Monday, December 12, 2011



I’m going to stare the sweet, white oblivion

behind the purity of this page down

until it breaks its vow of silence

like the hymen of a nun

and there are little scarlet letters

of red-blooded apostasy

lying like rose petals all over the snow.

I’m going to track birds all over this page

like the linearity of an unknown Etruscan alphabet

everybody’s trying to translate into their native language

like the lozenge of a sacred syllable

that disappears on their mother tongue

like the first spring thaw of the year.

I don’t care if the hunters in my rear view mirror

scratch their heads at the strange signs they’re tracking,

I’m going to expand their vocabulary

with beasts that have never appeared

on anyone’s wall before.

I’m going to teach the Neanderthals

to paint like Hieronymus Bosch.

I don’t really care if it means anything

because someone somewhere

is going to interpret it as something.

So I’m going to follow the circuitous blossoming

of my own mindstream ignoring

the sexually frustrated logic of those who think

if you link a lot of empty words like cattle cars

up in a row syntactically

somehow that makes you a grapevine

and the smell of diesel is not that far off

from the bouquet of the industrial wine

you think you can serve up to Dionysus

without having him spit you out of his mouth.

Doesn’t bother me if a lot of half-wits

want to break their brains

trying to see what the other one means

biting into black walnuts

like the prophetic skulls of Rinzai koans,

this is my poem

and it’s going to mean what it sees.

I’m going to ride this wavelength of insight out

until it breaks like the arm of a spiral galaxy

on the shores of sunny California.

I wouldn’t abuse the prayer mats of those

who want to touch their knees

and foreheads to the ground

like the landing gear of space modules

making a lunar touchdown

but I’m going to ride this poem out like a flying carpet

as if the direction of prayer were everywhere

and nowhere at all at the same time.

I’m going to veer, bank, soar, and glide

down the bannisters of my own thermal stairwells as I will

and let the wild, unwed daughters

of joy and freedom move me as they will

like a red-tailed hawk until the air cools down

in the late summer sunset above the abandoned fields

rumpled as unmade beds with bruised pillows

and Venus is the first to carry her radiant candle

down the long darkening hall to bed.

I’m going to do a ghost dance on the moon.

I’m going to leave my footprints heaped up

like junkmail that found its way back to your threshold

like a cat that you just can’t get rid of.

I didn’t learn to go on the warpath

like Sitting Bull or Geronimo

by following the footsteps painted on the floor

of a Fred Astaire dance studio.

This poem’s going to expose

the sterling lies of the good guys

and undermine the romantic myths

of their anti-heroes like house flies.

Profusion of white, albino prairie

I’m not going to just sit here

staring at this empty page like the first time

I saw the cover of the Beatles’ white album

and my first wife on acid.

I’m not going to o.d. on all this white

rejectionism that sticks its nose up

at all colours of the rainbow

or look at it like the last thing a junkie sees

like an overexposed flashback of his life

before he passes out permanently

like a snow globe that’s learned to breathe underwater.

I’m not going to freeze to death

like a blizzard in a syringe.

I’m going to piss on it and bleed on it

and cast my shadow upon it

like an extra dimension

that knows how to stand up for itself

like a heretic at the fire stick of a stake

who rubbed all that’s suspiciously

homogeneous and pure about death the wrong way

just to get something going

that would spread like wild fire

and leave a mark upon life as indelibly black

as this page is intolerably white.




Not a black wind on a blue day

but definitely grey.

Enter image of a slumping gas pump

with red paint flaking off it

and a coca cola sign just as old

hanging lop-sided

above an abandoned grocery store

across a small wooden bridge on a dirt road

beside an old stone mill with a seized waterwheel

that stopped turning in the flow of the river a long time ago.

Now take it a step further

and try to imagine a black pot-belly stove

in the middle of the wooden-floored grocery store

with people warming their hands around it

like petals turned toward

this black sun that shines at midnight

almost cast iron cherry red when its stoked

with two year old red oak

and it’s snowing thick and heavy outside

as if someone got into a pillow fight with swans

and there’s an orange-apricot glow

ripening on the drifts under the storefront windows,

that tints the blue snow

towards its complementary violet

and everything looks like a picture-perfect oil painting

on a nineteen-fifties Christmas card.

And there are people inside. Can you see them?

They look like dark, habitable planets transiting the light

of another star seventy-one light years from here.

Silhouettes of men who are always wiping their hands on a rag

as if they just finished fixing something,

farmwives asking the grocery clerk

who cooked which pie

and whose were selling the most,

kids as impatient as snowballs

waiting for their skates to be sharpened

that expect you to use your imagination

to fill in the negative spaces

and give them the benefit of the doubt as to the rest.

