Sunday, December 4, 2011



Ten hours a day painting in the half wild fields

at Long Bay, eleven miles outside of Westport

for four and a half years without

seeing another human for months in the winter

except when we drove into Perth every six weeks

for smokes and groceries.

A quarter mile of treacherous driveway,

mud, ice, freezing rain, you had to accelerate

just right, and steadily, to keep the car

from sliding back down the hill.

Sometimes two or three attempts

like a long distance Olympic ski jumper

and you standing at the top of the ninety metre hill

so I didn’t kill you going backwards,

one hand on a shovel

planted in a small grey pyramid of rock salt

like a sign of readiness and ownership

that always made me think

this is what an hourglass must look like

when it finally hits bottom.

Four miles of treacherous dirt road

one car wide

six deaths down and counting

and the schoolbus always coming our way

just as we were

without being able to brake or pass.

And then twenty perilous miles,

a hot knife of anxiety in the back of my neck,

riding the rat snake of black ice

through a gauntlet of frozen road kill

on the back of Sunset Boulevard all the way to Perth.

Coffee at Tinker’s or the Red Fox,

groceries at Loeb’s,

dog kibble and wet food for the cats at Berry’s,

you’d buy something wholly intriguing to an Aquarius

and I’d buy another tool at Canadian Tire

without even knowing what is was for

but always intended to find out and use

because you never know

when you’re living on a farm

twenty-five miles outside of town

when someone who’s come over

to give you hand fixing something,

usually a car,

is going to ask you for something

everything else in the world

depends upon you having

at that one crucial moment

even if you don’t know what it’s for.

Country makes you feel

there’s a practical purpose

to being a useless poet with tools.

Months of slushy quick mud roads

where no one could get in or out

without chains on a backhoe and even then,

long soporific embering nights

when the drifts were up over the windowsills

and there was a human glow on the snow

that quietly defied all death threats from the weather

and we were all, just you and I,

and the cats and the dogs

as Willie P. would say

all safe inside and warm somewhere.

You were a witch of a cook

that would put most survivalists to shame

if they could have seen what you could do

with a bit of stew, cardboard and cornmeal.

Comes of being raised on welfare

in Westmount I suppose

and looking like a cross

between Nefertiti and Sophia Loren

with a nickname like Black Savage

who collected feathers, and rocks, and bones

and whispered to the albino skulls of small mammals

as if they and you were happy about something certain

I wasn’t privy to

nor ever thought to ask.

For nine years I’d felt

I’d fallen into paradise by accident

and kept my mouth shut lest

anybody discovered I was there by mistake.

Long walks with the sun going down over the treeline

of the island in the bay

with a long caravan of seven dogs and eleven cats

because we couldn’t bear to give them away

and they all had a big abandoned barn to sleep in

when the weather wasn’t out to kill anything that lived.

Gumboots and walking sticks in the spring

that would make me alternately feel

like Merlin or Moses

though that’s where the comparison ends,

because we’d only get as far as the fire pits

on the shore of Bob’s Lake

without ever intending to cross it

before turning back

without having killed anyone

except for the occasional groundhog

the dogs would seize by the neck ferociously,

snap it like a castanet with one shake of their head

and carry on as if nothing had happened

out of the ordinary in a dog’s life,

because we were already living in the promised land.

Years of living with a woman from Montreal

called Black Savage

who had the courage of gunpowder

the instincts of a queen cobra

and the finesse of a white-tailed doe.

And knew how to paint and write and make love as well.

And to be out in the fields with you

on those warm August afternoons

hazy with dragonflies down by the beaver pond

where you painted the dead trees

as if they’d all had the same hysterectomy you had

at twenty-three, shapely denuded torsos

missing their arms like the Venus de Milo,

and I’d try to catch the inflections of light on the water

so totally absorbed in the scene

the beavers decided despite appearances

I wasn’t there

and went on working behind me.

And once a fox sat outside its den all day

over my left shoulder

with its forelegs crossed

wondering what this curious, harmless human

was doing that so intrigued the both of us.

We painted hundreds and hundreds of landscapes

in the depths of our perfect isolation

working for hours beside each other

without ever saying a word

our brushes hadn’t already said for us

as if they had rooted themselves in the scene

and begun to sprout leaves.

But if I were able to say something to you now

looking back on it through

this aerially blue perspective of time

I’d say we weren’t painting landscapes

but the topology of bliss

when you know it’s been there

a long, long time

like the prophetic skulls

of the grey fieldstones

and the wild grapevines that covered them.

Now all that long black hair of yours

I hear is as grey as a winter dawn.

I left the farm a week after you

put all the cats and dogs down

to make me feel what it was like

to be savaged in paradise

and thoroughly abandoned

for being untrue to your paranoia

though we were joined at the hip for years

and never felt crowded

except when other people were around.

