Saturday, December 10, 2011



This little prick comes insufferably around here

to throw acid in the eyes of my poetry

by talking about the exhausted limits of imagism

and the logical positivism

of what’s cathartically confessional

about talking to no one in a telephone booth

when it’s snowing heavily outside

as if he didn’t know when to hang up.

It was bilious enough to watch poetry turn into a career

but now to watch it turn into a campaign

is more than I can stomach. Write what you want

anyway it comes out; what’s missing

is no less an expression of you than what isn’t.

Don’t compromise the integrity of your negative air space

by letting little maggots like this

convince you you need to put training wheels on the wind

if you want to reach cruising altitude.

Sing in the shower. Sing in the rain. Sing

on the radio. Sing under a highway overpass

if you like the acoustics, sing for your supper,

sing to get laid, sing alone in the nightwood

to someone who doesn’t want to.

Sing to yourself when no one else will

and don’t worry about remembering all the lyrics,

sing because your cat came back,

because the fire god came looking for fire

and burnt his fingers on your heart

lying in ambush under the ashes,

sing because you feel other people’s pain

more tenderly than your own

or the moon keeps picking its blossom

up off the ground

and putting it back on the dead bough

as if one day the graft is going to take

and drop crazy windfalls of lunar fruit at your feet.

Bitter, mad, gentle as wild columbine,

soft as green moss, angry, compassionate,

sure, beaten down, compassionate, doubtful or dangerous,

sing like the sea making love to its own weather

and drown the astrolabes, the weathervanes,

the fog horns, the lighthouses of editorial opinion

the crow’s nests of the next critical theory to sight land,

the compasses, the wind socks, the starmaps

the crows and the doves

that take it upon themselves to come back

with forensic evidence of what you meant to mean.

Turn the wheel over to the storm

and ride the poem out like a seasoned sailor

that knows when he’s met his match

and concedes to his defeat

as the last card left he’s got to play

to overcome things from the least expected quarter.

You listen to these mud-puddle Balboas

about new planets swimming into their ken

and you’ll end up lowering your lifeboat

into a wishing well somebody’s thrown bad meat down

like the half-eaten carcass of a toxic unicorn

as full of worms as Herod on the day that he died.

Better to wear a crown of a razor wire on Mt. Helicon

then win your laurels on American Idol.

Fame is the taste of your name in the mouth of people.

Better they should whisper it among themselves

as if they’d come across a blue rose

blooming in a desert,

or a garbage bag full of unmarked money

and didn’t know who to tell

who might believe them

among the cynical mirages

who keep a jealous eye on miracles of any kind.

For God’s sake, if you’re dying of thirst

like a fish out of water beside the Lady of the Lake,

roll over and drink like a sword

that wants to get the taste

of sun and blood out of its mouth.

Or if you’re lost and you don’t know

what medium to work in

work in air like a bird,

water like a fish,

light like a star

earth like a star-nosed mole

that likes to get down to the roots of things.

Once many years ago on Laurier East in Ottawa

when I was holding court

like a jester in Graba Java

making fun of the Etruscan kings of the zodiac

for suggesting the asteroids be rezoned

as a housing project for the poor,

a young insecure, cocksure, obscure young art student

from the University of Ottawa,

joined us like a table of contents

and started going on about this and that

synthetic paradigm of bloodless abstraction

he intended to paint like the plumage of a parrot

with the eyes of a peacock

he plucked from other birds

who painted for concrete sex

and effective camouflage.

And I asked him,

standing at his easel before

that white snow witch of a canvas

that swears this is her very first time

if all that vampiric shit was on his mind

when he was about to take her feigned virginity

with a slash of cadmium red middle

like a blood bank under siege

and he said, no.

And I said what’s the good of it then

if asked to paint the Sistine Chapel roof

all you ever do is paint

your metaphysical scaffolding over and over again?

Let the paint tell you what it wants to be.

Let the poem grow from the inside out

and don’t cram all these quacks into the womb

that will leech it, and bleed it, and bleach it to death.

Invited to drink from the grail,

the wellsprings of the muses,

who cares if you have to drink from your hands,

a Tibetan begging bowl, a proboscis,

the dead seabeds of the moon,

or the thin-skinned goblets of the morning glory.

The point isn’t the vehicle, the raft

you use to get to the other side

the booster that drops off

like the empty cartridge of a fountain pen

as soon as you’re free of gravity,

and even if you’re a frog in scuba gear

and take all the contextually correct safety precautions

just don’t let one of these scorpions

talk you into giving it a ride piggyback

to the middle rock in your mindstream

where it will invariably sting you to death.

You’ll look at the moon

and it won’t mean anything to you.

You’ll look at your doorway

and you’ll wonder why it’s always

emptier than your mail box.

And then you’ll realize

trying to piece the parts that are left

like a dragonfly sticking a chrysalis together

of whatever it can lay its hands on

some apprentice planner with phoney blueprints

has stacked your little house of transformation

among the coffins of another housing project

and nipped the wings off your heels

and dug their spurs like backhoes

into your eyes so deeply

you had to settle for streetlights and security cameras

instead of stars

to know where you were going.

