Thursday, January 31, 2013



Blackberries and salmon. Sea-logged books of sitka spruce
drying like an expurgated library in the sun.
I’ll never forgive what went on out of the corner of my eye
like a wolf spider weaving a space-time continuum
over the black hole of a guitar carved out of my heartwood
to play desperately sad songs under my breath,
or the pods of blackfish that came in on the tide
to upend my flotilla of lifeboats. Matriculated Eden,
I owe half my childhood to pears yellowing in the moonrise
of abandoned orchards. Dusty blue patina on the plums,
nothing worse than misery in paradise, waking up
in the land of the lotus-eaters, imperial teachers
mean with under reaching their unappreciated selves
two masts down like rungs on the rope ladders
of the British navy moored to its trophy lines,
saline and sour about having to make it big provincially
in the London of the Pacific, born dead on arrival.

For many years I was a by stander in my own country,
happy if some beknighted nitwit patronized me
for disappointing his colonial expectations
of never being surpassed by an excellence he couldn’t disown.
Supercilious waterclocks on Greenwich Mean Time,
I was closer to the dateline than the prime meridian,
but everybody entertained an imported point of view
like Japanese fishing buoys that washed ashore
among the kelp and the cormorants after they
almost drowned, when the tug-boats died of exhaustion
hauling the British Empire up on beach
like the corpse of a whale with no message
from a celestial fortune-cookie stowed away inside.

Fish straight from the docks, potatoes
from the processing plant on Market Street
that scraped, bruised, keel-hauled and gouged them
like asteroids in the Oort belt rinsing off their starmud
for bagging, and the little old ladies of the Uplands
among their broom and lilac, their sunburnt arbutus
peeling off gnostic gospels of skin, as my mother
bleached her knuckles and knees like a lobster
thrown into the boiling point live as she screamed
like the San Andreas fault for revolutionary earthquakes
to put an end to washing her misery off their kitchen floors
and throwing out good food, far too rich for the poor.

I begged for her disarmingly, flaunting the expertise
of my innocence. Peanut butter by the bucketful,
I looked for castaway beer bottles in the Sikh woodlots
like holy grails you had to disgorge the condoms out of
like the moon shedding the phases of a snake.
I learned more about comparative religion
in the valleys of degradation than a garden on a hill of skulls.
A thief of flowers, I brought the vermillion
to the palette of her green thumb and no one asked
too many questions when the grandsons
of my mother’s employer were dragged
from the golden chariots they rode through our slums
as a reminder of their mean-hearted casuistic mortality.
Deviated septums and blood-caked craniums,
but not a prophetic skull among them to read the signs.
Nothing worth wasting a good death mask on.

There are child labourers born into life whose job it is
to have no hope so the indifferent can actualize
their dreams as effortlessly as they took them for granted.
Atrocities looking for reality shows forty years later.
Hydrocephalic perverts asking for a change of waiters.
Reading Mesopotamian history as escapist literature,
I learned to take the absurd in stride with unassuming nonchalance
as my mother burnt the last piece of furniture
to keep the furnace alive like a domestic crematorium.
Evening in Paris perfumes in mystically blue bottles,
new paints for the calling she gave up
like a futuristic fossil of the life she would never
return to, stored in portly steamer trunks
that never made the crossing back to paradise
like a salmon run trying to swim back up Mt. Kosciusko.

Not a horror story you couldn’t resist, but I wouldn’t want you
to meet my father after he’d drank away every advantage in life,
unlike his kids, to end up topping trees in a logging camp
outside Jordan River, where the cougars were known
to jump through the windows, and he tore the door down
to teach my mother to bleed appropriately
like an emergency ambulance for kicking him out.
Hell of a man. Though he never suffered as much
with a chain saw in his hands as we did
wondering which of a hundred compound eyes
with multiple lenses for hospital windows
our mother was in when we looked up to see
if we were orphans at the mercy of uniformed social workers
with no idea how to live, and less how to love
like the bitch mother of a litter of timber wolves
howling outside her room, down below, live, please, live.
Not that it made much of a difference to the arachnids.