You were beautiful, you were talented,

you were as spooky as deadly nightshade,

as loyal as a female consigliere,

as true as the wing of a hawk

to the same bird I was,

and we rode the wild thermals

of our hearts and bodies and mind and art

like two halves of the same helical chromosome

and even when we painted together

until nightfall and and stars

and way off on the hill

the tiny windows of our farmhouse

filled with the welcoming warmth

of the light we’d left on to guide us back

out of the woods to our place in the distance

and a crockpot of stew that tasted

like all that was good about the human heart,

even standing at our separate easels

among the New England asters

and English ox-eyed daisies

trying to keep the powder-blue damselflies

out of the paint without hurting them

or working them into the sky on our canvases,

like a pre-mixed shade

of value nine celestial cerulean blue,

even standing in the crows-nest of our easels

like the rigging of separate ships

that could have easily passed in the night

but didn’t

even then,

your brush going one way

and mine the other

I never thought for a second

we weren’t rowing in the same lifeboat

toward the same lunar shore.

And you must know this before

either one of us dies

and the ear and the mouth

lose their chance to say and hear the truth,

and I say it like a bird

into the mesmeric eclipses of your Medusan eyes

without turning into unfeeling stone

like some albino rogue moon

that’s got a grudge against the darkness,

I say it in humility and gratitude

and deep reverence I seldom accord the gods

when I think of you

as this dark lighthouse of a lover

painting with me in those beautiful fields back then,

and what a witch-magnet among women you were

whenever you were among them

like a black rose at a coven of apostate doves,

your dark energy as ferocious and Mongolian as mine,

and how fastidiously noble and compassionate

you were about most things,

listening to anyone with rapt attention for hours

who wanted to convince of the uniqueness of their pain

and you’d suggest pithy strategies

like the snakey oracle of Delphi

and quite rightly they’d fall in love with you.

But not once did I ever doubt your fidelity

mostly because no one had walked out on me

after a month of marriage

and emptied my bank account and apartment

without a word of why

while I was at art school

watching my wedding ring turn green

before I came home to nothing

to find out my marriage was just a cheap hustle.

And I said to myself if it had happened to me

I might even be more paranoid about my next lover,

than you were of me from the very start,

and I loved you and it hurt

to see that massive black hole

in the center of your galactic heart.

And I know how spaced-out I am

so there’s never any lack of room for more

in this expanding universe

and it’s so rare that I feel crowded,

I said stand at my side twenty-four seven

and whatever I do you do with me

and you’ll never need fear

because you have certainty of sight

that I could possibly be untrue to you

and in time, things will heal

and you’ll be able to trust again.

And by that I thought to remove

that arrowhead of pain from your life.

When you love someone the way I loved you,

what else are you supposed to do

but make sure everytime you see one

there’s one snake less under the rosebush

that could bite either one of us

when we least expected it?

But your paranoia was hydra-headed

and as fast as I cut the head of one snake off

another grew back as venomous.

I could walk on beer when I was drinking.

I can walk on stars when I want.

I never managed water

though I still don’t think I tried hard enough,

but walking on snakes without getting bit

was a different order of ordeal

and I could tell from the way I was going numb

from the number of hits I took,

and how my heart was turning into dry ice

so I could go straight from a solid state

everytime you accused me out of the blue

of things that never even remotely crossed my mind

like planets in transit across the black sun

of a completely alien solar system

to the one you and I were living in

to a ghost

without all the intervening tears

that don’t make a damn bit of difference

to reptiles without lachrymal glands.

And one day without warning

after nine years of being constant companions,

compatible familiars in every other way but one,

you just walked out,

forgiving me for something I hadn’t done,

and I let you go

like that raccoon we raised

and returned to the wild

though it tore our hearts out to do so.

Four years later, the first time

I talked to you since you left

I asked you over the phone,

after we’d both gone on to other lovers,

you walking out on yours

because they didn’t like your art,

and mine leaving me like waterbirds

as the leaves fell from the trees in the fall,

I asked you from the bottom of my fathomless heart

if you still believed I’d been untrue to you

and you said, yes,

and that’s about the saddest thing

I’ve ever heard in my life,

and said quietly out of the wounded silence

I really hope you learn differently one day

and hung up somehow knowing

I could never talk to you again about anything.

You weren’t Eve.

And there was never a Lilith in that garden.

Our innocence was home-made.

Death was already a raccoon skull when we got there,

and if you want to blame the snakes

you might as well blame the fireflies.

You were betrayed. Badly. It’s true

but by someone else not us.

You were Black Savage,

the Aquarian beast-mistress

who could speak with such tenderness

to skulls and dead trees,

the minutiae of death

that lined your windowsill

with the bones of hummingbirds and killdeer

beside tubes of viridian green

and alizarin crimson paint

and that serious violet

only you could manage to mix

in a small jar with a dead honeybee on top.

Thank-you for nine great years

of painting beside you in those fields.

I haven’t enjoyed the like of them since.

Nor ever met anyone quite like you.

Hope you’ve learned to keep better track

of what snake belongs to what garden

so you don’t hurt the innocent ones.

I don’t blame you.

Given how deeply you were hurt.

Who else could you have been?

Personally I would have betrayed the betrayer

but he was long gone

and all that was left you could do I suppose

to take the black thorn out of your heart

was to succumb to betraying the betrayed.

And if I ever meet your ex-husband

I promise you I’ll do it for you.

And send you the skull

to put on your windowsill

between the fossil of the moon

and your red-tailed hawk feather.