TRY A LITTLE HUMOUR I SAID TO MYSELF
Try a little humour I said to myself
as I held a Baretta up to my temple
to blast my way like the C.P.R.
through a tunnel in a mountain
to the seaward side of Hell’s Gate.
I tried to keep it light as a can of American beer
but beer to a Canadian poet
goes a lot deeper than that.
It isn’t a career it’s fate
and there’s nothing you can do about it
except try to engineer your suicide
like the Little Train That Couldn’t
to make it look as if you were laying track line by line
across a waterbed of four thousand square miles of muskeg
when you fell through a crack in the social net
like a childhood event in the life of Icarus
that keeps you from getting up off the ground
even at twenty-five below in a snow bank
drunk out of your mind
like some Canuck Dionysiac
dumbed down by his revels
after the Eleusinian mysteries of the sacred bars close early.
Revelation arrives here
like the memory of the night before
to a hangover that just can’t believe it.
The prophets of delayed insight
like the lag time on a star
see things in black and white
and hide in the bellies of killer whales
dressed like logos
protesting through their blow holes
the desecration of the seal hunt
haemorrhaging like ice-floes
in the ruthless gloaming
of the land of the midnight sun.
Imagine living in a mindscape
where you can’t dig wells or graves
half the year round
because the ground is as hard as an Irish nun.
And who needs rockets to get to the moon
when we rise per ardua per astra
through bolts and bars to the stars?
We reach cruising altitude
through a long runway
of dams and canals and locks
that elevate us slowly
like salmon swimming up stream
against the flow of time
like mystic beaver waterclocks
to enlightened extremes of undisciplined bliss
just before we die.
Fanatics of fair-mindedness
that balance life with death
by giving each its turn
to put an end to the argument
by seconding the suicides
of the winners and losers
in Last Duel Park
to make it a fair fight.
I’ve lived sixty-three years here.
I was born here
in the salmon-fishing capital of the world.
Campbell River, British Columbia.
And I still feel
like a political exile
who’s just taken sanctuary
on the grounds of the Canadian embassy
somewhere in my home and native land.
Here in Perth, Ontario,
out in the sticks
you belong to an extended tribal family.
Closer to town,
a distinguished blood line
of imperial ancestors
rooted five generations back
overly posed in sepia-tinged daguerreotypes
that look like they were painted in nicotine stains
against a backdrop of white with liver spots
and placed in funereal frames
to form a long scornful gauntlet
of moral opprobrium
down the long echoing halls
of the municipal mausoleum
where I go to buy my garbage-tags.
And where are the women
who gave birth to these stalworthies
of pride and place and privilege
in an imported milieu of cultured hypocrisy?
Were none worthy
of staring back at me disapprovingly
or were their hearts so big and compassionate,
their wombs so generous,
the ones who didn’t expire like daylilies
had to go so native to survive
they weren’t worthy of mention.?
Anyway, point is.
On any average day in Canada
since I was born
in the pantry of the world
I’ve felt like an endless Thanksgiving
I spend with myself.
My hospitable passport
a welcome mat I can drop
in front of any threshold in the world,
a screening myth for what was done
to the natives around here.
Maybe that’s why I feel
more homeless at home
than I do on the road.
I’m not staying long enough
to push the host out of his own house.
Good spiritual manners
and I’m a mannerly Canadian
are as much about timing as content.
Space may define the body of my country,
but it’s soul is time
measured in mountains and glaciers
and vast seabeds of prehistoric oceans
in lakes big enough to be the vital organs
of an entire continent
and stars so ferociously bright
in the absolute night air of mid-winter
they’d burn holes in anybody’s flag
like cluster-bombs of white phosphorus
were someone to try and naturalize them.
When you’re living in a country this size
it’s inevitable that you’re going to feel
like a small person forced to do big things
just to survive.