Thursday, November 24, 2011


The radiant nadirs of the underestimated,

all these small town upstairs windows at night

where people bloom like flowers,

trout lily, hepatica, wood violet

under the duff of life,

old books and teetering obelisks of magazines,

nobody’s ever going to see

in this hemisphere

unless their clockwise life

has gone down the wrong way

and the world’s been turned

up side down on its head

so you’re compelled to walk on stars

to keep from falling off.

There’s a novelist across the street.

Window to window our apartments stare

blankly at each other

through the dirty winter grime

and the occasional moon

and ambivalent rose of the dawn

after a long sleepless night

when even the dead are appalled by the solitude.

Seven novels and he’s never published a word.

Seven novels. A mouth and a heart

like the Gulf of St. Lawrence

but no Cabot, Cartier, Champlain.

And there’s a poet I know

a mere four blocks away, beautiful,

a wild crazy witch of a woman

among muses that couldn’t hold a black candle

up to the serpent fire she can inspire

in any two lines of a poem

that could take a common garter snake

and give it the wings of a dragon,

a genius who’s laid herself aside to raise a baby

and write in between the cracks of concrete

her crackhead ex keeps trying to pave her with

like a parking lot on a coke binge.

She’s the spearhead of a blade of grass

trying to wound its way through stone

into the light

but it’s not likely

she’s ever going to make it

given the avalanche of circumstance

that waits for her like a mountain on the other side

to come up for air in the middle of a seal hunt.

Unknown geniuses, the gifted secrets

of heretical martyrs and orthodox suicides

like the Sylvia Plaths, the Emily Dickinsons,

the Kafkas, the Rimbauds, the Van Goghs

the hidden motherlodes of gold

that freak the fieldstones

of the small c conservative, rural, born again

redneck towns that overturn talent like tractors

all through the Ottawa Valley

on too steep a slope to make the grade

and crush the life out of it without

anyone really knowing what it was that died

or what it died for

or what it wanted to die in the name of.

The sole East Indian proprietor of Mac’s Milk

like a single ant in a glaring peony of light

that stays on all night,

the bartender at the Imperial,

the bouncer at the Shark and Bull,

the cook in the kitchen at Fiddlehead’s,

the adolescent in the doorway

with her elbows on her knees

and her hands on her head

like the flying buttresses of a small planet

blazing with comets and lightning bolts

of insights into life that even at her age

would put a wounded voodoo doll to shame.

I write this for the beaders who thrust thin needles

through the eyes of paradise

making rosaries of the ninety-nine names of God

and one hidden one on the back of a upside down cross,

for the Celtic smithies of silver jewellery

that wrap the world’s fingers and wrists

in kells of wild grapevines

and the Kufic script of copulating snakes

with star sapphires for eyes,

for the sculptors in their one room ghettoes

making hash-pipes out of soapstone,

Michelangelos trading David for a quarter ounce of pot,

the lame dancers that leap higher than Nureyev

like white tailed deer over a cedar rail fence,

and those who can carve guitars

out of the heartwood of their lives and tree-like souls

you can caress like the body of the Venus de Milo

and get a hard on.

I write this for all those small dark planets

that sustain the life of art

in the methane seas and magmatic mindscapes

of the most unlikely extremities

of time and place and circumstance

in the shadows of the obvious stars

whose light is barely dimmed by their passage.

This one’s for all those Luna moths

driven crazy by the light of their talent

like a candle they’ll never be immolated in

like an Arab spring in Tunisia

held back by the bug screens

that keep them beating their wings

against the windows into their minds and hearts and souls

until they drop from exhaustion, despair,

futility, the sheer absurdity of trying,

like a phoenix among dead houseflies on a windowsill.

Here’s to your lunacy,

here’s to your kind of madness

and the hill and the stone

that might have shown us how

to better deal with our own absurdity

by learning to listen to fire-hydrants

and abandoned house-wells

that echo with underground thunder

as if there were still cthonic gods beneath our feet

that wanted our attention.

Here I establish this poem

like the mother of all awards in your name

you never expected to win

like the published poets do

among small cartels of themselves

when they lose.

I raise this poem up

like a constellation, a sign at zenith,

a thirteenth house of the zodiac

to commemorate you.

I cut the ribbons of death and life.

I cut the Atropic filoes of fate.

I cut the knotted umbilical cords.

I cut the kites from their kite-strings.

I cut the chromosomes of the Neanderthals and Cro Magnons.

I cut the pie evenly like phases of the moon

from the fullness of the old harvest

to the darkness of the new.

I cut the spinal cords that moor your yachts

to the vertebrae of the assholes on the wharves

that hold you back like a gull against a headwind.

I cut your sentences short

on the basis of justice delayed is justice denied

and I parole you to halls of fame and victory

like Muhammad Ali’s conscientious objections.

I cut the veins of this poem

like a woman taking a bath in her own grave

to renew the virginity of the black rose like a new moon

just to show you how serious I am.

I cut through the bullshit the aesthetic necrophiliacs

with the taste and culture of an undertaker’s corpse

like a black hole they’ll never crawl out of

and I open their coffins up to the public

like a salon for the uniqueness

of the rejects at a Paris exhibition of your works,

or a new and selected volume of poems

dedicated to all those people and muses in your life

who hauled you into a lifeboat

like the moon on the waters of life

just as it was going down in the nick of time

when no one else would.

I open this poem up

like a mine in a Klondike gold rush

that just struck it rich

like a snake pit in the darkness,

to acknowledge how deeply you had to dig down

into the inner resources of your own lonely holy lives

with your fingernails, your teeth, your claws, your fangs

to sing in the darkness

like yellow canaries in the Burgess Shale

with diamonds in your eyes

and a beak for a pick-axe

and a pen for a jackhammer

just to keep the air sweet and breathable

for those of us who are down there with you

in word and body and spirit.

This is for all the unknown geniuses and junoes

who went down like Orpheus into the underworld

to see things through the eyes and the jewels of the dead

with nothing but a harp stuck

like a wishbone in their throats

and divining where the stars were buried

in the frozen watersheds of their lunar seabeds

brought them up to the surface like pearl divers

to make their own inestimable contribution

to the sun that shines at midnight

and the moon that rises at noon

in the radiant nadirs of the underestimated.

I award this poem to your intrepid anonymity

like a Canada Council A-grant with a travel allowance

like a Nobel Prize to the moonrise of your dark genius

or a Guggenheim Fellowship

to all true warriors of the forlorn hope

who fight their homely holy wars

like distant rumours of legends yet to come

rising out of the shadows of a farce of stars

to make all the lies, even the biggest of them,

even the ones you couldn’t bring yourself to believe

though you told them to the night

and the streetlamps outside your window

like you, come true, come shining through

like prime-time supernovas

at the radiant nadirs of the underestimated.

I give you this poem

like the eye of a hurricane

from the bottom of my life in art

to say you have not laboured in vain

beyond the border stones

of the anthologized gardens

of more ornamental strains

like a November rain

at the roots of the wildflowers

in the high starfields that bloom

like astrolabes and sundials

and tuning forks fashioned

like witching wands from the dead branch

with the moon in full blossom

when the wolves and the frogs

and the night birds sing

for nothing, for everything

for a gust of fireflies, dust,

stars on the wind

at the radiant nadirs of the underestimated.