Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Honeysuckle and wild raspberries.

Enclaves of sap green shadows

where the grasshoppers take shelter from the sun.

Cerulean blue chicory by the side of the road

and star clusters of New England asters

thrust like a bouquet of constellations

through the broken down stave

of a cedar rail fence

that’s past caring

whether it keeps things in

or lets them out.

Here once

many years ago

I tried to live far away from pain

and here again

though I know better now

than to think paradise

is any kind of anodyne

my eye is caught off guard

by every manner of earthly excellence

that isn’t ambivalent or deceitful.

I once walked this dirt road

for five miles one night

followed by what looked like

a black wolf with ruby eyes

that flashed like an ambulance in the moonlight

every time I turned around

to see if it was still there

or if it were closing on me.

A fire walk of fear.

I won’t say I found courage that night.

I would say I was unscared.

The moon weaves silver dreamcatchers

for the spiders

and even the low growl

of a wilderness that’s grown curious about you

can be a liberating mantra.

I approach this place

like the creative imagination of a good teacher

unfurling the sails of the morning glory

like spare parachutes

to catch the wind

and sail all the way down the Yang-tze River

like the swans of anonymous loveletters.

Violet loosestrife and goldenrod.

Flowers are what

complementary colours look like

when they’re dancing.

And here I learned

picking up the skulls of squirrels and groundhogs

as if they were pinecones

and watching the bewilderment

of a wounded doe

try and fail to clear a fence

that would have been child’s play to her yesterday

and the two children

buried before they were four

at the turn of the century

up on the top of the high hill

under a shipwreck of an oak

that’s never put to sea

how death is as equally acceptable to life

as life is to death.

The wild grapevines

are writing their own kind of music

drunk on whole notes

and the dragonflies are coming down

like C.I.A. drones

on cells of terrorist mosquitoes.

Though I’m cellularly immersed in it

there’s a gap between me and nature

that isn’t so much the space between

one thing and another

as it is a bubble of thought and passion

in a great sea of vivifying awareness

washed up on the shores of consciousness

like a bottle from a faraway place

with no message inside

except light years and light years of longing.

Nature is the midwife of a serial killer.

Nature is the dark mother that gives birth to all things.

Nature is a metaphor for me

as I am for it.

A coincidence of the contradictories.

Closer than a face is to its own reflection.

Closer than the sea is

that wraps this airy nothing in a skin of water

and then treats it to the tattoo it’s always wanted

on its birthday

like the sign of the house it was born under

in the black stars of an unforgettable constellation.

Someone once said

that death was self-containment.

I disagree with that.

Life is a bubble.

And poof !

In the twinkling of an eye

there goes the neighbourhood.

Death is rapid expansion into the open.

Life toes the threshold

but it’s death that crosses it

and enters its homelessness

like the primordial atom

on the road to nowhere

that isn’t here and now.

Down to the swamp

to check out the water lilies.

I painted down here for years

with a French easel as shaky as a fawn

getting up on its folding legs for the first time.

A blue heron snaps the air like a wet sheet

and startles the frogs into popcorn.

Life soup.

Green scum.

A deer path

and a beaver

repairing a mud hut

that would have turned into civilization

if it hadn’t harvested trees

instead of grass.

You can hear the silence

of a watchful presence

over and above the sounds

of life going on all around you

when you’re alone in a marsh like this.

You can smell the transformation

of the duff and decay

into the beauty food of the waterlilies.

You can tine the air like the tongue of a snake

and taste the cauldron brewing

the eye of the newt

and the one-legged frog

into the ambrosia of water hyacinths

as blue as Raphael.

I feel like the sorcerer’s apprentice

the first day on the job.

A praying mantis.

A Vietnam of dragonflies.

But what I saw here day after day

through all four seasons of the year

I’d come down here to paint

showed me nature is nurture

and life suckles at death’s tit.

But you can’t tell

who’s being raised by whose assassin.

Who’s the exit.

Who’s the entrance.

Because there’s just one big open gate

hinged like birds to the sky

with nothing written above it

as a sign of welcome or warning

and you’re greeted by nothing but your own presence.

And I’ve sat out here by myself

until the first light of morning

just to look for clues among the stars.

But the mysteries don’t answer you

like questions it occurred to you to ask

They go on and on forever

like wounded joys

the radiance and the wonder

cut so deep

they never want to heal.

You can appeal to the stars for clarity.

You can look for small suggestions in the grass.

You can get a feel

for where the wildflowers

like to gather in abandoned fields

and where the pioneers

who grew them in gardens

just behind the summer kitchen

like Bouncing Bet

whose sap they used for soap

buried the tiny children

who died of scarlet fever

under the crude grave stones

of the Canadian Shield.

And the hills they chose like nannies

to watch over them

with beauty and affection.

And the silence and the sorrow

of the long sparse walk

back down to the farm without them.

And when you put your ear up to their abyss

you’d swear you could hear their voices

asking you the same questions

that they asked of themselves.

Is there a meaning to all this

that’s more than just a flash

of lightning and fireflies?

Anything you can say or feel about life

that isn’t always two children shy of the truth?