Tuesday, November 22, 2011



It’s charged with my brother’s karma he said

as he broke the shotgun

like the trunk of a young ironwood

and looked inside as if he

fully expected to surprise something funny

going on behind his back in both barrels

then plunked it down on the table

as if he were laying down

hard cold cash for something.

He took his life with it.

I’ll do the same when my time comes.

And how will you know when that will be? I asked

as he took a long merciless sip of Olde Crow Whiskey.

If you got to ask you’d pass right by it

even if I told you where it’s at.

And that was that

as the bottle thumped down on the table

like an adamant gavel.

I didn’t press the point.

I didn’t ask for a starmap.

I let it rest like most of his ancestors

in a cemetery up near Northbrook

Highway 7 runs through

on your way to Peterborough

past Tweed where Elvis Presley lives.

Earlier in the day I had walked

among the gravestones

of two tribal backwoods families

prodigiously askew and fabulously lonely

sinking into the long wet-haired disorderly grass

indecently green for this time of year,

unkempt dandelions and rusty Indian paintbrush

the colour of cars in the backfields of l950

lying side by side

like angry chequers swept off the board

not one in ten of which

died a natural death.

Hangings, suicides, tragic accidents,

unsolved murders

that everyone’s related to

for miles around in the smokey grey woods

watching from a distance,

bodies hanging from barn rafters,

crushed under overturned tractors,

blood spatter on the bedroom walls

that had seen them conceived and born

and a haemorrhage like the scattered petals

of a single red rose left on the mattress

when the time came to know what hour it was.

I wanted to ask him

but I didn’t want to tread on sacred ground,

as a rosary of Canada geese passed south

appearing through the kitchen window

like the flint knappings of a stone arrow

November was carving high over head.

When it came time for him to depart

did he put the shotgun up to his mouth

or his heart?




I left the scene because after long discipline

and the labour of many mirrors

I wanted to get the careerism out of my poetry

and return to the unbrokered relationship

I had with the muse who had me

when I was sixteen sitting

precipitously on Heartbreak Hill

not caring whether the stars knew

I was there or not

because it was more than enough that they were.

I wanted to end my apprenticeship to literary owls

editors publishers agents poet-tasters court-jesters

and the quarterly reviews of the gleemen

who made a mockery of the blood sacrifices

they watered down like Druids

that had never taken a life

in the name of anything that ever mattered

to the talented or untalented alike.

I wanted to get away from the merry-go-rounds

who made a hobby-horse of Pegasus

and kept asking me

how many books I had published now

though it was doubtful they’d even read one

all the way through

and the only answer I could give them

was I was the fucking Library of Alexandria.

Now watch me burn it to the ground.

I don’t think it’s true you always kill the thing you love

but I knew too many who had buried themselves in books

to prove they did

while those they loved

went right on living without them.

I left the scene because

when I wrote

too many doctorates

tried to crawl up into the womb

to monitor the birth of the baby

by prying its petals open

before it was due to be born.

Because the waters of life

like the wellsprings of Parnassus

in Macedonia

before Helicon in Boeotian Greece

switched to hippocrene

can’t be approached like a fish farm.

Because I’m from B.C.

and I know you have to be willing to leap up stream

with the wisdom and grace and courage

of a wild salmon

through a gauntlet of real grizzlies

if you want to be summoned by the ancient mystery

to the sacred pools of your own creativity

where everything begins and ends

like the waterclocks of inspiration

generation after generation.

I left the scene because

too many periodicals were coming on

like voice coaches to the nightingales

who submitted their vocals

to the editorial policies

of peacocks who sang a lot worse than they did.

I left the scene because

you can’t live like a maggot

and write like a butterfly

and even if you can ‘t find

much that’s noble about your calling anymore

it’s still not an investment portfolio

with stocks in Poetry Chicago.

I liked the awards I won.

I liked the books I published

without exception.

I liked the provincial and federal writing grants.

I liked the reading fees

such as the one I’m getting here tonight.

I liked the dinner I had with Max.

I liked the planes and the cars

the private homes

the reasonable hotels

that people put me in or on

and I liked the way people

well-meaning enough

would lie to me enthusiastically

about how my name would last forever

as long as there was a Canadian literature

that could stand up to the weather.

I liked the attention

and needed it

and I never met an audience

I didn’t like

if they’d let me.

I liked the radio interviews

with big studio dressing rooms

with cosmetically lit mirrors for my voice

but I’m still more than a little ambivalent

about the visual effects

they laced my voice with like acid

to make the documentaries

more interesting than my life.

I liked the artists who did the poster-poems

for most of the poetry readings in Ottawa for free for years

and the back up guitarists

like the Roddy Elias Jazz Trio

and this triune expression of musical experience

that’s coming up shortly behind me here.

