EVEN THOUGH IT’S ONLY THE CANADA GEESE
Even though it’s only the Canada geese
moving like prayer beads and caravans
out of a white Sahara of snow to come,
it’s still a child’ first night in hospital alone,
abandoned, it’s still the electric dagger
of separation in the hand of an assassin
you raised as one of your own. Native
absentia around a wounded firepit
that died like a besieged town from within.
The last waterbird flying out of the cauldron
of Stalingrad as the sixth army looks upon
the futility of its glory disappearing into
the distance as it’s about to be boiled
like a kid in its mother’s milk. Seig Heil
like an hour hand at midnight at the stroke
of doom. Goose-step your way into
the cooking pot. The wasps in the apple-orchard
grow nasty and then they’re numb
as frozen semi-colons on the windowsill
or as the Arabs say, the first to get angry
loses. When the last lifeboat’s left, drown
in your own isolation like a beach in paradise
or learn to swim through fire out of your depths
like hot diamonds on ice, or a meteor
with life inside making a quiet impact
in Antarctica like the stem cell of another
roll of the dice we carved from the skull
of the moon as if we were poaching mammoth tusks
like the first and last crescents of an extinct species.
Insulated by hibernal modernity from the elements.
Distracted by the labyrinths of loneliness
we wander in, convinced we’re getting somewhere
that’s always better than here, but when
you hear the geese high overhead at night
as you have a thousand times before you can’t help
but hear something sad, wise, intractable
in the calling of a wounded voice ancient
with farewells. It’s a funeral march. It’s a requiem.
It’s a dying trumpeter swan in the sunset
addressing the dead it too will soon forget.
This autumn I listen to the fireball whiskey
raging like old drunks sitting like flying buttresses
at the bar, exaggerate the fire-power
in the hearts of last year’s campaign
consigned to the pages of history now
like leaves to the duff and detritus
of the archival forest floor acidic
with slippery calendars caked together
like leeches bleeding the autumn to break
the fever like war with a scalpel big as a bayonet
and a doctor’s certificate to be absent without leave
like the shedding trees when it’s harvest time
in East Anglia and Harold’s medieval army
has to leave at precisely the wrong moment
to bring in the sheaves and split the heartwood
with a diamond cutter’s eye for how
it cleaves so much easier when the blood freezes.
Undone in the midst of chaos. The maples
are throwing their colours down on the ground
like a half mast that took it too far down
when it came time to surrender and begin
to befriend the beauty of autumn in the ruins.
Pillowed in goosedown snow in an empty nest
isn’t going to insulate us from what we dream,
though we hope for a good night’s rest,
when it’s colder than blood on the snow outside
and the wind in blue wode empowered
by a moon that asks no quarter and gives none,
doesn’t hit the window like the soft thump
of a sparrow or a snowball but shrieks like a demonic she-wolf
baring its snarling icicles like the fangs of chandeliers
barn dancing with scarecrows and strawdogs
in an ice storm making a frontal assault
on hospitalized emergencies behind a gated parking lot.
Stragglers of the wild grapevines flambeed
like brandy you don’t need a gasmask to breath
the bouquet of as it vaporously sublimates
like a good year for metaphors that cut to the quick
like the ghosts of past autumns cradled in your hand.
Like the bubble of a crystal snifter warming up to you
like a skull it gets easier to believe as the night wears on
as if the last ice age were a distant relative
you discovered you had in common too late
to make everything you carefully prophecied come true.
Canada. The meeting place of frozen rivers
and flying saucers come to pick up the survivors
of 1111 stamping out encoded s. o. s.s on
the shrinking ice-floes of dispossessed polar bears.
My mother used to tell me when she was
an Australian artist in the American Red Cross
as red-bellied zeroes were flying over Brisbane
dropping pamphlets like gum tree leaves when
it’s spring in the northern hemisphere
to terrorize the indigenous citizens with nightmares
too implausibly conceivable to be believed,
everyone agree the next war would be fought
in Canada like the arising of the great black snake
in Blake’s cold-blooded, prophetic poem, America.
I’ve wondered superstitiously about that since
I first heard it. Who dislikes a peacekeeper
selling treaties to the natives like real estate
with reservations on the moon like Grey Owl
pretending he wasn’t English enough to be eaten
by the queen or a culture molesting Catholic school
beatifically blaspheming a mother tongue
that wasn’t allowed to speak up for her children
when they cried out in their sleep like the Ojibway
word for pain when a snowman puts its hand
over their mouths to smother the fire in smoke
like Zyklon B as if they were smudging a peacepipe
with sweetgrass for tourists who want to get back
to the inhuman nature of the way things used to be?
Remember when the beaver were skinned
to sit on the heads of Europe like stovepipes
and lampshades that slapped their tails
at the first sign of a wolf nosing around
their lodge poles with an heraldic device?
Brebeuf burned at the stake by the heretically innocent
who refused to be demonized imperiously
by a civilized bestiary of xenophobic totems?