars

in the eyes of wounded black berries.

You, longing and lucidity,

singing in the last of the shadows

of the sacred trees for the unattainable

that summons me to you.

Endless, the farewell, endless

the dusk the nightbirds follow

after the swallows

have danced for the stars

in an aerial display of their own.

You, my star field, my wildflower,

whose skin is the skin of lunar waterlilies

and the tide at the tips of my fingers.

My new moon, my despair,

my solitude, my silence, my absence

which among these thousand lonely lakes

has looked upon you and seen

as I have seen in your incomprehensible eyes

how unfathomable they are to themselves

in your depths, your death,

the fullness of your abiding evanescence.

the quiet intimacies

that have just crept up on me

over these intervening years

that have done nothing

but linger in the moment

as if you would always be there

and could be found nowhere else

but now forever in this doorway

this broken window into my heart

to let go of

over and over and over again

like the rain, this stone, that leaf,

the wraith of your breath

hovering like a thin autumn mist

always at a distance over the harvested fields.

O diminished one, subtle one, free,

how is it you can inspire me still

though your ashes were given back to the stars

like a message for their eyes only

so many years ago that time itself

has upgraded all my starmaps

and made you alone, far one, bright one,

this lonely holy road that’s walking me home

as if my final destination, like yours, like you

were everywhere in whatever direction I turn

to ask the next star, where you’ve gone,

has it seen you, has it heard

was it too soon, was it too early

is it too late, too perilous, too absurd

for the morning to return you

like a singing bird to a green bough

to the dead branch that lost the moon

like its only blossom

on the rootless tree

that it took you from

when it took you from me?