Thursday, December 1, 2011



Some people like to take a water droplet

and turn it into a haiku.

Some people like to write

like the loose thread

of a quick-witted alpine stream

trying to unravel the mountain all the way down

with dazzle and flash.

But when I shoot my mouth off

about what I don’t know about nightingales

it always comes out ice-hot stars

above a rush of northern rivers,

the Mackenzie, the Fraser, the Thompson

and when I want to risk

my cowboy B.C. French in public,

the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Some people like to weave their mindstreams

into lakes with their third eyes open

to the flight of the white clouds

and the sky that doesn’t inhibit them,

but me I like to flow and fall and crush

swell and fork, shift, shape, loop, swerve,

destroy, nourish, and change course

like the Ottawa or the Skeena

in the May spring run off

when the ice floes and weight-lifting waters

are flexing their muscles

in powerfully sculpted anthracite and jade.

A river, yes, blackwater and white alike;

what could be more

quintessentially Canadian than that?

A river as inhospitable and bleak as the Arctic

toward life in its beginnings,

and still as wild and dangerous as Hell’s Gate

as it approaches the sea

after many perils and epiphanies.

I am the sorcerer’s apprentice

when it comes to rivers

but I like to go with the flow, the power, the depth

the cosmic expansion of their homelessness,

the cataracts and wetlands of their manic mood swings,

the way they uproot and sustain,

carve traffic islands out of granite

and tear down bridges in their path

and then slow down mellifluously

to let a doe come out of the woods to drink

from the reflection of the way the water sees her.

I give the orange spruce root rot in rusty shallows

and strip the bark from defrocked trees

the herons nest in like a brain trust.

Grizzly, moose, cougar, wolf,

elk, deer, beaver, mink and muskrat,

eagle, loon, drake and Canada goose,

what totem of star mud

has not mingled its blood in my flowing,

what stars have not tingled on my skin

like butterflies landing on single sunlit hairs,

what tribes have not sat around their fires

while I flint-knapped the moonlight

into radiant silver spears

as the waves made small music

like a background theme of silence?

I don’t need to know where I’m going.

I can be Kelsey, Thompson, or La Verendrye,

and keep a journal of where I’ve been

and make rough sketches of what I’ve seen

because flowing freehand isn’t a point

it’s a destination that’s always on the move

shooting the rapids of the life line

in the palm of your hand

as if life were precious enough to risk it all

to see how far you had to go

to flow off the edge of a starmap that doesn’t know.

Clash, dash, swirl and recover,

turn, counter-turn, stand

I like to waltz my way out of knots and nooses

like an Horatian ode in the glands of a Romantic poet.

I like to boost the torque of my whirlpools and currents

and open up the throttle

on the straightaways of cobbled river stones

as if I had a big four-stroke between my knees.

Underwhelm the birch groves before the beavers do,

tear the cedars out like molars,

turn whole villages into houseboats

and take my wrath out on the petty roads

that whine like potholes and puddles

if it so much as even rains.

All weak threads of ancillary streams

are gathered up into the strong ropes

of northern rivers with enough spine and backbone

to have all their chakras open

like the lunar and the solar filaments of serpent-fire.

My poems taste of stone and glacier,

unnamed valleys where the red-tailed hawks

have never set eyes on a human

and the sound of a voice

leaves the mountains speechless,

not knowing what language to echo.

Roil, roll, tumble, and spume,

lost in a froth of creative chaos

that brings forth rainbows and stars

and auroral veils of water and light

to mystify the message in the medium

by frustrating the logic of syntax

in the scintillant radiance

of counter-intuitive metaphors

that relate in myriad family ways

like salmon swimming upstream

summoned out of the spontaneity of the past

against the flow of the timely waterclocks

up to the sacred pools of birth and death

to die like old moons in the arms of the new.

I wreck whole forests like the Spanish Armada.

People run to me like a lifeboat

for shelter and sanctuary from the fire.

A northern river is the jugular of a snow dragon

with its wings spread as wide as Canada

breathing fire like two year old red oak

in a Napoleon airtight with a see through window

and a ten inch Selkirk chimney

that looks like it were cast out of moonlight

instead of polished aluminum

on a cold clear winter night in the country.

A poem should not mean or be

but do something to you like Vancouver,

rip off that life raft you’ve moored yourself to

like a running shoe tied up at a dock

and throwing it down like a gauntlet at your bare feet

see if you can learn to sink or swim for yourself

or, at least, walk on stars,

or pull the thorns of crescent moons

you’re bound to step on along the way

out of your heels with your teeth

like a wolf pulls a porcupine quill from its paw

with barely a whimper of regret.

Sometimes you’ve got to bite the bullet

to get it out.

But a river’s like a barbed arrowhead

and it’s better to push it all the way through

than it is to let it tear at your flesh

like a bobcat on its way out of the bag.

It’s not a good idea when you’re in a northern bar

to start arm wrestling

with drunken men who build dams for a living

but you can get away with it

if you’re a river and not a highway,

because they of all people

know your potential for destruction

when you’re backed up

and there’s no other way out

except straight through a brick wall.

El Toro!

And there’s a crack

in the cement cape of the matador

that taunted the broad-shouldered bulls of the river

like a cattle prod in their stalls,

and a horn through his gored heart.

Torrent, rage, acquiesce, and chill out,

yes, a northern Canadian river

will do just fine as a similitude

for the way I like to write,

a neural connection to the planet,

a water root of dendritic black matter,

the circuitous blossoming

of wild irises and quaking aspen groves

all along the great water ways of life.

And as for inspiration

who needs more than the coming and going

of the waterbirds

to learn how to master words

as if they were as free to be what they are

as I am?