VOL XX, Issue 2, Number 226
Editor: Klaus J. Gerken
Production Editor: Heather Ferguson
European Editor: Mois Benarroch
Contributing Editors: Michael Collings; Jack R. Wesdorp; Oswald Le Winter
Previous Associate Editors: Igal Koshevoy; Evan Light; Pedro Sena
JUST WANT TO WRITE
Painting: A Celebration Of Women
LADY NIGHTSHADEíS SUICIDE WASNíT VAIN ENOUGH
Painting: Auntumn Palette
Painting: Canada Geese At Night
IíVE HAD ELECTROMAGNETIC SEXUAL ATTRACTIONS
Painting: First Light, Perth, Ontario
WILD DRUNK NIGHTS ON BANK STREET
Painting: Wolf Fire
THE SILENCE HAS GROWN SO MAGNANIMOUS IN THE NIGHT
Painting: Home For The Night
OLD GATE OFF ITS HINGE
Painting: Inner Nightscape
EVERYTHING I WANTED TO BE
Painting: Louise's Painting
I LEFT THE SCENE BECAUSE
Painting: Medicine Woman Calling The Eagles
THE RADIANT NADIRS OF THE UNDERESTIMATED
Painting: Mount Robson
WATCHING THE SKY TURN BLUE
Painting: Portrait Of Benjamin Chee Chee
EVERYBODY LOOKING FOR SUBSTITUTE STATES OF MIND
Painting: Picture-Music With bubble
THE MARTYROLOGY OF A MORPHINE MESSIAH
TRYING TO PUT SOME DISTANCE
Painting: Street People
IíVE STOPPED MISTAKING MY LIFE
Painting: The Birch At Long Bay
GENEROUS TO A TRAGIC FLAW
Painting: The Cloud
MEDITATIONS IN A SNAKE PIT OF DISSONANT WAVELENGTHS
Painting: The Pearl
YOUíRE A SWEET LITTLE ZOOKEEPER
Painting: The Trees in Stewart Park Before The Ice Storm, Perth, Ontario
HIGH IN THE Y SHAPED BOUGHS
Painting: The Way Home, Westport, Ontario
A CANADIAN POET SINCE YOU ASKED
JUST WANT TO WRITE
Just want to write. Just want to paint. Just want to eat and drink and sleep and defecate and dream and meet the occasional
woman who can turn my crank. Just want to drift like blue smoke from a distant fire on an autumn hillside off into the
distance like the human smell of time. Donít want to worry about publishing or selling, just want to walk by myself through
the high starfields wondering what to call the flowers. Let things make me up as they go. I donít care what kind of spin they
put on it. Just want to blow gusts of stars in the eyes of the dandelions. Want to beat things like bushes and stumps with an
old crooked stick and not have to care what jumps out. I want to be startled by quail and not suffer a heart attack. I want
to be alarmed by the four-stroke Harley engine of a wild partridge revving up to explode in my face, and not have anything to
be frightened of. You hear me out there? You hear me, you prophetic skulls of my poetic ancestors? I just want to kick dirt
down a long country road late at night and feel the wonder and eeriness of being alive to ask myself what the fuck Iím doing
here trying to put down roots in a tent city. And you, if any, who overlook the wanderings and circuitous blossomings of the
poets who have trued your heretical madness into riverine sponsors of life they had to give up their own direction of prayer
to live. Instead of buying property along the highway. Just let go of my spine awhile and let me feel whatís itís like when a
kiteís as free as a waterbird to land where it wants on any one of ten thousand lakes that can still remember the original
taste of the moon. Let me stand like an abandoned farmhouse somewhere and try to see eyebrow to eyebrow through the eyes and
the windows of those who once lived here long enough to leave a wild orchard and a couple of kids in the ground to carry on
without them. I want to weep like a November windowpane for the cruel sorrows that embittered them. I want to stack field
stones into Great Barrier Reefs encyclopedic with life and not on top of freshly dug graves with the few words of a twitter
account to say what the children died of. I want to take all the scarlet letters, the scarlet fevers, the scarlet tunics, the
scarlet pimpernels and boil them all down into a dye I can slash across the sky like a sabre of cadmium red in a wet summer
sunset. O you who preside over my origins like the executors of my afterlife, leave me alone with my metaphors to follow
wherever it may lead the spoor of mythical beasts that have never experienced what itís like to be helicoptered out of
extinction by a dragonfly playing stork to a black rhino. I need space. I need enlargement. I need time itself to just hang
around like a bed sheet pegged to a clothesline between two polarities of life, one, deciduous, and the other, evergreen, so
when I take it down again like a membrane of M-theory, I donít have to shake the smell of the wind and the sun out of it.
