Monday, February 25, 2013



The day with no ambitions. Grey. Grey.
Stained-glass stars chained at the window,
Medusan mobiles hang like jellyfish,
motionless solar systems frozen in time,
mystic blue of burned out candle holders,
their flicker of light, a Monarch butterfly
in winter, perfectly intact, a wick in a pool of wax.

Sunday morning. Five churches open.
No carillon of bells. Four liars and one
that’s trying to face the facts. Bank, cafe,
Mac’s, gas station, a hospital with a landing pad
helicoptering the week-end’s heart attacks to Ottawa.

Soiled snow slobbering in the gutters
of a bleak street. Heritage fieldstone
refitted with aluminium windows, grandpa
in sunglasses where the old meets the new.
Among the local tribes, Scottish settlers,
Irish immigrants, British half pay officers,
even if you’ve lived here a hundred and fifty years
you’re still passing through. Good-bye. Good-bye.
Not enough dead in my past to be one of you.

A chubby adolescent primes his black baseball cap,
hitches up his pants, swings the door open
to the crowded cafe where there might be girls
as lonely as he is, and makes a hopeful grand entrance.
A grey haired woman darts from the bank
like a sparrow who knows her business.
Retirement capital of Canada, things advance
from accident to accident like the old woman
last summer who stopped her car without warning
in the middle of the road and got out to ask
the passers-by if anyone knew how to park it.
The lamp posts straight as florist’s daffodils
but one uprooted by a drunk, leaning like a mast
to starboard, counterpointing the upright by contrast.
An orange cone, thumb-tacking the spot
something happened out of the usual to make
Sunday worth talking about after the plates
are pushed away and the waitress comes to the table
knowing what everyone takes in their coffee
without having to ask if they’re from here or not.

Everyone lives as if they’d just read The Love Song
of J. Alfred Prufrock, though I doubt they’ve heard of Eliot.
You can tell by the way they walk how long
they’ve been landlocked beside the Rideau Canal
without mermaids, though they stock the lakes
with fingerlings of small mouth bass for American fishermen.

All well and good, I say, all well and good
though the suicide rate among the teen-agers
is the highest in the valley, I’m not passing judgement
from the God’s eye view of my upstairs apartment window.
I’m not logging the cadavers of dead trees
in the cemetery of a frozen swamp in winter.
I’m not trying to thaw the dreams of the mosquitoes out
beside the stove. Life here is a home remedy
for everything, mystic bumbleberry pies cooling
on the farmyard windowsills of rustic sibyls
who usually know more about what you need
than you do in the afterlife of some psychic catastrophe
and more often than not are uncannily right.
When it’s not being shown how to do things the smart way,
talent is quietly scorned by the schadenfreude
of incontestable skills that know how to fix it on their own.
Confess your helplessness with inquisitive humility
and everyone turns into Aristotle in a teaching cave
and shows you how to patch a leak in your radiator
on the cheap with eggs and pepper, or keep
the window in your woodstove clean by making
a paste of its ashes and rubbing it into your third eye
to get the soot and creosote off the way a poet
looks at things sometimes like an ambassador in chains
through a glass darkly, burning like a cubic cord
of green wood hissing at what the nightbirds used to sing
before the chainsaws showed up like a chorus
of morose delectation in the perils of insufficiency.

Better not to wear your surrealism on your sleeve
and keep your longings to yourself. If you get caught
crying out loud over some real or imagined agony
and you’re not a girl, things can get dismissively rougher.
Real men don’t waste their time feeling things
that can’t be fixed with tools. Fortunately for me
I’ve got a paint brush and a canvas I stretch
like a tarp on a pickup, though the poetry’s
harder to explain than the logic of metaphors
in a hardware store with emergency generators on sale.

Isolation’s just a red shift in solitude and my loneliness
is a small price to pay to get a lot of work done
like Roger Bacon in a woodshed without being accused
that often, of witchcraft. More hermetic by acclamation
than intent, an occupational hazard of what I do,
I’ve always got the river at night if I need someone to talk to,
and the companionable eyes of the stars to overcome
the cruelty of my cosmic cabin fever when space
turns to glass, and it gets so cold and impersonal in the abyss
even death shudders like a calving glacier when it realizes
how much holier things seem in my absence
than it could ever hope to be while I remained alive
to put the lie to it, like people in a small town, who survive.


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