Better to walk down a long country road in the dark

whistling to yourself to bluff something into thinking

you’re not afraid to be here

than trespass against the darkness

by buffing the brutal radiance of the stars

with the artificial sweeteners of heritage streetlamps.

I’m not going to release anymore doves

to try and read the mind of someone I’ve never met

by relying on the fools

who think it’s all just a matter

of ritualistic spiritual etiquette,

or neo-Chicago Aristotelianism,

but I am going to liberate all my insights

like heretical fireflies

from the usual preservatives

of a cramped, conservative Mason jar

and watching them rise like sparks

from someone burning at the stake

let them make up constellations of their own

that they don’t take so seriously

because they never step

into the same mind set twice

and nothing that emerges like a paradigm

from the creative chaos

of their unconditioned light

is going to stay fixed long enough

for anyone to draw up a starmap

to ask advice, see where they are, look for signs.

What star, what flower, what lover, what poet,

waits to be illuminated

like a canary in a coal mine

by the shadows of what it longs for

before it shines?




I shall not mistake the silence

of a small town on a winter night

when only the cold stars

work the nightshift of the lightless windows

for the mordancy of a ruined bell.

I will not fletch the arrowhead of the kingfisher

in its own feathers to strike it down

as if life were merely the art of knowing

how to use others against themselves.

I will not drive

the first crescent of the waxing moon

like a tusk into war with the waning heart of the last

for forgetting where it came from

and where it must go to die.

But I remember what Muhammad said

and the early Muslims under Omar

the second caliph of Islam took to heart,

the angels won’t visit a town at four in the morning

if anyone in it went to bed hungry.

Lack of bread was a sin against the whole community

if you kept the fact to yourself

when every door was knocked upon and asked,

so as not to deprive the people of the angels’ blessing.

And they felt this for real

not in the half imitational touristy way we do

as if we were just passing through town

looking for tea and antique butter churns

we could buff our coke in

as soon as we got to Peterborough

or Havelock, to pick up the go-train to Toronto.

They didn’t horde their lack of anything.

But now we’re all standing in line

shoulder to shoulder with angels at the food bank

trying to second-guess who it is we should thank

if there’s anyone to thank at all.

And you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone

who went to sleep tonight in this small town

who wasn’t hungry for something

they’d be ashamed to admit to their neighbours.

And since the angels have mingled with the daughters of men

and Enkidu has lost the ability to talk to the animals

and Gilgamesh lost his one organic chance

of shedding one skin for another

like a waterclock on the moon

to an opportunistic serpent

who took advantage of him

while he was catching his breath,

and thereby rendered those

closest to the earth immortal and not us,

I’m going to crunch through the snow

like I’m walking on eggs through a field

in a clearing among the quiescent pines

on the highest hill on the Scotch Line

just before you get to Westport

and as indefensibly human, fallible, and brief as I am

compared to the lifespans of the stars

and the rocks in these fields

that broke the tooth of the plough

and the spirit of the ploughman

for thinking it could dislodge and wound them

like the Fertile Crescent

when even the glaciers tried but couldn’t,

I’m going to sit here on a fallen tree and wait

for the stars to divulge the esoteric teachings

of their nocturnal perspective on life.

But I’m not going to impugn the night air

as sharp and unfeeling as a diamond cutter’s eye

for its lack of angels

or excoriate the frightening absence

of any explanation as to why

all we’ve been left with

to show for the centuries we’ve laboured

in those unpropitious star fields

or these underfoot with the dead

in the cold-hearted cemeteries and fields around Perth

to make the earth bring forth its bounty

is nothing but fools’ gold in the sky’s dead pan eyes.

Now you see it.

Now you don’t.

Like me among the living.

And those who aren’t.

Empty spaces between the stars

like frames that have had their pictures cut out

like the bad parts of constellations that used to hang there

blind-folded face to the wall with their backs turned

to a firing squad of fireflies.

I can tell by how wrecked the pines are

even though the moon is applying itself like a poultice

to their fractures and wounds,

that the wind’s really put them through it this time

and that life is grave and violent and serious.

You can poeticize the facts

but picking up the skull of a baby racoon

like a moon rock that reminds you of the paintings

of Georgia O’Keeffe

and a woman you once lived with

who was deeply influenced by her work,

you can deny, distract, or abstract yourself

anyway you want for awhile

but sooner than later it hits home

that this small animal,

this empty nugget of bone

was once such as you

who felt the bewildered miracle of being alive

to sense it could turn into a curse at any moment

to make things cruelly and abundantly clear

wonder’s no more of an excuse

in the eyes of the uncompromising

unarticulated spontaneity of itslaws

than ignorance is.