The river that runs beside the mill

isn’t all that wide but it canters

over a Stonehenge of creek stones

like a blue-black anthracite horse

with a white mane

that’s no longer harnessed

to the tyranny of equinoctial wheels.

And I’d expect to see more trucks

than cars parked outside

and feel that everybody

took a secret pride in being trusted enough

to pump their own gas

and have their word taken for the amount.

And stepping inside out of the cold

through a doorway that triggered a bell

to call someone out of a dark backroom

to greet you like a friend they’ve been meaning

to ask about cutting swamp wood

when the ice grows thicker

and your brother’s hauled in

enough to spare the Clydesdales

before they ask you what they can help you with

as they’re already pulling

what they know you want

off the shelves and piling it on the counter,

I can smell the wet wool

as the snow melts on their shoulders,

smoke and ashes of acrid oak,

kerosene, gas, metallic sorrows

everyone stores in the corners of their mind

and seldom talks about

like the wreck of a tractor

that turned over on their father and crushed him

trying to pull off the road up a slope

into that first year’s planting of cattle corn,

and even though it’s been tarred and feathered

by years of pigeon shit and straw

one day they’re going to fix it

as soon as the part that’s missing like their father

they’ve put on order comes in.

Sitting like owls on the counter

to keep the pigeons away

two fat, unconcerned farm cats

who hunt the deer mice and river rats

through the badlands of the bags of grain

slumped like corpses on top of one another

in the storage sheds out back.

The smell of wet sawdust, savaged wood,

and a confidence in the air like pipe smoke

or the billowing chimney

of a lone farmhouse in the distance

on a cold, dark night

where a man steps out onto the porch

in his workshirt

and looks long and hard at the stars

like someone who knows tools

and doesn’t doubt

if you keep the big questions in life

close to home in a clearing among the trees

there’s not much

that can’t be reasonably resolved

by a fan-belt, a new timing chain,

a fifty-two Ford pick-up and a timber-mill

that was always thumbs up about the future

in a tried and trued way you could count on

like the number of fingers you had left.

Patti Page, Frank Sinatra, Hank Williams,

McCarthy, the Red Scare, Korea,

and the uprooted stumps of the farmboy vets

not even a decade back from World War II,

still learning what they can do

without this arm or that leg

if you wanted to look at it in a historical context.

John Diefenbaker was the prime minister of Canada,

but basically political opinions were undergarments

you kept to yourself for fear of offending

your neighbour’s sensibilities

as they sloshed the crabapple wine

for a second time over the rim of your glass.

But that’s not to say there wasn’t the occasional bad ass

looking for a casus belli to start a brawl

in the Friday night hotel

where his son was the bouncer

and the cop who came into stop it, his cousin.

Pigeon-holed doves of mail in envelope tuxedos

that knew how to write an address

as beautifully and clearly

as someone who knew how to tie

a double Windsor knot properly.

And it’s not hard to imagine

what was conveyed by fountain pens

that slipped quietly through the local news

like loons and birch bark canoes

like the MacLeans’ Method of Hand Writing

with inkwells and nibs,

the tentative proposals of an epistolary romance,

the shock of sudden deaths

on the periphery of tribal families

and the grandmothers that aged like shamans

who saw to the funeral arrangements

and remembered the childhoods of the deceased

long after anyone else could

and what songs and wildflowers they liked the most.

The intimate up close business of the cell

attending to its own farm-sized affairs

that could tell by the light through the trees at night

it’s got a neighbour, and both belong to a bigger body

though it’s the elephant in the dark for most

and everyone’s opinion is shaped

by the part they’re holding on to the hardest.

Now the lights go out.

The people disappear like breath on air.

The kids have grown and some of their kids

still live around here on potluck crannies of land

and some, like the last son to leave, have inherited the farm,

but most have moved into town or the city

to save the long drive to take their kids

to dance and judo lessons, hockey games

and left the fields unrocked in the spring

and bridges, gas pumps,

waterwheels, and grocery stores

to the spiders and mice and birds

that stayed for the winter,

to collapse under the weight of snow on the roof,

as the sun and rain warp the grey boards

into insurrections against the old fashioned nails

that kept things together awhile

like bridges and grocery stores

with only three flavours of ice-cream,

vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry,

and lives that were no longer tenable

once the fruit stopped dropping

close to the tree in their dream.

And the thick heavy snow

buried them like seldom-used bridges

on the backroads of the unpeopled silence

that takes their absence for granted.