THERE’S AN ELEGANT GOWN
There’s an elegant gown
pouring down from the shoulders
of a skeletal hanger in a store-front windowpane
waiting for someone to fill it with life.
Strange and sad to be asked
to pay more for the dress
than you would be to buy the woman
but I’ve seen the same look in an animal shelter
on the faces of the kittens
that wouldn’t be given a home.
The eagerness of so much
that won’t happen.
Women that were almost loved.
Poems that just missed being written.
Men who were the ricochet
but not the first shot.
Echoes of forgotten sounds
of voices that have long ago fallen silent.
Doorways that weren’t meant for the people
who stepped through them.
Fireflies in a spider web
that didn’t quite rise like a constellation.
Old snake skins that life has slipped out of
leaving them with an amputee’s
phantom feeling of missing limbs
or used condoms.
Who’s wasting away
in the torrid apartments
above the Sunday night desolation
of the illuminated grave goods
in the closed boutiques
buried in their own isolation?
What solitudes of genius
are peopling the air
with sagas of love and vice
in those elevated fire-traps
of municipal avarice?
What moments of disregarded beauty
are teaching the mirrors
how to paint what they see
when no one’s looking
What roses disappointed
by eyes that weren’t worthy of their blooming?
The water lilies indistinguishable
from the litter of the Tim Horton’s coffee-cups
that rolled up their rims
and were thrown into the
Even among the geriatric shut-ins
whose children don’t come up from
to visit them
no matter how ill and alone they are.
Even among the orgiastic adolescents
cradling their beers like criminal grails
on the stairs of the neon pool hall
above the antiquated carwash.
Even among those
whose lonely Friday night imperatives
were fuck fight or pass out
nursing their weekends like a phone
between their chin and shoulder
in the booth outside Mac’s Milk
as if they were calling in a hot story
before the shit hits the sluglines
of who’s a slut
for turning them down
and who they’re going to pay back
for the sucker punch that knocked them to the ground.
Even among those who were elected
by secret ballots of rumour
to the ranks of the wrecked and ruined
for making a pass at all that is
consensually good and light and innocent about life
like the underground aldermen of anti-matter.
Even among all those who violate the integrity
of their self-inflicted wounds
by despising the body and mind
that made them do it
like voodoo dolls martyred by the curse they cast
upon their eyes their arms their inner thighs
as if razorblades were the ministrants
of an estranged blessing
that longed for punishment.
Even among those blinded
by the glare of their own blazing
as if they knew nothing of time but
what forbidden stars shine beyond their solar flares?
Who among these
in the upstairs heritage ghettoes of
watching their teeth fall out on welfare and junkfood
as their children stare at them like deserted parking lots
might have found a cure for cancer
if they’d been given half an educated chance
at one precise moment in their lives
to discover how much more grievously
their minds had been deprived
by the ditch-pigs of high finance
than the troughs of their garbaged bodies?
Poverty isn’t an economic condition
or a lack of ambition
a failure of the imagination
or some clandestine punishment
wreaked by some right-wing God
because there was no lobbyist for the poor
who could make a significant contribution
to the cause of the rich
who suffer like stock markets from famines in
or suggest lucrative amendments to the Book of Genesis
so the poor would still be waiting in line
on the day of Creation
for the scraps of the afterbirth of everyone else
at the same old foodbank.
I see the propaganda of greed.
I see the merchandising of ideals.
I see art that has been turned out on the street
by cynical pimps like Andy Warhol
and how colours and words and symbols
have become the lackeys of logos
enshrined in the human imagination
like the false idols of Uruk
or the infanticidal death brokers
of Mammon and Baal
who ate the poor kids first as always
and if that didn’t work
do ut abeas
I give so that you go away
fed them a rich man’s brats.
By the time I get to Roger’s Road
heading out to the starfields
to escape the light pollution
I’m raging like a volcanic fumarole of the sixties
on the bottom of the seabed again
where I thought things were settled
like a shipwreck once and for all
and revolution had been hung up on the wall
like an antique pistol that had made its point
like some rainbow paint ball
tamped into a hippie musket
in some abortive attempt at independence
and the end of human enslavement.
