Tuesday, December 4, 2012



At the crossroads of martyrs and reptiles,
annihilation’s easy enough. It’s carrying on
that’s hard. All my emotions are feathered
like crows or osprey, hermit thrush, Canada geese,
and the occasional humming bird but that doesn’t mean
they’re perched in an aviary, or forgotten
what it was like when they had scales.

I’ve softened as I’ve aged. Molars and mountains
worn down like a planet in the tides of time and the stars.
I used to embroider my emotions in blood
on pillowcases full of razorblades that had
as many phases as the moon has thorns,
broken stained-glass windows, the shards
of shattered mirrors. I lived like stolen
radioactive material in a black market
with no flower-stalls, though I was raised
in a city of gardens with hanging baskets
dripping from the lamp posts outside the pawn shop,
with three full moons of leprous white globes
cloned incommensurately down the main street.

I buried my emotions at sea on the run
like depth charges deep within me
where the sharks and submarines cruise
for targets of opportunity. Boom.
But on the surface all you’d hear
in polite company, was this muffled wump
like a boxer connecting a right cross meteorically
with an entire species. And I’d tuck myself in at night
under the chained blankets they use
like straitjackets to discipline dynamite.
I’d dream like a junkyard dog with its head
on its paws in between thieves of one day
winning my colours like a moonrise in a wolfpack.

Ask me what the nights were all about back then
and I’d immediately say black. Intense,
voracious black. Black matter, black holes,
black energy, black dwarfs, black diamonds
on the coal road they took like the wrong path in life.
I’d look at the traffic lights, the colour of lifesavers,
and I’d see three eclipses, two for the way
I looked at things, and one indelibly patched
over my third eye like cataracts on the windows
of a black out in a blitz. Not brutal, not cruel.
But it wasn’t often anyone looked at the ore
and saw a jewel. I was a chip off the old block
as my mother used to say referring to my father,
and I’d go away for days at a time feeling
like Charlie Manson in a nuclear winter
for carnivorous losers like Smilodon
in the last ice age who would never know
what it was like to be petted under the chin and purr.

I may have been evil, but I was smart.
And is that man good, who likes you,
and tells you to get away from him to keep
the infection from spreading? Any merit in that?
If the plague rat jumps ship before docking in Genoa?
Who knows why things change the way they do?
Maybe everybody’s got a quota of mutations
to go through before the world shapes up like a pear,
the snake sheds its last skin, evolution
gives you a break on a long, lonely highway at night
and the prehensile grip of your thumb gets you a lift
from a stranger with cigarettes the rest of the way.

Even as a cold furnace of a kid full of the ashes
of the tree forts I built from stolen lumber
like eyries where I could shriek on the wind
like an eagle with an arrow in its wing
and nobody could hear me but the wind and the leaves
and at night when they came out like call girls, the stars.
That did the trick, I think. When they weren’t
mean and stupid, they were wise as underground cells
of a compassion as tangible as honey on a burn.
I loved to hear the stars roaring like dragons in the abyss
without anyone catching fire for heresy
and then watch them fixing chandeliers of fireflies
to the lobes of their ears in front of the light bulbs
marqueeing the fragrant make-up mirrors
that told them no lies, as if it were raining light out.

You could burn, you could burn, you could burn,
you could burn like a clear blue white star,
pure acetylene hotter than the indigo petals
of the wild irises with their tongues hanging out
like Sirius A in the Big Dog because of the heat.
You could know them all by name and still,
and this is the best part of any art, have no power
over them, even when you knew the secret name
of their god, and kept it to yourself out of gratitude.
Even when they were grasped by the throat like swans
by a john as sometimes happened, it only
went to prove how unattainable everything is
you think you’ve got a handle on, as they’d
slip through your fingers like water and clouds
and seductive perfumes with the names of romantic novels
billowing like mustard gas in no man’s land.

As vivid as the lilac dot of Mercury dancing in the sunset
of a modest telescope that can see light
at the end of the tunnel of death, like a fun ride
in a circus of horrors, I remember looking
through the plumes of smoke from the pulp mill
through a glass darkly on my mother’s back porch
just to get a glimpse of Wednesday’s planet,
exhilarated to see what Copernicus hadn’t,
this tiny seed pearl that never turned its face
away from the sun, intermittently revealed
through a parting of the ways between me
and the black ghosts of an ongoing exorcism.