Enough of good reasons like sensible shoes with arch supports trying to indoctrinate my irrational creative motives for
wearing black cowboy boots without spurs. I want to reconfigure my fireflies into more original constellations adapted to the
imaginations of wolves and Canada geese rather than shepherds awake all night guarding their sheep from the coyotes that have
been driving them off the farms around here for the last century and a half. And even if nothing is improved advanced or
progressed, no contribution made to anything, no purpose served, no function discerned, I want to go sit by the skeleton of
the white-tailed buck that bled out with a hunterís bullet in its flank, by itself, just itself dying, being death, the whole
of death, no part left out, as if nothing in that animalís entire life had ever happened to it from the outside. And this so
alone, while the frogs and the damselflies and the boat-tailed grackles went about their business as if nothing ever happened
of any consequence, even the death of large mammal. I want to return to the secret Iíve kept all to myself all these years,
and listen to those bones whisper to me again that learning how to live fully is no different than learning how to die into
life abundantly. I want to see the wild columbine and plush green moss growing through its ribs and the wild grape vines
coiling up its horns. I want to go talk to the shaman in a trance of dancing totems and feel his old presence empower me and
the deer to understand one another as if we were both collaborating in each otherís silence and solitude. And even thatís
saying a little too much.
Just want to write. Just want to paint. Just want to go stargazing late at night up on Heartbreak Hill
and think of all those women I fought the Last Duel in the Heatscore Hotel over without a second to die in the arms of. And
wonder whose honour it was I lived as if it were worthy of dying for. And why no oneís ever come back to put flowers on my
grave. And if the theme bores me like a road thatís sticking to its narrative, donít want to justify anything to anyone least
of all myself, if I wander off the beaten path like a man who doesnít have to answer to anyone, happy to be lost if heís lost
to himself. Just want to look at the moon in peace and see the tree the Japanese see, or the medicine woman of the Algonquin
healing their wounded canoes with wild rice. Donít want to be nice, or brave, or emphatically sincere. Want to sit on a rock,
my chin on my knees, surrounded by waterlilies at moonrise and think of a woman with similar skin emerging from the ghost
light and kissing me on the forehead tenderly, say like Sedna, the caribou mother of the Inuit, you can trust the universe
completely even when someone who loved you like the best yesterday she ever had on earth, leaves a suicide note on the
mirror, as if sorrow had no tomorrow and joy had the rest of her death ahead of it. I want to reassure myself in the crisp
coniferous atmosphere of the dolorous pines standing on a pyre of rusty eyelashes and confiscated compass needles, there are
some questions that earn a living complicity, and others that go begging door to door for answers. I want to feel the
exquisite eloquence of her absence turning like a knife into a skeleton key in my heart that might unlock it. I want to know
if the shallowness of her victory over death were worth the depth of its defeat. Or maybe it was a truce, a stalemate,
suspended animation, a lapwing to draw death away from something she cherished more than the hurt she nursed as a
distraction from a greater pain. Like I said, chin on my knees, like the dolmen of a thinking man who knows his sadness would
not be alleviated by the answers anymore than a wound is cured by carbon-dating the arrowhead that made it. Mournful the
loons. Baleful ululations reverberating across the lake like Arabic women grieving the dead with their tongues. Her absence
lives in me like the mystery of an empty room in a palatial universe I never enter out of respect for who isnít there. And
all I want her to do, if she can do anything to make a difference to the way she left me to explain, is not come back the way
she came. O you who have used me like a medium for years in a conversation of voices that didnít involve me to whisper into
your own ear as if you were talking to the dead, leave a message, and let me return to my native tongue without being
summoned by anyone who doesnít know how to read or speak for themselves, on this, or the far side of any other river whether
it flows out of Eden, or procrastinates in the roadside ditches of hell boiling with thermophilic life. Let the glaciers pass
over me as they did this landscape twenty thousand years ago and leave me as they did these lake beds in their wake ready to
receive the rain like billions of tears from everywhere and everyone until all that grief is quickened into life by our eyes.
Just want to write. Just want to paint. Donít want to hold a mirror up to nature wrong-side up. Donít want to care if I do.
Donít want to take a guided bus tour through the famous flashbacks of a bad acid trip that even the sixties wouldnít do.
Just want to sit somewhere on the trunk of a fallen birch sodden as salmon, chin on my knees, beside a deerís skeleton,
waiting for the next rainbow trout to jump like my heartbeat. And watch the ripples raise their eyebrows in amazement.
A Celebration Of Women
LADY NIGHTSHADEíS SUICIDE WASNíT VAIN ENOUGH
Lady Nightshadeís suicide wasnít vain enough.
She insisted on dying for the world.
She finally stepped through the black door.
She took all that splendour of mind and flesh
and instead of going supernova to make a statement
let it shrink down into
the single snowflake of a white dwarf
in a spring thaw.
She died as unobtrusively as a wild flower perishes.
Lady Nightshade died like a whisper in a hurricane of razorblades
a candle flame
a toy in the corner
that knows when itís time to let the child go.
