I SHOULD BE LIGHT YEARS AWAY FROM HERE BY NOW
I should be light years away from here by now.
Too full of shadows. Encyclopedic sorrows
that keep updating themselves. Artistic ordeals
that return me to the world stranger than I was.
More alone. With my indeterminate talent
for living through things like arrows pushed
all the way through to the other side. I should be
out of this raving asylum any day now.
I should be released like a beast from a zoo
by a lightning storm that gnawed its way through the bars.
My last attachment in this zendo of mirageless monks
a rope in the basement, so as not to discourage the kids.
When is enough, enough? Go ask Plato,
or better yet, Plath, Essenin, Mayakovsky, Lao-tzu,
or that ingenuous adolescent down the street
who shot himself in his parents’ laundry room
when his girlfriend said he wasn’t fun enough?
Proved her right. Gouged his parents’ hearts out.
Me? I thought I could shine for the eyeless.
I thought I could make something out of the starmud
of my middle-aged childhood, that honoured my mother.
One time I knew all the names of the stars
in four languages and all their symbolic meanings.
I taught myself algebra on my grade six summer vacation.
One time I could be grinding pyrex parabolic mirrors
with carborundum and a razor blade and a lightbulb
and a catalogue of diffraction patterns to smooth out
the angstroms for ten inch reflecting telescopes
on equatorial mounts, and the next, lighting
a gang leader from Hong Kong up with a jar of gasoline
to get him and his buddies to stop burning cats
or bashing their eyes out with baseball bats
in my Pacific Rim neighbourhood. A Kafkaesque disadvantage
in a cat fight. But I always had this little black pearl
of hope in my heart to go back to like a new moon
that said the spring is bitter, but things are going to get
better sooner than you think. Green apples
still give me gripe. And they’re fallacious when they’re ripe.
Translated Euripides, the Gallic Wars, the Greek Anthology,
seeded thousands of paintings on the wind
like surrealistic milk weed pods from the l0lst Airborne,
and written more poems than even I can remember
that sit stacked in boxes by the thousands in the studio closet
like the segments of a column I haven’t assembled yet
to commemorate my campaign against mediocrity
that no one’s ever heard of yet. Pyrrhic victory
that would have cost as much to lose
as it took to win these spray-painted laurels of tin.
Was a time I worried about myself as an individual
in relation to the tradition of a university literary curriculum
but now there are no individuals and to judge
from what doesn’t get read of the great dead
it’s at least honourable to be acquainted with,
put a poppy and a stalk of wheat on their graves,
no tradition either. Just these club meds of verbiage
when the butterflies land on the lips of their drinks
like cocktail umbrellas. Rimbaud’s eternal cry
of protest against against the calcined fossils
of poetry booking a reading in the Burgess Shale
realities ahead of time. Merd! Merd! Merd!
Like a serial killer stabbing someone to death.
Nothing vatic about the random action of molecules.
No hidden harmonies of earth buried in the astro-turf.
No roots on the plastic flowers, no urgent necessities,
no emergency transcendence, no panicked search
for exits and entrances when the house is on fire,
No mottled fools hoping to bump into a holy grail,
No myths like the Mafia to back every word up
with an offer you can’t refuse. Nothing portentous
as a comet in the flaring of a matchbook
of phosphorus red orchids with daring red eyes.
Dearth. Vacuity. The cynical gratuity
of the gnostic gospels of comic books
no one’s going to read on their way to the grave.
The dependent tolerance of institutional paternalism
bringing the mountain down on everyone’s heads
in an avalanche of awards and grants
that block the road between Terrace and Prince Rupert
as dawn breaks up like ice on the Skeena,
to make sure its forms are quisling enough
to pass a jury if not the way to the sea
of a more dangerous aspiration than a crossword puzzle.
Here lie all those whose names were written in jello.
Whose shrines were Campbell soup can tins.
Whose heart bridged the existential gaps
between hollow and shallow like a reality show
that never went broke underestimating human intelligence
as P.T. Barnum was fond of reminding his circus clowns.
Poetry so fireproof now you could use it
for the insulation of a crack house without worrying
anything is going to break into flames. Or Rimbaud.
Or a Chinese gang leader torching cats.
They’ve pulled the fangs of the moon.
No incisors in their mouths. No thorns on the roses.
And work you could recognize anywhere by its logo,
its celebrity brand name, outdated as soon as sought,
cotton candy befuddled in Lindsay Lohan’s hair.
No birds in their cosmic eggs. No Big Bangs
to get anything started among the membranes
of their birth sacs. Just this endless steady state theory
of still borns deriding anything apocalyptically
coming out of a self-induced coma without a headache.
Want to hang the medal of the moon around
the throat of a night bird, or a choir of wolves,
to see how it estranges their singing from their longing,
their immaculate solitude from a mob of voyeurs
with the hasty tastes of a locust plague of troubadours
that long for nothing so much as a literary career
in a colony of towering termites, with or without a queen.
The democratic revenge upon sidereal exceptionalism.
The whole barnyard full of muddy eagles at ground level.
Or being lead around by donkeys, in chains.
And the muse? The muse never visits you
if you don’t sacrifice your first best goat,
put nothing less than everything on the line all the time,
and never having had a taste of that kind
of apostate creative freedom sweeter than sin,
you’re just another fly buzzing at the windowpane
as if it were a vision of life based on punctuation.