Saturday, April 9, 2011


A Canadian poet since you asked.

I’m madder than the landscape.

Glaciers have scarred me

retreating north like my father.

My heart has been shaped by neo-lithic chisels

into a dolmen of Michelangelo’s David

with a silver bullet and a rock in his hand

and the determination of a statue

who refuses to be intimidated by a scarecrow.

The end of an ice age.

No leftovers.

The platter scraped clean as the Canadian Sheild.

Savage runes carved in rock by rock.

Older than the Rosetta Stone

my silence is indecipherable.

I mean marrow.

I mean broken bones.

I mean blood on the snow.

The moon comes like a nurse to the wounded pines

and applies a cool poultice of light to their limbs

in a season of storms

when the lake raves

and the fish dive deeper into themselves

and the bears huddle up under their layers of fat

in caves they’ve turned into dreamwombs

and I burn underground like the root-fire

of a radical evangelist

among survivalist cedars

gathering under tents of snow

to be born again in the blood of the Caribou.

There are more heretics in the wilderness

than there are saints.

Whatever it takes to keep warm.

There are nights when my spirit is so cold

it congeals on my eyes

like breath on a windowpane

and I’d say anything

without amending an iota of it

just to be burnt at the stake

and thaw the chandeliers of frozen tears

that hang over me like the sword of Damocles

or the brittle radiance of the Pleiades

where they pick glass apples from sapphire trees

or the crystal castles of Arianrod in Corona Borealis

where everything turns like a Sufi top

but no one ever gets vertigo

and the Celts pay back money they owe the dead

after they die

if you can imagine that.

I make a significant Doppler Shift in my lifelines

and heaven sees red.

I am a Canadian poet

and my wingspan

is the sky over Saskatchewan.

I’m the firemaster of the staghorn sumac

when it rises like a phoenix in the fall

and then I’m a bird in the chimney

like a word stuck in my throat

I can’t recall

but it had something to do

with a wishbone and a harp.

I’m not the nice guy everyone purports me to be.

I’ve got the manners of a mountain

and the emotional life of the sea

and if I seem happy to meet people

it’s only because

it sometimes gets as lonely here

in the vastness of this snowblind no man’s land

as an icebreaker

shattering imageless mirrors

like cataracts in Frobisher Bay.

I’m a warm house

that opens its door to strangers on a cold night.

I bond like fire and shadows to anyone

against the impersonal inclemency of the weather.

That said

no man is Baffin Island

but there are foreign submarines

breeding like pods of killer whales all around me.

Explorers have been planting flags here for years

like artificial flowers in real gardens

but they keep getting lost in the holocaust of maples

gliding through no man’s land

behind a barrage of pine-cone artillery shells

to overun the hill

like October assaulting Vimy Ridge.

What the earth teaches us here

like a female warrior shaman

is the hard love of an exacting mother

that no one owns

and can’t be possessed by another

because she’s got thresholds like timberlines

even a wolf can’t cross

and a memory like the Arctic

if she’s taken for granted

or real estate.

I am a Canadian poet.

White gold

from English ore

and uranium from the French.

The raven trickster of native lore.

The sacred clown.

The dangerous taboo

that lives too deep in the woods

for anyone to break.

I am a Canadian poet.

I marry knives like superstitions

that are meant to protect me from myself

but the moon keeps baiting my lovelife

with sexual acts

to trap and trade me in

like the skin of a mink

for a double-bladed ax.

I am a Canadian poet

with multiple identities.

A multilingual polyphrenic patriot.

A chameleon with a passport that’s turning green.

because it’s spring here

and the lilaceous asphodels are up

but the seasons change like manic moodrings

and by the fall I’ll be burning my i.d.

in a protest rally of disaffected leaves

just to balance things

between Cain and Able

heaven and earth

murder and sacrifice

in a fair-minded farmboy kind of way

where everyone gets their ten minute say before God

and then sits down like the House of Commons

to break meat and wheat

salt and bread

loaves and fishs

or barbecued burgers and hotdogs with the crowds.

I am a Canadian poet.

I was cooked like a kid in its mother’s milk.

I grew up on the scraps they threw under the table.

I’ve learned to sing

like a streetcorner guitar case

that belts it out

like an open coffin at the Last Supper

where all they ever eat is flesh and blood

and I’m a desert on a diet

that’s not into moral food.

If religion wanted to do my generation any good

it should go confess its accusation

to a world it’s misunderstood

like a child it won’t admit

is the issue of its own miscegenation.

