THE ATTRITION OF POETS IS NOT LIKE THE AUTUMN LEAVES
The attrition of poets is not like the autumn leaves.
Troubled lives. Holding a torch of burning roses
up to the corners of their eyes where the spiders live,
making up flood myths of their sorrows to keep
the deep, lunar watershed of their skull cups full,
happy, sometimes, as an exception to the rule,
but on edge, metallurgists in the Bronze Age
running a sword like the hour hand of a water clock
down their tongues like wavelengths witching for lightning.
Inadequacy, emptiness, abysmal solitude
of undertakers trying to bury corpses on the moon
to put their ghosts to rest under a mythically inflated gravestone
that doesn’t keep the wolf away that isn’t a friend to man.
Poetry is the most compassionate sister spirit
of all the sciences of suffering. It lays a cool, silver herb
on your forehead where the first draft of your fate is written
and the fever abates awhile, and the dream that
boiled in your blood like Japanese seawater
in the nuclear miscarriage of a hurricane rose,
throws snake oil on venomous waters in a toxic mirage
of kingfishers skimming the thought waves of a heart
momentarily at peace with itself. I used to sit
on a precipitious rocky ledge when I was sixteen,
alone with the stars nobody in that neighbourhood
had soiled with their fingerprints yet and at that
remote distance from the world I knew
like a garden that had made a slum of paradise as if
there was nothing original about sin that hadn’t been
plagiarized from the brutal banality of human nature,
poetry whispered to me in an immensely liberated voice
like the rush of the nightwind in the oceanic Douglas firs,
cool waters of life on the peeling skin
of the sunburnt arbutus trees, I am freedom,
I am the horrific beatitude of love within reach of the flesh,
I am the picture music of the mindstream flowing
through the woods at night as if no one were listening
but the nightbirds for the apparitions of their longing
to pierce the apprehensive air with reciprocal urgency.
I am the way out of here for those among the lost
whose path is not blocked by the lifemask they wear
like an identity that hides its face in someone else’s hands.
I speak my secrets to the dead and the living respond
as if they thought they recognized their own voice
calling to them out of the fog like a lamp in a lifeboat
on the moon, so far have they wandered from home.
Eternal sadness in the infinite tenderness
of an immortally wounded muse, I fell in love
with the mystery that made me the nightwatchman of her eyes.
And relativity damned, there’s absolutely no doubt
it’s so much harder to pursue a lunar life to the full
than it is to cut your wrist at the first crescent
when the wheat is green, and the apples are bitter,
and the seed has no faith in the sincerity of the harvest,
and your first step up in a world of artful loveletters
is the stone-faced altar you’re sacrificed upon.
What else in life is there for you to tear your heart out over
and hold it up like a new born as an offering
to the unattainable in the pursuit of an earthly excellence
that doesn’t defame the mediocrities who weren’t
self-destructive enough to risk it all, unendowed
by the white noise of their cosmic backgrounds
to go supernova when galactic occasion called for it.
They weren’t disciplined by disobedience enough
like heretics with fire-breathing principles
to stand up for things that have been burnt to the ground
yet poetry looks over them like a safety net
in a surrealistic circus tent, and one day, shot
out of the chrysalis of the cannon they’re asleep in
they’ll have the courage of dragonflies to fall toward paradise.
Or they’ll cry real tears of gratitude like sacred clowns
who’ve wiped their facepaint off in a green room
without any mirrors to cast more indelible shadows
than the ink of long memories that blacken their hands
like the sooty candelabras of winter trees at dusk.
What’s the point of adding more feathers to your topknot
than the original three, if all you want to be is a chief
in a tribe without fellowship or trust? Poetry
is as meaningless as the night to those who never dream
the inconceivable is talking to them in their sleep.
Do the elders suffer writer’s block when they’re asked
to name the children, each according to their totems?
Who cages the effulgent plumage of the morning
in their voice box and tries to teach it to sing after it
like a fire-hydrant that’s all thumbs on a burning guitar?
