TRYING TO PUT SOME DISTANCE
Trying to put some distance between myself and my past
is like trying to stale-mate a cloud with a mountain
by resorting to the last hope of all experienced liars,
objectivity. Third person singular pronouns,
he, she, it. Shipping containers from alien places
stacked neatly on the dock
like coffins and cord wood
you can talk and write about as if
you weren’t buried in anyone of them
and none of the stowaways
and none of the illegal immigrants
and none of the corpses
were anymore related to you
than Cantonese graffiti from Seattle that rode the rails
all the way to Jakarta like one long sentence
about something you dreamed last night in your sleep.
Somebody’s else’s views in somebody elses’ language.
You can stand on one side of the tracks
in the red glare of the most serious-minded lights
at the road block with the crossed swords
and half-bored with waiting for things to pass
read the story of your life on the sides
of the train going past gene by gene
in the most unlikely couplings of a chromosome.
You can read your own genome
like beads in the rosary you’re kneading
between your thumb and your forefinger
as if you were counting the prophetic skulls
of the full moons that have passed
without any sign of a harvest on an abacus.
You can hide your past under the death mask of someone else.
You can play scrabble with the sign of the zodiac
you were born under,
you can rearrange your stars
and lie to your scars about which among many wounds
was their real birth mother,
you can spin a new myth of origin like a changeling
to explain why your axis is tilted beneath the equator
but when you’re finishing patching over to another gang
and you’ve got new top and bottom rockers
and a brand new mandala on your back to empower you
and your winding down the Malahat on Vancouver Island
that writhes along the side of the mountain
like a snake with its head pinned by your front wheel fork
two hundred feet above the tiny eyelids
of the waves with the white lashes
on the surface of the sea below,
thinking of Jefferson Airplane’s
tongue in cheek retort to John Donne
that no man’s an island.
He’s the Saanich Peninsula
though they didn’t say Saanich
but if the peninsula fits wear it
and that’s where I was at the time.
You can tear the wire you’ve been wearing
like the narrative of your life
as if your own mind were listening in on you
from another room in the hotel across the street
and your silence would still provide enough evidence
to prosecute you for living outside the box
instead of just sitting in it
and trying to think of a way out.
All those improbable entrances with impossible exits
you walked through to change your life irreparably
like some crude street rendition
of the Eleusinian Mysteries in Edmonton
just to verify your right to exist
in a world that rejected its own extremities
like the left hand of fate and circumstance.
And it wasn’t so much the actuality you were after,
that would come of its own accord
like an apple after the blossom,
but just the mere chance
of being someone you weren’t
who wasn’t burnt and bitter
wary, angry, cruelly clear-sighted
as a spider-mount on a telescope
waiting to catch stars in the webs
of the glimmering constellations
they mistook for dreamcatchers.
Every cubic centimetre of me back then
as dense and intense as a black dwarf
that sucked all the light out of the air
so that even in broad daylight
I always felt this darkness within me
like a night too heavy for the world to bear.
My mind was always a wavelength shy of a snake pit
when I was around other people
that hadn’t been chronically humiliated
by growing up poor
and my heart would condemn itself out of hand
just to deny them the privilege
of doing it for themselves eventually
and to show them the difference between
a passive scapegoat and a demonized pariah
that wouldn’t hesitate to use his horns
on any matador of the moon
who thought he had the crescents for it.
Alone under the microscope
I furnished my solitude like a habitable planet
with converging mindstreams
that carried me out to sea
like an empty lifeboat
drifting down the Milky Way
like a leaf, like a poem, like
a deep insight into the radiance of nothing
as soon as it got dark enough to see the stars.
Out of the void I sought shelter in
emerged a truce of aloof familiars
who were multilingually conversant
with my kind of madness and imagination.
And I called them Azazel, Blue Flower, Black Dog,
Dead Dog’s Dream Self, Character and Womanpit,
and of the ones that appeared the most benign
one was a mystically empowered altruistic idiot,
one was the tabla rasa Adamic blank slate of everyman
and one the female sister demon of my right brain
that was dark and artistic and long-suffering.
And of the first magnitude black hole constellations
with eyes like dice pricked out like fang marks
on an occult starmap of dark matter,
one was a Satanic standard bearer
who had gone from being a scapegoat
to being the master of a Renaissance of evil
with the Machiavellian curiosity of a reptile
intrigued by its deepening insight into mammals
and the other two were the black farces
of their own burnt out legends
passively-aggressive as extinct volcanoes
growling at each other
in the nightmare of their waking hours
like fortune-cookies strung out along the same fault line
like junkies who rage at the futures
that keeping give up on them
like a species that knows its endangered
all the way from southern California
through West Vancouver up to Alaska.
There’s a big part of everyone
that wasn’t born of man or woman
when they’re alone with their own cartoons
and the mythic inflation and deflation of themselves
makes them feel the whole universe
is breathing along in unison with them
between rapturous moments of solar exhilaration
and dead seabeds of lunar depression
like a musician with his finger on the pulse
of the copulating wavelengths
of a blues guitar in heat at high tide
he’s going to ride out like providence into the flood.
These were my Sahaba,
my lost tribe of desert companions,
the nightwinds that came all wrapped in black
like lone Tuariq out of the southern Libyan Sahara
like dark energy in a whirlwind of stars
ready to kill you from a great distance
for drawing the waters of life
out of one of their wells
without tribal consent.
And who knows what flows down into the mind
from what mountaintops
or through the valleys of whose heart before you?
Maybe there’s some leftover starlight in the mix
and the taste of a full moon
lingering on the tongue of a corpse
like a coin some loved one put there
like a sacred syllable to protect it against the dark.
And the tears of someone you never knew
for things you’re not aware of
crying like a waterclock from life to life
like the dream theme of a mindstream
that keeps the whole thing together
like the loose thread of a flying carpet
that just keeps on unravelling.
Life is a geriatric medium with a young message.
The oasis mentors the mirage
like a dance company rehearses Swan Lake.
Dark matter is strung out through the universe
like a junkie neurally connected to the same mind
we all are the way water is to intelligence and lucidity.
We’re all drinking from the same mindstream
in our own skull.
And when I pass mine around
like a sacred chalice of the moon
around a common fire
to each of my familiars and anti-selves
thrown together in this desert of stars
like symbols that made a habit of each other
for mutual survival,
the big question
that’s always greeted with silence
is whether life’s an exorcism or a seance.
Were we driven out of somewhere
we all long for
for things we can’t recall
to never be summoned back,
or were we invited here
by an anonymous unresponsive host
possessed by his own imagination
to guess at who or what he might be
so the hidden secret can know itself
in every one of us?
And I ask myself creatively
is the potential for darkness
greater than the reality of light?
Is the one infinite
and the other doomed to be exhausted
by living it one insight at a time
some with the lifespan of stars
some like fireflies and lightning
some in the shadows of black walnut trees
and some like me
who dream under the eyelids of past eclipses
like a dragon who once swallowed
a black cosmic egg whole
to bring rain to the new moon
without putting its ancient root fires out?