I’m wise enough to know
by a fluke of intuition
I’m not wise enough to know what new limb
we could grow in its place
that would keep the pudgy fingers of a fat chance
out of our children’s underpants
but free enterprise is beginning to look more and more
from the point of view of the poor
like a flesh-eating disease.
A black cat darts out from a thorn apple bush
and crosses my path
and I laugh to think
how much darker I am inside
than either the night or him
and how much less bad luck he can bring me
than a jinxed prayer-wheel
in the heart of a human
whose path he’s just crossed
like the event horizon of a black hole in transit.
If the gods ever had a divine sense of humour
looking at the abomination
they made of our creation
like Marduk from the body parts of Tiamat
it’s probably degenerated into a black farce by now.
Tomorrow you’ll be road kill
like the rest of us.
Squashed flatter than a logo
on an empty pack of Black Cat cigarettes.
No more witches for you.
Except in magazines
when the homeless dead walk the earth
in the party hats of commercial Halloweens.
God all I want to do is look at some stars
to make sure I haven’t forgotten any of their names
in four languages
and see what flowers are in bloom
down by the river beyond Conlon Farm.
I want to pull the thorns out of my heart with my teeth
like crescent moons in the privacy of my pain.
I want to feel like less of a fuck-up on my own
than I do when I’m with people
even if it’s just for as long
as it takes the third eye of a hurricane
trying to stare down what’s raging around it
to blink and lose its nerve.
I don’t want to come down on Sispyhus
pushing his little planet up a hill
like a cosmic avalanche of asteroids
he wouldn’t have the heart or balls to adapt to
without the kind sex-change
that didn’t pitch its tent in the place of excrement
as William Butler Yeats would say
alluding to the caravanserai of love.
As above so below
but if so
Are people forced to eat shit
and call it their daily bread in heaven too?
Panes et circenses.
Bread and circuses
but who watches the watchers?
But now it’s no bread
and nothing but celebrity clowns and pundits
keeping one eye on the camera
and the other on the watchers
like the latest ratings of their very own reality show
casting wide their wavelengths
like nets in the hands of the fishers of men.
Four years of an English university education
that taught me to say things in six words
that a farmer could say in one
and how literature took its commercial revenge
upon the artist
by selling the holy relics of heretics
to the iconically addicted illiterates
who don’t know that saeva indignatio in Latin
is just another way of putting words
in Jonathan Swift’s mouth
so he doesn’t say fuck you out loud
on behalf of all the starving
sexually-molested children of
in a periphrastic English class
studying the seven kinds of ambiguity
that nourish the minds of well-read cannibals
with food for thought.
I want to be gentled by the fireflies
and have the wind pass casually by me
like an animal that knows I’m not a threat
because I haven’t moved in half an hour.
I don’t want to taste these black bitter crumbs of burnt bread
acridly cloying my tongue my voice my heart.
Someone once handed me a note
as I stepped off stage at a poetry reading
that said I was the black-robed outlaw poet priest of Canadian literature
but I’m not that kind of comic book
I’m not a farcical celebrity
that makes an art of himself
to disguise the fact
that he’s an uninspired mediocrity.
And though it made me feel
like a Chaplineque parody of Zorro for a moment
I knew from years on the street
and reading Don Quixote
that the quickest way to deceive someone
is to make them believe in an illusion of themselves.
If you want to pop someone’s balloon
And I thought to myself
how insufferably cultural everything is
like the taste of home-made jam
when children everywhere are starving.
And how obscenely irrelevant
and perversely distractive
the wet firecrackers of our tiny heartbreaks are
trying to win an audience
for the profundity of the pain
that pricks the toe of art
to see if there’s any feeling left in the limb
and if our blood is still blue
when people all over the world tonight
are forced to eat theirs
like apples with hidden loveletters
that taste like razor-blades
at a family gathering of body parts.
I love the tincture of moonlight
on the gathering storm clouds.
I love the chandeliers of the columbine
their bells of rain
on the moss-caked rocks in the spring.
I’m still amazed after sixty-two years
at the raptures of silence
the spear heads of light
humility and wonder
that can pierce my heart and eyes like stars.
