THE RADIANT NADIRS OF THE UNDERESTIMATED
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.