I am a Canadian poet

from a big country with with an aquiline overview

of human nature red in tooth and claw

and like you

I am a citizen of the same abomination.

I arm myself to go to peace.

I talk myself to death

instead of committing suicide.

When nobody wants to know you

what have you got to hide?

There’s no risk in being open.

And yesterday always tells me the truth

about why it lied to my youth

about why the windows were weeping for the future

like a skull with glacial lakes for eyes

and a place on the totem

they keep for the dead

where I just can’t seem to get ahead

of my own prophecies.

Here’s one.

Stick a fork in it.

I’m as done as a barbecue in hell

and that doesn’t mean I just don’t feel well

it means I can feel the flesh slipping from my bones

like snow off a roof in a spring warm-up

and all I’ve got to live on

is recalled food for thought.

I’m grateful for everything

but sometimes it’s hard to know

what to be grateful for

when everything tastes like a foodbank

or Canadian culture

with the government for a muse.

For nearly fifty years

I’ve burned like a furnace

with the mouth of a fountain

firewalking across the waterstars.

There’s no axle on the wheel of birth and death

but for years I’ve been spinning it in the mud

thinking it might go somewhere

if I drive hard enough

but all I’ve done

is carded and spun whole cloth like Ghandi

from cottonmouths and fer de lance

meant to regulate the baby boom in slaves

like a cottage industry.

Now the skin I wore

like Yeats’ coat of old mythologies

in the fools’ eyes

to cover my enterprising nakedness

fits like the shroud of Turin

in a snakepit of sewing machines

that keep testing my bloodstream for plutonium.

It’s hard to learn to walk on water

when it’s high tide without any waves

and you’re always falling through the ice

too far from shore to risk a rescue.

When I’m cold enough to take my own advice.

I am a Canadian poet.

Second to none.

Because more than any nation could encompass

I’m first and foremost human.

And though it’s my brain

it’s not my mind

anymore than the wind is

and what it thinks

is not my personal property

to put my name on

and say I own this.

Sooner say you own the leaves in fall

you can at least take a rake to

and gather up and dispose of

like junkmail that came to the wrong address

than say this thought is mine

and that thought is yours.

You make a fist

of an open hand.

You begin to live behind closed doors

to keep yours in

and theirs out.

You concoct wars

that get out of hand

to change their children’s minds.

Wasn’t King Canute

and Britain when she put to sea

enough to convince anybody

that if anyone did rule the waves

nobody told the waves?

It’s the same with your mind.

How are your wavelengths

any different than those of the sea?

It’s like a star saying I own that light.

And I’m the one who decides whom it falls upon.

I am a Canadian poet.

The light is free

as it always has been

to create anything it wants to.

And though they’re my eyes

who can say the seeing

belongs to them alone?

You get the pointless point

of cowboy Zen?

I’m not a fountain pen

with blue blood for ink.

I say what I think without a blotter

to wipe my mouth clean of what I’ve said

like snow melting on the red oak in the woodshed

because it can’t take the heat

and wants to get out of the fridge.

I am a Canadian poet.

Wilderness flowers.

Fireweed after every conflagration

and columbine in the ashs

that didn’t know what else to grow.

And I suppose I should say something corny

about wheat and beavers and maple leaves and Mounties

and all that

but you already know and besides

at the bottom of all these totem poles

and reformed trees

that went to A.A. for drinking too much

I’m a lot more complicated than that.

I’m more dangerous

than any hardware store

you’ve ever met before.

And one thing about being born into a country

with enormous natural resources

like a mouse in a well-stocked pantry

you can afford to be seen

being kind and considerate to the poor

or as I do

scream murder

when I hear them being killed on the news.

Orpheus picks up his guitar in the corner

and begins to sing the blues.

See what I mean?

It’s obscene to be so decent about suffering

you raise both hands to stop it.

Every quarter given that was asked.

No surrender.

In this country that makes me an iconoclast.

Stand fast in the name

of any deception you disown

and you’re an outlaw

bad to the bone.

In literature class

they teach you to kiss ass anapestically

at wine and cheese soirees

making small talk awkwardly

across language barriers

with cultural attaches

after the reading

after the hour you spent

listening to cement

lament some lost cornerstone

that brought the house down

like the government

when she just couldn’t shovel

or churn it out anymore

and pretend it was butter

and good luck woman

made for the door.

He wants to call her a whore.

But he’s too nice for that.

So he talks about her poetry

as if it were as flat-chested

as she believed she was

playing to her worst fear

like paint ball

in suggestive overtones of camouflage.