Fifty years, a lighthouse on the moon, and the shipwrecks
to prove it, fifty years of lingering in doorways
in this house of life, not knowing whether they were
entrances or exits, but marking the days
like a bone calendar of thresholds and crosswalks
carved on the bars of a penal chop shop
until the incommensurable Sisyphean day I’m released
to join the birds and the stars on the other side of my eyes
where everyone keeps their vow of a omerta
in a house of playing card angels where every saint’s
a martyr to the ungratified desires that drove them
out into the wilderness with a laurel of thorns
hooked on the horns of a scapegoat for what ails the heart,
a grail full of ashes greening this desert of stars,
a dream grammar of ancient mirages
the waters of life call upon to express the evanescence
of the quicksand foundation stones and sand dune pyramids
life is built on like something not meant to last
a starfish longer than literary immortality in an hourglass.
Death and sex. Myriad ghosts at the death
of the imagination that claims maternity by virtue
of the pregnable medium she works in like a procreatrix
fluent in the mother tongues she calls like spirits to a seance,
autumn to a plum, blood and snow to the scarlet letter
of the defrocked cardinal on the dead branch of a tree alphabet,
that endures the immaculate deceptions of renewable virgins
bathing alone in the moonlight of an ice-age that doesn’t prevaricate.
Poetry in the course of time. Like riding in the back
of a pick-up against the current of the aerial perspective
of yellow lines and telephone poles disappearing like the past
into focusing on the void as if there were a point to all this
somewhere far behind you like a destination that kept
receding from you like the light of a star you’ve been following
into the available dimensions of the future not much further ahead
as if it were more illuminating to go along with it than labour
to understand a life in art you’re never going to get used to
though it’s crucial to thank those who stopped for you,
as if you were one of them, and life, like art and love, were on their way.
Dangerous to forestall your life to achieve something
that will either make or break you like third man
on the short straw of a firing squad of nine bullets
certain, and one imaginal blank of doubt that takes
a long shot at the stars in your eyes like a ricochet of light
in the dark we’re all blindfolded by to keep us
from seeing it coming before we have time to duck.
Fifty years of militant farewells to the casualties
of an undeclared holy war between the genies and demons
of what we wish we were born to die for, and the death wish
in the heart of the fire we’re consumed by like a thief
chained to a rock in the Caucasus, like a stem cell
of the eternally recurring madness of repeating the same offence
as if genius were a kind of creative, criminal negligence
that seizes the moment like a spark of life that enlightens
the strawdog of a scarecrow with stars in its eyes.
A shrine for the unrepentant that isn’t a jail or a church.
A school of enlightenment that doesn’t maintain a teacher.
A death lament for the early windfall of unripe bells.
A spider in the niche of a wall after the lamp’s gone out.
So many suicides, burnt offerings to unacceptable gods.
Nothing left to regret or forgive. A lifeboat full of leaves
only the wind on a cold, neurotic night in late November
reads as escapist literature under an erotic brown cover.
Gone. From the light, the dark. The mournful murmuring
of a punctured heart. The cyanotically blue fulfilment
of the second born moon of the month. Crows and worms,
making a living on the gleanings of harvest after
the cattle corn has been shucked and husked with gaps
in the toothy smile on the flyleaf of an undistinguished skeleton.
I lay a sword of moonlight in tribute on the waters of their lives
they have no need to fall upon again or draw
from a stone like a blade stained with coagulant roses of blood.
I cast no aspersions on the failure of pain
to intensify the darkness in their eyes into diamonds
the light passes right through without leaving so much
as cut or a scar. I people their absence with my solitude.
I voice their presence with the silence of poems
written in the expiration of my breath on a broken window.
I embed my eyes like frozen tears in the night skies
of their crystal skulls and I weep like an ice-age of mirrors
that shatter like an uninhabitable vision of life
that can’t be mended once it’s been fully realized
we’re either doomed to succeed, or bound
by the book of life to grandiloquently fail
and how much imagination it takes to write
the Burgess Shale like the natural history
of someone chaotically adaptable enough to the piebald mystery
of the dark abundance, bright vacancy of the shadows and light not to.