Saturday, November 19, 2011



The silence has grown so magnanimous in the night

it encompasses all of space and time

in a palace of dark matter

with light beaming through

the cracks of the planets

that have been stacked into walls

like the skulls the Mongols heaped up

like the foundation stones of Samarkand,

Olmecs in Teotihuacan,

or on a gentler note, Golgotha.

Upon one skull you can build a church.

And an Orphic skull might look like

a dead moon to ordinary eyes

but when your inner vision waxes to full

you realize when it drops its jaw

as if it were gaping at something transfixing

to prophesy what comes next

as you asked it to

life is swarming all over it

like black ants over the globular clusters

of the white peonies abandoned by a farmhouse garden.

Two twenty a.m. and I’m sitting

on the tie of a high train trestle

trying not to get slivers in my ass

and black creosote all over

my last clean pair of jeans.

I’m dangling my feet in the abyss below me

like a kid gone fishing in a Norman Rockwell painting

and positioning my arms like the legs of a French easle

so I can tilt my head back like a telescope

on an alta-azimuth mount

and look at the explosive array of stars before me

without falling off my vertiginous perch

because my gerry-mandered tripod

couldn’t keep its bearings straight.

It’s a mistake to count on a crutch for a rung

on this endless extension ladder

on the back of a fire-engine

because it couldn’t reach

the windowsills of the stars

missing a dimension or two

to reach the woman in the moon

with her hands up against the glass

screaming for someone to come to her rescue

as the windows melt faster than they can weep.

Stars are to me

what cocaine is to a mirror

in a reflecting telescope with clock-drive.

I get a rush every time I rail them through my eyes,

shoot them under my tongue

or o.d. on them sitting on a train track

thinking how weird and surrealistic

my addiction to them has made me over the years

that I only stopped to piss by the side of the road

and risking bears

made my way through the leafless trees

to end up out here in the clear where I could see better

how much higher yet there was to aspire to

and how much further to fall.

Bellatrix, Rigel, Saiph, Betelgeuse,

Alnilam, Alnitak and Mintaka.

Orion at the end of deer-hunting season

extending its license to kill by a week

north of highway 7

as it crosses zenith.

I’m not playing Russian roulette with a train trestle

but I doubt I could dodge the bullet

were one to come my way

even though it wouldn’t make any sense

given that we still need each other for support

each in our own special way.

As it is I’m sitting in the middle of the Road of Ghosts

as the natives called the Milky Way

mesmerized by the doe-glare of the oncoming stars

that pass right through me

as if a head-on collision were a redundancy

their deer-whistles couldn’t avoid.

Three thousand five hundred western miles that way home.

Twenty-five miles outside of Perth near Bolingbroke

I wonder what my mother’s doing now

three hours behind me

in a time-zone with more of a future than mine

and if she ever

when she thinks of me

conceives of a bird on a wire

perilously suspended in space

like the last whole note

to drop out of a song

that’s getting ready to leave for the winter.

I raise myself up on my hands

and my legs straight out into space

on a balance beam at the Olympics

I swing like a loveseat on a country porch

to see if the daredevil boy in me

is still fit to wear my balls like the man

it’s sometimes laughable to think that I am.

I used to do the same for her

when I climbed to the topmost branches

of the abandoned orchards of the Saanich Peninsula

to throw the choicest apples down

she used to catch in her kerchief one by one.

Looking down as I waited

for her to catch the next one

I’d watch her gently arrange them like skulls

at the foot of a siege ladder

with her son on the highest rung of all

not listening to her warnings,

disappearing over the holy walls of Jerusalem

like a crusader that had taken it a step too far

and realized there was as far to fall

on the other side of the infidels

as there was on the side that God was on.

Now I keep my heroism to myself

like something I’m slightly ashamed of

like a movie star with a stand-in stunt man.

I take chances.

Great subjective risks

with dire physical consequences

to keep spiritual things material

by refusing to abstract my senses.

This isn’t a train trestle in Bolingbroke.