I liked the intelligently generous restauranteurs

who were gracious enough

to give me a chance to read above

the sounds of falling spoons and crashing plates.

I liked the man who passed the hat

at the end of every reading

like a collection plate

that made me feel

if I stood at this pulpit long enough

I’d get to be the leader of a church.

I liked the losing and the finding and the search

for inspiration among the covens

and the choirs of fallen angels

who showed me all the things you can do with fire

that have nothing to do with global warming

which isn’t a function of natural desire.

I liked sitting alone on a runway in Terrace

on a cross country book tour

surrounded by mountains and ice

wondering how anything could gain enough altitude

without being stoned out of its mind

to avoid a collision with the peak moments of your life

like a decision that isn’t yours to make

and you’re not quite sure

whether you’re going to die or not

nor for whose sake

or in the name of what

when you remember

and this is your last best hope

you’re an integral part of Canadian Literature

and you’re going to live forever

as long as you can clear the Rockies and the weather

and get your landing gear up in time

like a duck flying over a duck blind.

I liked the vegetarian hosts

who let me smoke at some readings

because they said they liked my work so well

they didn’t have the heart

to make a demon like me

go through nicotine withdrawal

in the name of art

and gave me the breathing space

I need as a poet

to read my poetry

though I took great care

not to blow the smoke in their face.

I liked the way I was adopted

by exiles in the capitol of the country

I was born into like a changeling

by the Arabs and Chileans.

I liked the special connections I had

to Calabria and Arezzo.

I liked editing a poetry magazine.

I liked publishing other people’s poetry books.

I liked having a talk-show

and being an artificial life support system

to prevent guests from inhaling too much dead air

so they could talk live on the radio.

I liked pulling into the Canadian Tire Gas Bar

on highway 7 just before midnight

and being recognized

three years after I quit broadcasting

by the sound of my voice alone

by an overly enthusiastic gas-jockey

who thought I was some kind of big shot

and I wanted to say hey, buddy,

do yourself a big favour

and get a life of your own

because I like being heard

but that doesn’t always mean

I’m worth listening to

or that the noise I make

is many more wavelengths longer than yours.

Or the acoustics of your dick

are merely the hollow echo

of mine that roars by comparison.

Anyone can wake the valley up

with a bull horn.

But it takes a rooster with real class

to crow softly,

knowing the rose likes to sleep in.

I liked it all.

The Blue Gardenia, The Wildflower,

the aging nightowls of L’Hibou,

the legends of Mandrex and alcohol

that made the mice feel farcical.

I liked having as many detractors as I did friends.

I liked being asked to be poet laureate

and have a Jewish sister insist upon it

after sticking up for the Palestinians

and being reviewed

as the White Ayatollah of Ottawa

in the Ottawa Citizen

when in fact

I thought of myself

as a kind of throw back to Mephistopheles

with a host of demi-gods

and black-hearted magicians for friends.

I liked the wild witchy beauty of the women

who loved me like a finishing school

for fucked-up creative females

and took the madness I embodied to heart

and made it their own

to give themselves a good start in art

with my blessing.

And they liked the way that was o.k. with me.

Anything for poetry.

Even the empty doorway

they left me to remember them by.

And I do.


For having enriched my solitude immeasurably.

But for all that I liked roosting

with the crows and peacocks

the swans and the larks

the sparrows and nightingales and seagulls

in the sacred groves of poetry

I couldn’t get this cosmic hiss out of my head

this white noise

this multiversal whisper

from the afterbirth of creation

that kept suggesting

there was no point in making a Big Bang

if it didn’t turn into a universe.

So I looked for space.

I looked for time.

I returned to my potential

I looked for cheap rent

on a small town apartment

where I could spill paint on the floor

and write myself to death

without anyone coming to the door

to tell me how much I had to offer other people

though I wasn’t aware of the fact that they’d even asked.

I wanted to take a bath in my own grave

alone with the moon by an unnamed lake

to renew my innocence

among the scarecrows and voodoo dolls

I refeathered like a phoenix in the fall

with burning leaves of sumac

on the last pyre I had to spend

on getting closer to the stars than I’ve ever been.

I left the scene because

longing and silence and solitude

are the three water birds I collaborate with the most

when I want to say what’s in my heart.

I left the scene because

only the night and the hills

and the wind and the fields

and the wildflowers whose names

are poems in and of themselves

and the six thousand unattainable stars

that I aspire to like women I’ll never have,

though they’re happy enough

to turn themselves out like muses

who like to marry men on death row,

reminded me of how

refreshingly insignificant I am

to anything that’s going on with them

like a big-hearted, good-natured ghost

they feel free enough to call upon

any time they want

and that’s what they like about me the most.