Friday, July 29, 2011


Playing Russian roulette with the moon.

Nothing left to lose.

Nothing left to win.

Maybe it would advance

my literary career.

Everybody loves a dead poet.

And I’ve been putting it out

for the last forty-eight light years.

Mongolian immensities of agony.

Nothing less than everything all the time.

Through wives kids lovers afterlives

and more excruciations and devastations of myself

than even I can comprehend

how they’ve twisted space around me

like an anaconda

trying to make me bend.

Feast or famine

I’ve refused to equate

my financial situation with my emotional life.

And I hear from my compeers I have no common sense.

But then they haven’t been endowed

with the crazy wisdom I have

and I can see the assassin

in the shadows of their advice

even when they disguise their true intent

by wearing rose petals for eyelids.

Intense but ultimately irrelevant.

Most things kill me deeper into life.

So there’s really nothing to resent.

And society doesn’t owe me anything

as far as I’m concerned

because it didn’t put the gun to my head

and say write.

I did that all on my own.

And I’m so used to it now

it’s as easy as picking up a telephone

and calling ahead to see if I’m still at home.

Fool, said my muse to me.

Look into your heart and write.

Good advice from Sir Philip Sydney

and I’ve done that

whether what I saw

was an oracular snake pit

this singularity of a bullet

at the bottom of a black hole

or a star map of fireflies

trying to lead me to enlightenment.

I’ve been as loyally disobedient to the muse

as inspiration clarity and courage

have allowed me to be

to the point where I feel

I’m the lab rat

and she’s the experiment.

And he obeys even as he oversteps the bounds.

Orpheus and Rilke got it right.

But the night is not a reward

and insight can be a lot more brutal than ignorance

when it slashes you

like the interactive edge

of a broken mirror

that doesn’t like what it’s looking at.

I’ve had enough of a taste of fame

to know it’s bad water

and spit it out

and I hear I’ve established my name

in Canadian literature

like a pre-paid grave

in a teachable immortality

where my remains

will be mummified in paper.

I’ve published books

and made it into Poetry Chicago

when I was twenty-six.

I’ve done my time standing up

and paid my dues

in a hundred stupid interviews

where they asked the same questions of a poet

as they would a horse vet.

I’ve been the last poet laureate of Ottawa

for the past twenty years

and I’ve got four literary awards

that don’t take themselves too seriously

and two shelves crammed with periodicals

that do nothing but sit on their hands

like literary credentials

that haven’t convinced me of anything

except how necessary it is to rebel

against my own authority

in a spontaneous west coast sixties way

that picked me up like a habit

when I went to university

to study the stars

like constellations of razor wire

with black holes

in a concentration camp fence.

And I can wince at the clown

that talked his way like face-paint

through nine documentaries

that always begin with a shot of my cowboy boots

as I’m walking down the road

desperately trying not to look

like the stem cell of a stereotype

dangerous mysterious and creatively sublime

at the same time

as kids eating ice-cream cones on skateboards

are trying to show off for the camera

by doing figure eights around me

that stop on a dime

as Gary Cooper walks down main street at high noon

wondering how Thomas Hardy would have handled this.

Point is.

In my eyes

I’ve only ever been as good as my next gig

and that’s not the measure of anything.

Forever young

I’m a constant beginner

that approaches experience like a future memory.

It keeps me empty and clear.

It’s a trick I picked up from the stars.

By the time your light catches up to your eyes

you should be already gone gone gone beyond

where you appear to be.

Don’t give them the lead

on a moving target in the dark

and if you’ve got a few to believe in

and even the mailman does

don’t believe in your own myths and legends

because the moment you do

they’ll immediately turn into a farce

starring you as a famous buffoon.

And it’s okay to render experience

communicable through form

but don’t forget that form itself

is just a special expression of chaos

the way a straight line in calculus

is just a special form of a curve.

And if you take a utilitarian approach to symbols

they become logos flags badges of rank

brands and prison tats.

The purpose of art

is to be purposeless from the first.

That’s why it can square

the abstract absurdity

of a concrete reality

with a human life in despair

playing Russian roulette with the moon

without losing its innocence.


And the sound of the empty’s

louder than the bullet

when I put my finger

on the trigger of the moon

and pull it.