SOME PEOPLE LIKE TO TAKE A WATER DROPLET
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.
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?