Sunday, June 17, 2012



You could be dead by now.
How would I know?
Last time I saw you
was fifty-five years ago.
My first day of school.
Your last with us.
You’re the little man now, Paddy,
you said
then got on a greyhound bus
in front of Tang’s Pagoda
as I watched the door close
on that fuselage without wings
as if the whale had just swallowed Jonah whole.
The last time I noticed we had the same eyes.
The end of your reign of terror.
As I remember you fifty-five years later
you were brutal, violent, cruel,
a con-man and a drunk.
You hurt people then laughed at their pain.
You were the lethal meltdown of a radioactive brain
that made the grass glow at night
from thousands of miles away
and poisoned the rain.
I went to jail with my mother to bail you out
more often than I was pushed into going to church.
And when you got out
you were always as angry as a killer bee
in the soggy autumn orchard of your hangover.
Life for you as it is for any coward
was one long complaint you took out on us.
My first seven years
I watched as many ambulances
take my shattered mother away for months
as many cop cars washing up on our doorstep
with all those messages in a bottle
that had your name on them
like a federal warrant for your arrest
as I recall the clinking horse-drawn milkwagons
with their coloured cardboard bottle caps
or the tinkling neighbourhood ice-cream trucks.
Remembering you now at this late date
is like fingering the fossils of a Tyrannosaurus Rex
and feeling the faint resonance
of your ferocity even yet
through my fingertips
like a warm-blooded mammal
in the menacing shadow of a reptilian law
whose last judgement was always a jugular in a jaw.
If you’re dead,
if you’re truly dead,
did you die alone?
Did anyone grieve?
Did you change over the years
and become a good man
as righteous as the stroke of midnight
and atone for anything
before you boarded the next bus for the abyss?
Was your last flashback of life
the sunami you drowned in
after your psychological fault lines
flintknapped an earthquake
that brought the whole planet down on us
everytime you barged through the door
back from the bar
and turned a home into an avalanche?
Did you remember your children?
Did you remember me?
Did you ever wonder
how I turned out without you?
Who knows?
Maybe I’m way too late for your funeral
and this wreath of blood and thorns I bring
to lay on your grave
like the bitter irony you fathered in me
is not a fitting obsequy for either of us
because maybe, possibly, improbably
as you aged like an acid
time defanged your thunder
like a white cottonmouth
and the moon took back its crescents
and the lightning began to make crutches of the trees
it used to split like cedar shakes
with double-bladed bolts of light
that scorched so much more
than they ever illuminated in the darkness they returned to.
As if the whole of the little earth I knew then,
my mother, me, my brother, my sisters
sported the wounds you gashed
on everyone’s heart and a skull
like chopping blocks
under your bloodied blunted war-ax.
For longer than autumn’s been keeping time now
with rosaries of geese in passage
like the secret names
of God on the run
for bouncing rubber cheques,
I have carried you around inside of me
like a chromosome in a coffin.
It’s a kind of genetic locket
I sometimes open
to remember you by
when I’m mythologizing my scars
like blackholes among the stars
or the empty eyesockets
on the wailing walls of the dice
you loaded like the prophetic skulls of a bad choice.
And I still don’t know if I’ve come
like an eviction notice
to this dismal place
to condemn you
or exorcise your ghost
I have despised you for so long within me
like the sloughed skin of a snakey oilslick,
the black blood of a hemorrhaging eclipse
that covers everything like an executioner’s hood,
the birds, the sun, the sea,
every tarnished cell of me
in a darkness that won’t wash off.
Or maybe I’ve just shown up again
like Empedocles on Etna
to jump into the collapsed caldera of your grave
like the last flower.
Ambiguous homage with seven kinds of meaning
to a spent volcano
buried in itself
that once knew how to preserve the dead
in all the twisted shapes of prolonged agony
that has characterized the living ever since.
Every day of my life
I have wanted to give you back your name
like a white cross on a black plague door
that isn’t me anymore
and never was.
Or maybe I should
jump down into your grave and say
Hey, Dad, isn’t this sad for you and me
this is the way we take leave of each other for good
like chainsaws snarling
through the heartwood of the family tree?
Isn’t it just so incomparably sad
that a son being honest as a deathbed
with his father as he dies
over and over again in his imagination
as I do now here beside you
should lean over and whisper into his father’s ear
with a heavy heart that regrets it was ever born to mean it
Hey, Dad, I want you to know
when it’s my time to go
and I get to the other side
of all that was
and can be abandoned
time will heal everything
you did and didn’t do
and all these severed bloodlines
reach their final watershed,
all the weak threads
of what was unbound
like rain in the river
fall into the flowing
and be made whole as strong rope again,
and the eye that offended be plucked out
and an old fist be opened up like the new palm
of a better afterlife than the one we had here,
and reunited families everywhere
break bread together in love and laughter
and every father be a strong rafter
and every mother be a lamp in a tent
and a cool night wind
as intimate and near
as stars in a desert,
and every son
say farewell to his father
as I do now here beside you
on this re-useable illusion of a death bed
where I am trying so hard to listen
to the voices in my heart
instead of the wise-guys in my head:
Father, farewell.
You gave me these empty eyes.
My mother filled them with compassion.
May peace marrow your troubled bones at last
and God soften the stone
upon which you lay your head.
What has passed has passed
like a storm out over open water.
You were my father at noon.
I was your son at midnight.
You withdrew like a shadow
that dreaded the light.
May God grant you a deeper insight
into these lives
we pass along to one another
like candles in the doorway of a dark night
and the courage to see
when they’re blown out
and death comes to sever even this little thread
of earthbound lucidity
that exists like blood between you and me
why even if these eyes of yours you gave me
were washed up like the survivors of a shipwreck
on the eyelids of the same shores
we started out from together,
asked whose son I might be
and who among all the generations
of the unborn and unperishing gathered there
was the road that fathered my journey,
I would answer
my life was a river with only one bank
that flowed from a sea of shadows on the moon.
I would embrace my mother in tears
if I saw her standing there
for all the long, hard, humiliating years
she always sat on the edge of the bed
the last thing at night
before we fell asleep under her eyes
and quietly lowered herself down
like a ladder into a snakepit
so we could climb out
without getting bit by the same viper
that had struck her like black lightning
in the heel in an orchard in spring.
About you I wouldn’t say anything.
I’d swallow my voice like a sword.
I wouldn’t sacrifice a word
on the altar of the silence
that waited like a god
to hear himself named.
I’d shake my head.
I wouldn’t look for you among the dead.




