YOU WERE A HOOKER BY SIXTEEN
You were a hooker by sixteen.
Your mother, your madame
The navy at N.F.B. Esquimalt, your john.
In the triplex, next door, upstairs
on a Friday night, all the windows
broken from the inside by whiskey bottles.
My friend, since you were seven,
how we struggled to keep our innocence
out of the world’s greasy hands.
Oil slick on the rose.
White peonies of blood-stained Kleenex
in the toilet bowl. Eclipse of the flowers
in a city of gardens. Even when the stars
were out, the darkness lurked, the doorways
housed strangers like trap door spiders.
Joy held a grudge against our wariness.
The windows didn’t trust us, and the street
was a firewalk of ordeals to test us
for things we really didn’t comprehend
but sensed, like broken glass, were crucial.
Painful to remember even now,
grey, grey, grey, the middle-aged children
trying to inch their way through the concrete
like dandelions or blades of grass,
or when it was wet, wrote their names in it,
each the founding member of a different slab,
gravestones with graffiti epitaphs
laid like bets against a future
that had been conditioned
by violence, poverty, disappointment.
The mythic inflation of human extremes
venting fumaroles of pent up emotions
entrenched like killer bees in their hearts
swarming the children in the agony of their perversity
as if they were always trying to get even with God
for something that drove them mad
with distemper and spiritual rabies.
Desecration always the answer.
Smashing beautiful things, debunking
the rare gestures of human divinity
that reminded them of who they weren’t,
fouling the waters of the children
with the effluvium of their own degeneracy.
I can see the chestnuts of your big brown eyes,
your helical blonde hair, your mulatto lips
and the pearl of your nacreous smile
when we walked through the wild broom fields
at the edge of town, and you forgot
how much your life hurt. Your mother.
Your body. Your corrosive acquiescence.
I should have made love to you
when you asked me why I hadn’t
and all I could say, because it was true,
I wanted to be different for you.
I wanted to show you what water couldn’t manage,
if you filled a bathtub up with tears,
you could always wash off in the stars.
You could burn off with light.
You could polish gold in the fire.
You could get out of the net
like the Circlet of Western Fish in Pisces,
out of the fetid uncleaned fish tank,
and see for yourself how vast the ocean is.
I didn’t know of a better way to be with you
especially when you showed up on Saturday morning
with wounds you’d keep to yourself
the rest of your life, and I wouldn’t ask,
it could have been anyone of a dozen men,
who bruised the beautiful blue eyelids of the rose,
and how, phosphorus and dry ice in my heart,
I wanted to give them a sex change
and turn them out like working girls on car seats
in the badlands of the Hindu woodlots
that reeked like seaweed on the moon.
Murder too good for the likes of them
in the ferocity of what was left of my boyish purity
I wanted to introduce them to the kind of agony
that feeds on itself, a root-fire, an inflammation
that can’t be contained by remorse or forgiveness.
Thorns on the roses they use to wipe their asses.
How many gates ago was that, how many
forbidden thresholds crossed, how many
long sidewalks you walked down alone
like a gazelle in the rain
with your stilettoes in your hand
thinking about nightschool
to become a nurse’s aide. Gone now,
noxious vapours from a street vent.
Heard you dumped a trick in Montreal
as soon as you got off the plane.
I went on to university which was
a different kind of whoredom without the fun
and then deepened my alienation as a poet
by refusing to forget about you
when I entered the witness protection programme
and disguised myself in my solitude
to keep the nightmares from seeping back in
like radon gas summoned to a seance in the basement
where all the bodies were buried
that had made their bones at our expense.
Still doesn’t make sense to me after all these years.
Surreal atrocities and ironic black farces
you didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at.
As I get older, little archipelagoes of memories
surface from that lost continent of childhood
before it broke up and went its separate ways.
I take little doses of depression everyday
to immunize myself against the poison
of all those people who threw themselves
like bad meat down the wishing wells of the children
we did an unconvincing job of being,
so little joy in the way we looked at ourselves
when no one else was. Salvage and shipwrecks.
Time insulates and buffs, brokers and deals,
but it does not heal. You love someone,
and you loved them even before
you learned how to feel, and they’re in
a worse mess than you are, and you burn
to help them out like one constellation to another,
a bear trap in a marijuana patch baited
like Andromeda chained and helpless on the rocks
and you want to slay the inevitability of dragons,
but all you’ve got for a sword is the hand of a clock
and the courage of a badly mauled heart
and thirty-seven light years of remembering
your unspeakable silence on a Saturday morning
and the tenderness of you leaning your head
against my shoulder as we walked
as if I were the mountain and you
were the avalanche looking for someone
to hold on to you like a meteor shower
at the end of an era of one-eyed telescopes.
Hope you’re a nurse somewhere now in the world.
Clean sheets and a compassionate bedside manner.
Maybe staring out of a window on the nightward
at the stars above and the city lights below
as we used to look down from Mt. Tolmie
to see the firefly of Port Angeles across the Georgia Strait
like a sister galaxy, Messier 31,
in the Great Square of Pegasus
where I buried our new myth of origin
in that constellation I made up for us
like a time capsule of what we could save
of our childhoods, and never dig up again.
O but that fathomless silence on Saturday morning
like a black hole in the sunshine, and the sky,
the injured bird in your eyes, has taught me more
about the crazy wisdom of compassion
and the injustice of suffering before you had a voice
to shriek it as if your nails were striating glass
like a diamond-cutter or a snow blind glacier
or a mirror you clawed until it bled red roses,
than my last eight books and four awards for poetry have.
Every anti-hero needs an anti-muse of dark energy
to fire things up like a cold furnace
in a lighthouse on the dark side of the moon,
that doesn’t listen to its own storm warnings
and goes off in a lifeboat to look for you
as if I could still keep you from drowning
in a sea of shadows after all these years.
Three bells and all’s well, I hope.
Though probability’s seldom esteemed
for the prophet it is. You left me your silence,
as if nothing else could answer me,
and I’ve been listening in my solitude ever since
for the hush of your shoes coming down the hospital hall.