It’s the bridge of Chinvat

that Zoroaster said everyone

among the holy and the damned

would have to cross

raised up from the dead on the Day of Judgement

to see hell before it was decided

whether you were a son of the lie

or the son of a truth that got double-crossed.

But given my indifference to both

as if they were just spontaneous happenings

in a charged particle field reversing spin

as high as wide as far as deep as I can see

in all directions at once

out here alone by myself,

the exception that got left behind,

all I’m aware of are the stars

and the tops of the cedar trees

tiered like rustic pagodas

trying to fly when the wind

gets under their wings

like shaggy boughs

that never make it off the ground.

Nothing but stars.

Nothing but open sky and moonset.

Nothing but space and time and Jupiter

and the Hesperides in their apple orchards

wondering what Alcyone in the Pleiades

thinks she’s got over them

that’s worth so much more of my attention

I can almost forget where I am and let go

if I weren’t as unattainable to her

as she is to me.

Look at me Mum

no hands

at the top of a tree forty feet below me

like a pine cone

with all its eyelids open

that doesn’t care where it lands

among all these meteors

shaken out of the radiant of the Leonids

like the Cannonball Express

given how many light years it’s been

since you were last there to catch it

like a falling star

and put it in your pocket

and never let it fade away

though we both know

it’s a little too late

a train too far

and a night too deep for that.




Azazel says

if you don’t live it somebody else

is going to end up with your future.

Insert local habitations and names thereof here.

Perth, Ontario. Population six thousand.

From here to Kingston the pioneers did nothing

in the way of land naming but plagiarize Scotland.

But it isn’t less airy here and now

than it ever was anywhere else.

The streetlamps go on like repeating decimals.

Venus hot and bothered in the green tangerine dusk.

And even through the doe-glare of the highway headlights

and the light pollution of those who never look up,

Jupiter in the east above the Smokin’ Eagles Smoke Shop

on Lanark County 10 heading toward Franktown,

the lilac capital of Canada.

You want to know what the doe feels

in front of an oncoming car sometime

look up at the stars and try to make sense of it all.

But that was in Richardson, five miles outside of Perth.

So where are we now?

In deep space?

Or back on earth?

Everybody edgy until the first snow.

Off balance astraddle a snow line

one foot on a summer beach

and the other on an ice-floe.

Hail today and cold.

Ave November.

How now brown cow?

However thick you lay it on

you’ll still look the same in the spring

when the snow’s gone.

The loosestrife and the mustard ruined.

The deer herd culled.

The moose shot, cut up and bled

and wrapped in a brown paper cover

like the meatier parts of a dirty novel.

Brown fields still in a state of denial

with a dirgeful mist hovering over them

like the last few wraiths of chlorine gas

on a few acres along the Somme

that have been allowed to return to nature again

with some enormous deformities

of man woman animal child and land.

The wild herds of pampas grass

have neglected their manes again

and they look like paintbrushes with cowlicks.

There are some fields as neat and predictable

as a pop song two minutes long with a hook.

And then there are the improvised jazz jams

in the drainage ditches along the highway

where the cattails get it on

with whatever weed shows up

in violation of its parole

to take a load off Benny.

Blown out tires, hub caps, roadkill,

and the wild irises in tight indigo nightgowns

who sang their hearts out on heroin

the way Billie Holiday sang the blues on deadly nightshade.

Azazel says

abundance is the root of all desolation.

How fast things age is a measure

of the depths of their disappointment.

You want your cake. You want your cake.

You stuff your mouth.

You blow the candles out

and then the cake eats you.

Life lives to eat itself and be hungry.

Probably true.

But November’s killed its appetite.

Silos like silver bullets way in the distance.

Little monopoly farmhouses

with mythically inflated driveways.

A phalanx of black iron gates

with crests and spears

and two cheesey lions just like those

you’d find outside a bank

that was trying to look imperial.

They’re not farms anymore.

They’re estates

with a Roman legion for gates.