Scorched futures adjourn the skull’s medley of escapes
when hell tunes the vibrant spinal cord
to one translucent black note. I don’t expect
to be believed by any but the insane inoculants of the hour.

Call it what you will, evil, error, sin, ignorance or ego; it wears
a planet of masks and a great white smile
to get around like blood amongst itself; sometimes barely visible wolves,
often, the cracked cup of the one you love
lying face-down like a wilderness, dead at the table,
blue copper sulphate slipping silently from the corners of the mouth
like a serpent or a doctor leaving a doomed house.

These days you can look through a library of mirrors
for uncontaminated eyes and see nothing for years
but an eerie oatmeal normality that belies
the pain on the shadow of the face
condemned to terminal row for life, asking silently
to be delivered from itself like a posthumous letter of regret.
Now the wounds are deeper than the deaths,
great cosmic slashes that plunder the swollen womb of its birth-stars
and render the mother still-born and dark. Death
knocks and a greater terror opens the door.

And this foolishness hasn’t got a name, a characteristic.
There is no way to distinguish the sneer from the smile.
Call it your life but you don’t know what it is
when the darkening hills open their mouths like fish
and swallow the sun, the moon, the stars. Shadows written
on pages of light, and you, an illiterate.
The river dreams it has no banks; space finally gets the point
and a million unreal worlds fall like leaves
from an imaginary tree full of the moments
of birds, a clock of birds, each an hour and an aeon, over
before they begin. Late for your birth and too early for death,
you make a life to pass the time; you draw your face
upon the waters of illusion with your finger; the face lingers
and the waters keep moving. Somehow you feel
left out, left behind, abandoned by the flowing.

Eventually you drown in your own face to ease
the irresistible current of your own longing to belong.
Is this illumination, arrival, or suicide?
Maybe the sea will receive you like a word
it whispered into its own ear; maybe this is your afterlife
and you’re too enamoured of the dream
to wake up in paradise. Or maybe this is the clearing of the throat
we call hell and all the songs are broken, all the wings are ruined,
fractured guitars, idiot lighthouses stammering to the storm.

Goat-junk, even the holiest. And now there is this emptiness left,
this debtor-zero that goes from door to door
asking if anyone in the house owes it anything,
its eyes, two begging bowls, its heart, a panicked furnace
eating lethal salads of incriminating Nazi documents,
the bitter herbs of withered victory gardens.

You’re trying to finance a movie of your fingerprints; you’re
lost and yet you’re standing at the crossroads like a street sign,
your emotional life, a traffic-light
in a cemetery where even the ghosts can’t give you any direction.