A whole hour

waiting for one good line

that isn’t about making jam

or bleeding maples for their syrup

and how to flip a pancake like a lyric

over an open fire on the shore of Canoe Lake

where Tom Tomson drowned

standing up in his birchbark

to take a piss

or being hit on the head with a poker

out of jealousy

and somebody swapped his body with an Inuit

so its hard to intuit whose ghost was left

to give the creative seance of poets on tour

a sponsor to write about.

I write from the inside out

not the outside in.

I put the pauper before the prince

because I don’t like dressing up for royalty

and my girlfriend couldn’t afford a hat to meet the queen.

She was a hell of a human being

but she had rude hair

that wasn’t familiar with protocol.

She could paint like Frieda Rivera

or Georgia O’Keefe

but she was raised on welfare in Westmount

and didn’t think she needed a hat

to go anywhere

except when it rained

and even then she didn’t mind getting wet.

Things are so bittersweet here

you’d think everyone kept killer bees

and a hive was as good as a muse

to poets as dormant as smoke.

They all burn cedar boughs in a bucket

they swing like pioneer incense

to chase the bats out of the attic

across the road to their neighbour’s house

who answers them in kind with odes.

But I’m not a turtle crossing.

I am a Canadian poet

with low enough self-esteem

like the sea at the foot of the mountains

to compel me to abuse myself

by pursuing an earthly excellence

that’s always a threshold beyond

my material means to achieve

but works wonders for the spirit

you wouldn’t believe.

I can conceive gold easy enough

when I write like the Yukon

but I live like ore

at the bottom of an abandoned mine

that was staked out by alchemists years ago

like base metal trying to strike it rich

without having to be philosophical about it.

I am a Canadian poet.

That’s not a fact.

That’s an interpretation.

And I’m turning it

like a jewel in the light

to see if that means

I’m the right man for the wrong nation.

Nature or nurture.

Dynamic equilibrium

or the membranal equivalence of hyperspace

blowing bubbles that pop like worlds?

The same eye by which I see my country

is the same eye by which it sees me?

I can live with the ambivalence if need be

but what I can’t stand

is the artificiality of the collective unconcious

when it starts adding flags and logos to its archetypes.

Jung would weep himself to sleep

every night like a recurring nightmare for years

or turn into an advertising executive

just to see how polluted things can get

when you leave the farm to an idiot.

You end up threshing waterlilies

and the engineers can’t help

competing with beavers

to see who can build the most dams.

I am a Canadian poet.

I think like Montreal

but I feel just like Toronto

with Vancouver for a spiritual life

and Ottawa for a conscience.

But I’m most at home in the backwoods

with flowering weeds and islands of trees

the farmers circumnavigate with ploughs

with little things that go on in the grass

as if everything that went on in the rest of the universe

were of absolutely no concern to them.

One-eyed Zen.

Ants on the chicory.

The fox is in its den.

I can see more space in a grain of sand

than a dragonfly’s got places

to plant pot on crown land.

And I like the way time stops

when nobody’s watching

and there’s something ageless about aging

I hadn’t noticed before

that makes me feel I’ve been here forever

and none of my questions

about what human beings are doing

walking around on the earth

really mattered anymore

now that I’ve found a place

for my homelessness

in Canadian folklore.

I used to feel trivial

surrounded by so much that was majestic.

Sunsets out over the Pacific

that put poppies to shame

and the savage pyramids of the pharoanic Rockies

too young to have an afterlife

worth the time and effort that has to go into it.

And besides

who needs hieroglyphs

when you’ve got the Burgess Shales?

I used to feel small

scurrying around in the shadows

of the tall imperium next door

under the feet of a brontosaur

waiting for a meteor

like my only hope

to get this dinosaur off my back.

I don’t have the genes to dominate a species

and evolution when you get right down to it

isn’t much of an achievement

when all it amounts to

is trying to make up for what you lack.

In art that means

there’s lots of grants for ingenuity

but none for genius.

The first painting goes up on the fridge.

The second jumps from a bridge

just to show them

how creative it is.

But that was years ago

when the only things I didn’t doubt

were trees.

I learned to weather things

like a whistling cherub in the corner of a map

that tells you which way the wind is blowing

by the gps of its cheeks.

I tasted the weather for myself

and found out all that rant

they taught me in highscool

about the pathetic fallacy not being true

was just science’s way

of looking at snow like a labcoat.

I am a Canadian poet.

It really does rain when I do.