I can look at the morning glory
and see grails goblets
the soft cool skin of the moon
like opalescent lingerie spread on a bush to dry
when she stepped out of it
like the wavelength of her lover serpent last night
to renew her virginity on the sly.
And I yearn to be immersed
in these realms of beauty and awe
like a mystic junkie shooting stars
who’s always looking to get fixed up.
I admit it.
But the cool background of universal bliss
I could exist in forever
just as often as it frees my heart and mind
like unsubjected inspiration
with nothing but time on its hands
to expand into an abyss of darkness and insight
turns into the radioactive hiss
in the foreground of creation
and a savage indignation burns like acid
thrown in the eyes of cosmic elation
when I consider the atrocities
of squandered human potential
in a global society
that isn’t bonded like atoms by love
into the greater harmony of seeing and being
like Pax genes inspired to open our eyes
but is viciously sustained by an imbalance of hatreds
that is catastrophically breaking like continents and skullcaps apart
as if everyone held a pharmaceutical patent
on a different part of the disease
that afflicts our brains and hearts.
And love understanding compassion wonder gratitude
more and more were merely the slag and ore
of the unrefined
who don’t understand
like William Carlos Williams’
little red wheel barrow in the rain
beside the white chickens
how much depends upon war
upon neglect indifference greed lies
murder injustice corruption terror theft and arrogance.
I hear beta-chimps in the wild
will snatch a baby out of the arms of a female
that won’t fornicate with them
and trash it on the rocks.
But what’s that compared to us
who’ve got a big enough neo-cortex
to let twenty-five million children starve to death a year
and don’t dare think for a second
I’m just talking about food.
Sins of omission.
Obscenities of attrition.
The topsoil of the ground of being
the open commons of our mutual humanity
blown away like the dust from which we came
that we were rooted in like the nerves and arteries
that are rooted in our flesh and blood and bones.
Wasn’t it the angel of light
that shone upon the earth
and elaborated us out of starmud
so that when we look out into the incredible darkness that surrounds us
the incomprehensible intensities of chaos and cosmos
Pascal’s vast vacant interstellar spaces
we can embody those solitudes
in the nucleus of everyone of our corpuscles
as if the stars had said to our stem cells
let there be eyes
and we could see creation
as we do the Pleiades
from the inside out
each one of us
each and every sentient life form on the planet
a mystically specific insight into ourselves
in this realm of darkness and light
where it isn’t so much the vision
as it is the shining
that inspires these worlds within worlds
we look upon these days
as if we were estranged
by the works of our hearts and our hands?
M-theory says two undulant membranes
pucker and kiss in hyperspace
and there’s a big bang
and then there’s us
turning the birth sacs
of baby universes
into body bags
we stuff with heroes and their victims.
And if I were to tell you they were both
metaphors for the emptiness of the human heart
longing to be fulfilled
by the urgency of the life within them
would you be so quick to take a bath
in your own grave
to wash yourself clean of the blood you’ve profaned
knowing you’re just bad meat in your own womb
or would you make room for everyone else
to be born along with you
like a child gives birth to its mother and father
or a true gift makes a gift of the giver?
What if I said your heart’s a wishing well
would you throw the full moon down it
like a gold coin
or would you wait for it to grow horns
like quotation marks
and putrefy your own waters with a goat skull?
What if I said
twisting Jesus a bit
you are that one
that it is done unto
when you do it to the least of these?
Do unto others before they do it unto you
is a sword of iron pyrite in the hands of a fool
trying to abase the incorruptible metal of the golden rule.
And there’s no doubt
the past is as creatively mutable as the present and the future
in the timelessness of now
so what could you say to your mother
who carried you for nine months
like a blue moon waxing to full in her belly
when she looks
at the abomination she gave birth to
and there’s no alibi you can use to excuse
turning her womb retroactively into a toilet
that flushed when her water broke?
When the roots of the tree of life
are at war with the flower
don’t expect much in the way of fruit.
What if I said
before the unborn beginningless beginning
of Higgs-boson God particles
it’s always been the genius of the human imagination
to make the inconceivable believable
and then in a leap of inspiration beyond that
Isn’t that what makes the earth
a habitable planet for all of us?
