Wednesday, July 27, 2011


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 Tay.

Even among the geriatric shut-ins

whose children don’t come up from Toronto

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 noon

what forbidden stars shine beyond their solar flares?

Who among these

in the upstairs heritage ghettoes of Perth

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 Somalia

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 Carthage and Phoenicia

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.

Poor cat.

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

why go?

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 Ireland

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

expand it.

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’m hooked.

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

practising espionage.

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

brokering commodities

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.

Didn’t mean

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.