Saturday, May 11, 2013



Serious as a bell, deep as a housewell, I was young,
too big for my skull, tight as a nut in my shell
with the sweetmeat of the moon, immense
among the stars, intense, angry, almost scary,
seething with ambitions I took for granted,
like discipline and talent, love I’d be fulfilled by one day.
Blue fire didn’t shoot out of my eyes like a sky dragon,
but I was born in a low place and I liked to put wings
on the snakes I could relate to, scorned as they and I were,
I answered my detractors with brilliant oxymorons
that baffled them into thinking I was mad. Nine in the fifth place.

Of course, I was. Gone, gone, gone, altogether
gone beyond the history of scars that was my childhood,
though I was too experienced at the time to remember
what innocence was and how it doesn’t always
make you vulnerable when you’re nine in a garbage can
where they throw people like body parts and rank orchids
that didn’t get invited to the dance because
they never learned to step on anyone else’s toes
but their own and those immediately closest to them,

crushed hearts like strawberries someone heeled into the dirt,
cigarette butts, left to rot among the black rosaries of the ants
from the enterprising world that carried them away
piecemeal as if they cared, and that was the best
they could hope for. Baby never got a new pair of shoes
and the second hand ones never quite fit
like a yoke of oxen coupled to your feet as they grew
into the tumuli of bunions like moonrises on your toes.

You wanted to learn to walk, you had to get up on your own.
You wanted to learn to see you had to know
what you had to close your eyes to. I could read
books and faces, and which of the housewives
with rollers in their hair, hanging up the laundry
with clothes-pegs in their teeth, hands raw with bleach
and four kids in the yard like manic laughing gas and blasting caps
would be washing her face in the bitter tears of her hands
tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow that never came
like a husband home from the pulp mill who wasn’t drunk
with a paycheque in his hand that wasn’t clenched in a fist
for having to return to her, the kids, the dismal job
that underrated him two rungs under the burning ladder
he tried to climb out of the cesspool on like a spider
fighting for its life in the death trap of a toilet bowl
he flushed like the last word he had to say about himself.

I could read the stars. I could read danger leaning
in a doorway like a social worker, a Sunday school teacher,
a truant officer for delinquent offenders, an ex-con
out on a weekend pass who thought my mother
had been waiting for him all her life in isolation.
Egypt and Mesopotamia amazed me with the mystery
of all those lives I could wonder my way into
like the mirages of time, planets I’d never live
to walk on to see how different and strange
everything could be beyond the windows
of my boarded-up bedroom to keep the ghouls
and the pervs and the thieves out. Shadows
on the other side of the curtains that made me lie
very, very still under the covers hoping they
didn’t hear me breathing so I wouldn’t be called upon
to be more afraid of being afraid again than I was brave.


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