So what are you now; what address would you offer the stars
that have pulled you over for delirious living?
Everything, a huge lie, corrective vision, a lifeboat full of sharks.

That’s when love blooms like a white star on a dead branch of the night
and too desperate to obey, you bite into
the black apple of your own heart, trying to stir
your dispirited cauldrons of boiling vinegar
into the golden foil of joyous ciders. Don’t you see;
this time around
it’s the star that goes looking for the magi; it’s
the garden that gives names to Adam and Eve; it’s
the sinner that saves the messiah.




Little enemy, you’re a maggot too early to runt my blood.
You can eat my heart when I’m dead
but the hour’s still too dangerous for you to raise your head.
False lover, I’ve planted razors and roses of lipstick
in the mirror where you used to cut the throats of the doves
for not being swans, like those wrists you’d unlatch like gates
that were always somehow shutting you out, never keeping you in.
And the poppies are thriving everywhere like ambulances
emulating your urgency like a requiem at a wedding.
Go in peace, with a crown of deadly nightshade,
to a quiet, damp place where your bruises are silent,
and you’ve settled your score with the world like a bone
by making it atone for the fact that you were ever born.

And you, my teacher, my cornerstone, my fountain, my door,
thank you for doing the best you could with what
you had to work with like a lighthouse in a storm
swinging its sword at the lightning like the hands of the clock
it was duelling with in its sleep. I’ve worked out
an uneasy truce with the gods in this country of one
I’ve surrendered to like a starmap with no boundary stones.
I burned my books, and learned to fly by the seat of my pants.
And every step I take backwards to cover my tracks
I consider a signal advance into my expansive maturity.
Now I hang out with the dead to learn about living.

And you, my children, who have forgotten how to know me,
how far from the tree you travelled to bloom.
I am in you like a space you can’t disown
and time will bring you, scar by scar, back to me
like an ocean and an atmosphere back to the moon
where the clarity of the stars will cauterize the wound
that teaches us all how to forgive our own humanity
like a death sentence that slips a loveletter through the bars.
I still delight in the dragons of my dark energy
that wheel like circumpolar constellations
and red-tailed hawks on the thermals of my blood
but I expand and retract my claws more like
phases of the moon now, than the thorns of a rose with scales.
When there’s a chance I might penumbrally eclipse the light
with the shadows of my vans, I lower them like black sails
whenever I’m close enough to shore to bury the dead in me.

I can do no more. I kick stones down the road like a glacier.
I roam like a rogue planet from star to star
to see if I can thrive in the light creatively
without turning my back on my homelessness.
I teach hitch hikers how to paint on the move,
and tour with a sacred circus of heartbroken clowns
just to keep my voice in shape when I’m called upon
to let these mercurial sibilants of light speak through me
like a grammar of fireflies addressing the sages of chaos.
I’ve buried the rage of my father who terrorized my childhood
like an urn of demons so deeply inside of me
even the dogs can’t dig it up at the full moon
when I burn another scarecrow dressed up in his clothes
and he weeps like fire extinguished in the roots
of a harvest he never sowed. Though I keep company
with one who comes and goes like an ice age,
a translucent diamond seer of the condemned
so coldly intelligent its clarities burn without smoke,
I consult like a consigliere who knows both heaven and hell
and tempers my love of the earth, when I forget
its hoofs and horns, by slashing at the absurdity
of my longing not to desecrate the table I eat at
by neglecting the protocols of gratitude for what I’ve taken.

I’ve given back everything that was within my reach.
All those thoughts, all those feelings, no longer
my personal possessions. Not readiness, not ripeness
my all, but inspiration the way I rise to the unattainable
through no means of my own, and the way I fall
not a tragic flaw, merely moonset among words,
the way space bends light into a gravitational eye
that sees things in a different way than I do
though we both agree, firefly or dragon, they’re all true.
Outside or inside, there’s no window between them,
no wave the water in the lake sucuumbs to.
No better view at zenith than in the nadir of life.
Seeing not two has a better attitude than one.
That my solitude has no identity to speak of
but it’s never empty, and it’s always charged
with the significance of love that doesn’t try to cram
its own impersonality into a locket of the heart
by prying it open before it’s ready to bloom.

And the rest I leave to the crazy wisdom of the muse
should she ever decide to take the form
of a woman again to sweeten the fruits of the abyss
I lay on the stairs of her temple like the gift of a gift
so inconceivably unsayable she never needs to ask
to know what it is.