And meanwhile back in town,

the pioneer suburb of Ottawa,

in an upstairs apartment on a back porch

overlooking a deserted parking lot

a nineteen-fifties style burgundy couch

with a bas relief of paisley brocade

abandoned by some weekend hippies

is growing too damp and organic to sit on

and smells like a sweating horse with black mould

the longer it’s left out in the rain.

And there are field mice, not many, a few

like the Roma of Europe

who’ve found a niche in life

among the loose change, nuggets of bud

log jam of unsalvageable cigarettes

in its crevices and crannies,

a selection of old lighters

each with an individual story to tell

and the coiled cartoon springs and stuffing

of an era that liked to round things off

like the bumpers of their cars and couches and women

as if they knew even way back then

they were going to sit for awhile

and look long and hard and hopelessly west

for the sun to come up just once at dusk

in the land of the midnight sun

and prove them right about their point of view.

But the mice don’t really care about

who got the window-seat on the bus

or how much baggage they carried on with them

like the elephant to the south of them.

They’re snug right where they are

and they travel light

happily balanced between security and a fire-escape

like the arsonist in all of us in autumn

as the Canada geese high overhead honk their horns

like the paddy waggons of the Keystone Cops in passing

as they leave the set with probable cause

to bust another marijuana patch like a pot boiler.

Azazel says

forget about the mice

forget about the geese.

The die is cast.

And there’s no turning back now.

Stand on the Gore Street Bridge over the Rideau Canal

and watch how the fish follow the Tay river

in suspended animation

and how the last of the swallows

to inhabit its fieldstones

cross it again and again without hesitation

like the flash of sabres that never clash

gleefully building a nation

like a lot of little holes in the wall

the birds can come back to

with a moat of their own

to frustrate the feral cats

that live under the bridges of Gore street

like famished Fenians on the prowl.

Azazel says

the nations have been unpeopled

by their governments

and data isn’t history

though it took a thousand deaths

from malaria and alcohol-related-on-the-job accidents

to make it what it is today.

Some crushed by falling trees.

Some drowning drunk

trying to swim across the river

to acquisition another bottle of whiskey.

Scarlet fever and childbirth on the farm.

It’s hard to number the miscarriages and still births

these old grey sway-backed arks and barns

that look like the last of the mammoths in the distance

have seen around here.

The nightmare febrile locks of stranded hair

that snaked over the foreheads

of the young wet wives who died

into their second year

of trying to continue a blood line

all the way from Ottawa to Kingston

like the plagiarized names

of all these small towns

that sprang up like stone-mills and water wheels

all along her birth canal.

British half-pay officers in beaver skins

building dams alongside the beavers

as if this were Kandahar, Afghanistan

and tribal Scottish highland chieftains

who ran Renfrew like the Taliban.

People have a way of abstracting

what’s crucial about the stem cells of life

from the sweat and lechery

that went into producing them.

Walking boats like reluctant debutantes

that have been taken under the arm

up and down the stair wells

of a palace of water in high heels.

Spidery horse-drawn carriages on springs

that learned to sing

to the beat of corduroy roads

and keep a decent pleat in their prose.

Imported butlers holding out silver plate

to accept the salutary donations

of the calling cards who dropped in

to see if So and So were as thin

as the last letter she sent them.

People who took a bath in their own grave every day

and left a ring around the tub

like the ripple in the heartwood of a tree

on the growing edge of history.

Who considers the spit on the back of the stamp

that went off to war for king and country

just to have a return address to come back to

like a river you can’t step into twice

even if you were to build

one of the world’s longest canals

with post office boxes in it for the swallows?

Azazel says

it’s casually ironic

that one of the first things these people did

to work all this up

into a life and a home and a heritage of their own

was kill the Algonquin village next door

for having one of its own.

History is a screening myth

to cover up what someone did with the bones.

If they’re sacred, they’re sacred by default.

No one on the bridge disagrees

even when they see

weaving its way like a lifeline among the catfish

a long trail of blood

all the way back to the village.

Brutal to have one people vanguish another

and then turn on its own

out of sympathy

for what it’s just so irreparably damaged.

That’s why I need Azazel around.

I may be the lightning rod.

But he’s the ground.