Life is a suggestible creative medium
that spontaneously adapts to us
like karma and stem cells and paint
as we express our visions of being and not being
like millions of drops of water on the grass
everyone a locket of the moon
shaped like our tears
like the billions of stars
that have exhausted their lives
so we could open our eyes and look at them
as the enlightened progenitors of our own shining.
Like billions of windows and mirrors
each looking out at the mystery of being
with their own way of seeing
in this radiant house of light.
Bitter and intense
the black-hearted prophecies
that denounce us now.
The eyeless chandelier of swords
that hangs over our heads now
like nuclear weapons in our siloes
when there should be wheat.
There should be clean water and benign air.
There should be peace and abundance
and the lyrical escapades of lovers and birds
in the unviolated olive groves of earth.
There should be books and medicine
muse and mystery.
There should be
cool herb gardens on the moon
that gently put their fingers to the lips
of wounded fountain mouths
like the healing secrets of the silence in a rainforest
we’re slashing and burning and cutting down
like chainsaws with rabies
that bites the doctor that could heal them.
Why should one human demand a pyramid
to house his afterlife
and another be compelled
to live now under a grain of sand
with his whole family
waiting for immigration to raid their birthright?
There should be houses for all like chrysales
where caterpillars can turn into butterflies
and children can make their way to school safely
through a crosswalk of thresholds
that aren’t the event horizons of the black holes
we lead them into now.
But there isn’t.
There’s just this vapid harvest of air
gathering like explosive gases
to demonize the human spirit
like flamethrowers in a snake pit.
What place is this
where we paint our faces in blood
to celebrate those we desecrate
by dressing our spirits up
in the feathers and local embroidery of our victims?
One day our hearts just run out of time like a waterclock.
One day thought is chopped off
like the last head on a hydra that can’t grow anymore
and our passions drop off
like the blossoms and radio telescopes
that keep their ears open on the towers of the hollyhocks
that listen in on the babble
of polyglot PsychoBabylon in exile.
One night our hanging gardens
just kick the stool right out from under our feet
and the long conversation we’ve been having with the stars
clicks its heels like Dorothy in the Wizard or Oz
and a Nazi appears in a krystal nacht of mirrors
and curtly stops like a reel of tape
endlessly replicating the parallel universe next door.
It’s one thing to explore the mystery of life
without expecting an answer
and it’s another altogether
to approach it like cancer
Was anything heard?
Did anyone listen?
Or did our mouths just make sounds
that drowned out the shrieks and groans
of the people we slaughtered
in the roar of the aesthetics of desecration
at a Nuremburg rally
at a political convention of ideologues
at an abbatoir of Wall Street speculators
trading the bundled junk bonds
of what they’ve made of people’s lives
on the electrically prodded stock exchange?
The TSX of human flesh.
The slave block of the nations.
The cave of vampiric succubbi
that incubates the nightmares
that open Pandora’s Box in a panic every morning
at the sound of a bell in a bloodbank of hell.
Go forth and multiply
didn’t mean a feeding frenzy
of sharks that eat their own.
Didn’t mean thrive at the expense
of everyone else.
look upon human suffering
as an unlooked-for opportunity to heal yourself.
There should be a book left ajar
to tell the next night’s story
like a child’s mind
and the door to her bedroom
to let the light in
and the shadows out.
There should be a boy
noticing how his telescope
looks like a praying mantis
or the skeletal remains
of a reassembled dinosaur.
There should be a library
not just a gallery
for rejected genius
and shrines to those who were martyred
by their own imagination.
There should be a tree or a fountain
or an eternal flame
dedicated like a new religion
to the unknown dignity
of every anonymous hapless human
that ever looked out of an upstairs apartment window
at the weather
at the bleak deserted streets
the unenigmatic doorways
the empty confessionals of the streetlamps
the garbage cans
the parking meters
the bright vacancy
in the dark abundance of the storefronts
the litter in the gutters
the wind keeps nudging
into new signs of life
and comparing the human condition
to what they have become
took the fall for all of us.
There should be an open field
full of wildflowers and stars
that come a little closer each night
and an innocent gate on one hinge
that knows that human freedom isn’t just a matter
of getting things out
but more profoundly
mastering the spontaneous discipline
of the ancestral art of the heart
that lets them in.