Light years away dusk must surely have fallen by now
like California poppies and the wild sea roses.
The shaggy garments of the western red cedars
stripped bare to the limbs as someone plays a xylophone
like a log boom knocking bones on the headstones
in a drowned sailor’s cemetery. A roll of the dice
and the breakers are all froth and spume against the rocks
in the back alleys of the Times Colonist loading docks
gambling at lunch for another chance to lose big time.

Five dead men by the age of seven my eyes
were undertakers calloused by the diffident glare of death
trying to mean too much to a child who couldn’t care less.
Less soggy stars out east than there, but they
were the first magnitude mermaids on the rocks
to sing to me about an ocean of light I could plausibly
drown in off the coasts of my island galaxy
without ever remorsefully turning the tide against me.

There are those who go along with the stream
even when it’s an undertow and those who hug the shore
like arthopods and sand fleas clicking like stone castanets
who never learned to dance with wings on their heels.
Those who swim and those who burrow like toledo worms
in the hulls of landlocked ships that have never sailed the moon
and rust like blood leaking from the eye holes of their anchors.
Even in a Pacific storm it’s not wise to seek shelter
from your homelessness for fear of dying in a lighthouse.

Chaos is always a habitat bigger than any mere domicile
could ever understand without going under like a dolphin
in a fishing net translated by happenstance into a constellation
on a blue star globe between Vulpecula, the fox, and Pegasus,
the flying horse, with Job’s Coffin, like the asterism
of a lifeboat buried in its heart like a Viking funeral ship
to run silent, run deep, without striking a warning
the fiddleheads of the dragons and the blackfish are back.

So many years listening to the nightwinds rave
until the squall was spent and and the turbulent dawn
returned the wheel like a zodiac to its antiquated star charts
trying to cross the bar like the last remaining threshold
of the Knights Templar burned alive at the stakes
they lashed themselves to recant their confessions
to the waterclocks in the choirs of anachronistic mermaids
not knowing what else to do with a drunken sailor
that early in the morning but pink slip his childhood
like a wild rainbow salmon putting out to sea with a warning
not to raise the colours of its skull and crossbones
among the angel fleets of its breezy Sunday regattas?




There’s a woman in the doorway
flaking like a rose of red paint
with eyes that have been weeping
the shadows of dead saints, a full eclipse
of mascara, sloppy sorrows, and a mickey
she quotes like a Bible, chapter and verse,
though the Bible’s mickey-mouse
compared to how bad it can get
as I notice there’s a pink Glock in her purse,
the arthropod of an uncalibrated shrimp
that isn’t going to let her lover off the hook.

I’m engraving poems on the frosty windows
with a crow’s claw as they whisper to me
like the moon among the corals when I dream,
strange omens of incipience I always mistake
for a sign I’m about to cry though it’s seldom
revealed why. The earth is a sad, sad place
sometimes as you’re ushered to your seat
by a starmap of waterlilies that can see in the dark,
a bouquet of wildflowers in a funereal movie-house
at the first screening of a cosmic prequel
featuring your life as you’ve never seen it before.

Reruns in the multiverse, I’m standing
on a million streetcorners all at once
trying to hawk my theory of fiscal surrealism
to a bloodbank trying to hang on to the Iron Age.
I turn the page like an eyelid to exorcise
the ghost of the jinn in the lamp, and the cupboards
are as bare as the vow of a celibate wishing well
the watercolour lovers have lost interest in
now that the stars have evaporated from it
like the spirit of yesterday’s perfume in a purse.

Where is the lost atmosphere of the moon going
like the shrinking ferns and bonsai trees of my breath
as if it were revising nirvanic haiku until all that was left
were parings of nothing, lunar phases
and fingernails of glass that could scratch
your eyes out like nature red in tooth and claw
as you rake wavelengths in the sand
like a Zen garden in Kyoto waiting
for enlightenment to germinate the rocks,
hard-scrabble farmers with almanacs of crystal skulls.