And you realize

how futile and twisted

the wildflowers seem in the snow,

and how life keeps blowing smoke in death’s eyes

like warm breath on the cold night air,

a gust of stars, a ghost or two,

the million silk seeds of the milkweed,

and the terrible finality that confronts the temporal

with every breath, every step we take.

From the moment anything’s born

even its own afterbirth can turn on it.

And what makes it ambivalently worse

is that’s it’s beautiful being here.

The stars, the juniper,

and all the little tracks that radiate

like aberrant lifelines out of them,

the groundwillow, the snow, moonlight

on the last gasp of leaves on the dead aspen,

the eerie wailing of a young porcupine

that isn’t used to the solitude

and climbs a tree to go off intermittently

like an air raid siren that isn’t sure of itself,

and won’t know what there really is to be afraid of

until it’s too late to evade it,

and not least of all nor different from these

the idea of angels not visiting a town

where anyone goes to bed hungry at night.

So could be a curse, could be a blessing

as an old Chinese boatman used to say,

and maybe this godless freedom

the angels don’t show up for anymore

is the greatest gift and grace of them all,

the third wing on the bird

that no one ever looks for,

the middle extreme of the immensity

that’s wholly open

to creative interpretation between us

like the dead souls in the bodies of Canada geese.

My eyes include the stars in their story

and the stars include my story in theirs.

Same with pioneers, baby racoons,

the moon among the wounded pines

making plaster casts

to mend their fractured limbs,

or that gathering of solitudes

along the narrative theme of a river

that makes for small towns like Perth

where everybody’s been talking for two centuries

about going somewhere else

as if their canoes were always half in

and half out of the water,

one cloven foot on Devil’s Rock

and the other stretched so far out over the Tay River

it thinks it’s got wings on its heels

and keeps trying to migrate with the water birds.

But with all the gates and locks,

canals, bridges, dams and waterwheels

you’d get the impression

Perth was running a prison for water

that’s been given a life sentence

without a chance of parole or appeal.

We’re better than beavers

at brainwashing water to go

wherever we want it to

even against its will.

No doubt a reflection of the temperament

of the first people to build in this place.

Make something in the vastness of this solitude

that was recognizably useful.

Build a town.

Turn the dangerous wilderness

with a weapon in its hand

into a tool everybody could use and understand.

The swords of retired British half-pay officers

into imperial plough shares

in the hands of Irish immigrants.

Giant insects of hay balers and iron rakes

rusting in the fields with horse faced tractors

like an extinct species slowly being engulfed

by the reclaimed starfields of the end times

returning to the wild as the wind

and maple saplings change

the expressions on their faces

to something more relaxed and reassured

than military, resourceful and precise.

Displaced people like me show up out of nowhere

And after they’ve stopped asking everyone

where this place is on a starmap of the multiverse

they begin to ask

who is this place is

and it’s at that moment

the graves all over town

and those lost under maple leaves

along narrow trails deep in the woods

with the names of children on them

over by Black Creek

give up their dead like the sea

gives up a message in a bottle from the past.

And you can hear them gibbering in the birch leaves

silvered by the wind with excitement in the moonlight

as if they were all clapping hands in anticipation

of some big insight into what became of them

and of what they did and didn’t do.

It’s only fair when you’re finished

looking through the telescope

at how unimaginable it all is

to give the ghosts a chance

to look into their future as well

so they can see that you’re living what they did

story after story, death after death,

that the cones of the jack pines

still wait for a forest fire

to open their eyelids

even after twenty years of dreaming

to weep their seeds in the ashes of their urns.

So my big idea

around four o’clock on a Wednesday morning,

remembering that story about the angels

and not really caring

whether I sort the chaff from the grain,

the hungry from the fat,

the scales from the feathers,

thinking every good story

has its villain as well as its hero,

its black holes and its radiant star clusters,

its poison oak and its New England asters,

and that’s what makes

for the character development

of our place in the universe,

I’d add a spider thread

like the tiniest filament of a tributary sub-plot

to the main theme of a dreaming town

eleven miles away

and let it find its own way around

like a night creek flowing into deeper waters

where an intensely visual imagination

actually does things in the depths of reality

with the slightest of radical adjustments to its roots

that no one ever suspects

by the time the effects come into bloom.

I’m going to unspool my heart like a fire kite

caught up in the wind like one of Van Gogh’s stars

until it hovers like a flying saucer

where the angels used to appear over the town of Perth

and though I know I’m making a farce of myself

trying to live up to an enlightened legend

of the common humanity

of our most contagious emotions,

just for one clear night

like an impossible probability

I’m going to feather myself in fire

like a fact in the image of Icarus

and whether it’s real or not,

take an angel’s place,

and in its huge absence

bestow as many unconditional blessings

as I can get away with

under the eyelids of the sleeping town

like pine-cones sowing the fires of life

in the nurturing ashes of those

whose homely contribution

to the story at hand

is to know how to burn out

like a demonic poet

and hope somehow you got the job done

that no one who wasn’t

at least as half as mad as you could.