I began to understand the dark wisdom of shining
isn’t so much a matter of what you put out
as what you take in when the light turns you around
like stars and callgirls and says, here, in this black mirror,
take a good look at yourself. What constellation is that?
Black dwarfs on a starmap, or a cabal of fireflies
cauterizing the lightning roots of your myth of origins
like bad wiring on the electric chair of Queen Cassiopeia
shorting out the fuses of the old asterisms
with the creative possibilities of less terminal visions?

Even today, after fifty years of poetry,
I can’t look at the Pleiades without feeling
I’m in the boudoir of the sibyls trying to make
a decent man of the boy in me they adopted
as one of their own and taught me how to burn
the darkness out on the pyre of a sky burial
devoted to nightbirds like a dragon that emptied
its furnace of a heart out like the skull cup of an urn
or a coal scuttle pouring its ashes out like diamonds
of Zen costume jewellery from the mended tea pot
of Aquarius on the cold side of the moon
to warm things up a bit like a compassionate heretic
with a cosmic emergency exit at either equinox.
That’s when my tears began to thaw like glaciers
on a long inter-reflecting firewalk of waterclocks.




If you’ve come this far
by the very fact you could
your solitude is marked for exile.
Those who sustain
are threatened by those who enhance.
There’s a soft night breeze
blowing through the open window
and a chandelier trying to teach a mobile to dance
and a man looking up at the stars
into the abyss beyond
wondering how to be grateful
that chaos took advantage of random chance
and he’s here
amazed by the accident.
Being without intent.
Meaning without a basis in fact.
And a passion for darkness that surpasses the stars.
His longing must have reached them by now.
His compassion must have brought them to tears.
Wavelengths of insight can burn for light years
like fireflies with astrolabes
trying to get a fix on their event horizons
as if their own shining
were the only lead they had to go on.
A mirage in a desert of stars
when you’re lost
can give you a sense of direction
to the watershed of your radiance
as well as any other approach to the vastness can.
He picks a few yellow leaves off a green plant
in a bone-dry apartment
and for a moment he’s Adam in the garden again.
He realizes that promoting life
is his way of cherishing his own.
And then he ruminates on its perishing
on his way to the garbage can
to dispose of the heart-shaped leaves
like phases of the moon
on the pages of an obsolete calendar
with pictures of the scenic past
inviting you to come and visit.
What’s a guest to do by himself
when there’s no one else
in the lighthouse
to play the host
but the ghost of God
wandering like smoke along this lonely coast
trying to make the sea stand still
knowing that’s the one commandment
it can’t fulfill
and probably what got him killed?
Prayers are more sincere at a seance
than they are at church.
Widow watch in a dark tower
long after the search has been called off.
He lights a candle.
He blows it out.
He sits down at his desk
and listens to the raging rant
of a heart-broke drunk outside
smashing the love letter he meant to write
like an empty whisky bottle
in the indifferent street light
on the rocks of a lip-syncing mermaid
who’s just jumped his shipwreck
for a lifeboat that likes her singing.
He gets the message.
He’s not one of her new friends.
The man at his desk
reassesses his loneliness
and decides one bodymind
a lifetime
might be a brighter lamp
than any two a genie could wish for.
New lamps for old.
But the fire doesn’t change.
Desire takes root in its own ashes.
Two birds perch like hinges
on the door of a grand entrance
to a Janus-faced New Year
though it’s only August
that looks both ways at once
at the valley it’s just passed through like a death mask
and the view from the peak
of the mountain it’s on
speaking to God face to face
as if there were no come down to the future
of its unhinged celebrants.
Is love the long binge of a periodic alcoholic
who can’t remember
the damage he’s done
to the weather of a loved one?
Or is there something more to it
that greets the heart
with everything that’s missing from the mind?
An inexplicable mystery
that reveals a starmap
of fireflies for the blind
that no one can follow
like the white cane of a tall ship
witching for water in hell
like a lightning rod.
And in heaven
a bloodline that isn’t wounded
by a grail of sad heavy wine
that cures the ailing kingdom of its symptoms
but not the longing of the disease
for the delirium of the dream
that broke it
like a water clock with a fever.
More heretic than believer
a crow balances
like a black umbrella
on a power line outside his window.
Looking at it
he sees an eclipse of the moon.
No exit
but time
maybe time.
Even the darkness must pass.
He takes it as a sign
that if he’s come this far
the future is well behind him.
He’s a star beyond shining
and there’s no way,
even if he’s recalled from exile
even if he receives a look from someone
he can return to,
they’re ever going to find him.