I’ve ploughed the moon monkishly long enough
with a silver tongue to know when
to sow, tend, reap, the skeletal crops
of the dragon’s teeth that police the secret
of a green thumb trying to hitch-hike out of here
on a long, dark, estranged, radiant byway
lacquered in black ice like the gleaming mirrors
of a snake uncoiling like the full eclipse of an oilslick
waiting for me to slip up like an apostate
of my mystical ineptness long after
the last sacred clown sat down on the ground
and had a good laugh on the house
at the expense of the unamused abyss,
remarking how absurdly child-like all this is.

Medusa, armed to the teeth, tries to tell me
she’s tired of crossing swords with her own fangs
over a point of honour someone has to die for
like a crescent of the moon she’s going to pull
out of the mouth of her lyrical liar with pliers,
every one of her vocal cords tarred and feathered
like the black swan of a stone guitar
reverberating in the Martian canyons of her heart.

Ars longa. Vita brevis. Hatred and angry grief
so much easier to master than the impossible art
of keeping your evanescent fireflies of insight
undisciplined enough to ride the lightning
like a pale horse with the wingspan of the universe
without tampering with someone else’s specious curse
or plotting a course by the stars on your Spanish spurs.

Not on the dance-card of her spite and ego,
I listen compassionately to what
the white noise outside is trying to teach me
like the universal hiss of the afterbirth of road kill
about the ontological misfortunes of being born
to long for nightbirds and hear the rattling of crabs
lugging their armaments to the front lines of love
like lunar castanets, or the horns of a bull
narrowing the gap between parentheses
like the clashing dooms of Scylla and Charybdis,
a whirlpool and a rock, gravity and mass,
the crone phase of the moon having it out
with the vernal equinox at a calendrical toredo.

I see the first crescent and I want to put it up
to my head and pull the trigger to put an end
to the incommensurable agonies of fractious decimals
repeating themselves like mantric alibis
until nothing’s left of the original cartel
except the amputated torso of the fire hydrant
that tried to put the blaze out like a voice coach
who didn’t know all the words to the hysterics
of an anonymously amorous narco ballad
mythically inflating the legend of a famous love affair
out of the redoubtable details of a few bad superstitions.

Pity the fool who begrudges even the grubbiest delusions
of the quixotic heart tilting at the stars
like the precessional axis of the wobbling earth
come round again to the eternal recurrence
of the stratagems of spring in a Great Platonic Year.
Love is as much of a companion to death
as murder is to sacrifice or genetics to loaded dice.
House wine or love potion number nine,
pink guns with clips of rose-petaled lipstick,
everyone’s upholding the incriminating honour
of their uncontested heart defended by their folly
to the death as if the mystery were about to be
lost upon them for good as they rend each other asunder
shooting out the stars like a fashionable crime of passion.

As for me and my tent, the dancing girls
with coral lips and wishbone hips have come and gone
like serpentine wavelengths red shifting into
the shadows they left behind like signs of intelligence
alloyed with carnal desire like a nocturnal mirage
of the moon laying its broken sword down on the water
like a vow we didn’t let come between us
as if we didn’t belong to ourselves
which made the theft of fire we stole from each other
a greater blessing than the hurtful consolations
of obedience to the thorns at the expense of the rose.

What can you say about the nature of crazy wisdom
when the heart is bemused enough to cherish someone
barefoot beyond the bounds of common sensical shoes that pinch?
Some people would rather be loved than right.
Others more righteous than touched. Majnun
had his Laila. Love limps beside others like a crutch.
And though he sipped from many goblets
encrusted with star sapphires from the Pleiades,
none of them tasted like the night until he drank
from the reflection of the beloved from his own hands
and knew a darkness brighter than enlightenment
and the music of rain in the eyes of a desert
more beautiful than water imagery on the moon.
The mad man knows a secret even the deepest stars
can’t understand without losing their way to the well.