She knew her greatest claim to fame
was perpetual silence.
There are some eyes so clear and radiant
the lightís too shy to enter.
There are some mirrors
that have to turn their backs on you
to show you what youíre looking at.
Lady Nightshade died like a black mass at the eclipse of a water lily
and then blew out the flames
on a skeletal replica
of the extinct candelabra
she made of her fossil remains.
It was hard to keep up with the half-life of some of her lies
but she could tell time radioactively
like numbers on a watch that glow in the dark
while the rest of us had to rely on a water clock.
She could see things coming
from the asteroidís point of view
and when you heard her speak
of what she thought it was you should seek
among all those invisible things
we make visible through our lives
even if you only had a rag of blood
snagged on a thorn of whatís left of a heart in your body
she made a deep and lasting impact.
You looked at her
and you knew the time of night
and the weather.
In her nuclear winter
you were either a species of delusion
that went extinct
or you changed the way she did
and she was a legend among chameleons.
She was a rainbowís worst nightmare.
you werenít deep enough into anything
until youíd dug your own grave.
She could hold your spirit up to your face
like a mirror one moment
and in the next
tear it off like a bandage on a deep wound
as if she were unmasking a new scar on the dark side of the moon.
She could make you smile like a face-painted clown
who just had his smile widened
from cheek to cheek
by a scalpel.
She was the daughter of intensity
but god help the snake
who tried to ride the dragon
by hanging on with its fangs
as if those were any kind of match
for her crescents and claws.
She could weld a forked tongue
back into a spear head
and bury it like the Clovis point of a viper
deep in the deserts of Arizona
where it would take twelve thousand years
for someone to find it
like a flint knapped skull with lockjaw.
With her it was ok to be the universe
as long as she were its physical laws
and they were at all times and everywhere
applicable and true.
And god what a body.
You took one look at her
and you knew already
youíd been sexually bruised.
She was living proof
that on the Day of Creation
when God made woman
he had a muse
and the rest of us were plagiarized
from an overdue Texas textbook
that denied evolution
was creatively collaborative and true.
The immutable faithful still profaning existence
where everything is the genome of the many
and all are the chosen few.
But Lady Nightshade was more amused by
than convinced of her own beauty.
She was too intelligent
not to use it as an index
of male cupidity
twisting their inflated multiverse
like birthday balloons in hyperspace
into her favourite kind of lapdog
as Leonard Cohen sang in the background
no man ever got a woman back
by begging on his knees.
She was the kind of hunger
that could teach a rude man to say please
and a wiser one
whoís been seasoned by the sea
under full sail
like an orchard in a storm
She could roll menís skulls like dice
that always came up snake-eyes
because she could see how clearly
they were estranged from their own reflections
like telescopes that can see everything but themselves
bring the far near
shorten the mile
be the last day of the thirteenth month
in a leaping light year
that stays one step ahead of itself
like a thief of the moon
coming in through the back door
of someone elseís homelessness.
She loved to give performance poetry readings
where sheíd scream at the featured guests
molesting the microphone with their monogamous poems
like the accused at the accuser
like an oracular snake pit from the audience
or a banshee at the window
Do you know how many muses
you blind assholes
have turned into social workers?
And in the barefoot silence that ensued
no one dropped the other shoe
and you just knew
those on stage
felt like the cutting edge of a new ice age
that would be the crib-death of inspiration
and thousands of baby mammoths
that would be clutched by dozy glaciers
like stuffed teddy-bears for security and warmth
for the next twenty-five thousand years
of black ice a mile high
trying to transcend itself
like a recurring nightmare.
Lady Nightshade wasnít the kind of revolutionary
that showed her face to the world
like a mask turned inside out.
She never let her certainty get in the way of her doubt.
I remember watching her one night
after weíd made love
look out from the fourteenth floor
of the Hotel des Gouverneurs
at St. Denys Boulevard
lit up like a Nazca landing strip
in the middle of the starscape
that bloomed like Montreal.
She was naked.
She was vulnerable.
But I could see a bridge in the far distance
on her right shoulder
like a threshold that was all
exit and entrance
at the extreme ends of things
always at right angles to the direction of the flow.
It arched over the river
like the Egyptian sky goddess Nut
her body night-blue with white stars
that lined the bridge like streetlamps
as fragile and delicate in the aerial atmospherics
as the eyelashes of nocturnal humming birds.
And I saw right then and there
how vastly she longed for her ghost
to ready her for death
like a lover from another lifetime
when suffering wasnít
the only natural renewable resource
you could rely on to make a living.
A wounded hawk never asks for pity
and she didnít ask for mine.
She was the key
that left everything open
and for awhile
we were inseparably alone
because I was the lock
that couldnít keep anything in.
She jumped from her bridge
into the lifeboat of a coffin
and left a farewell on the mirror
written by a bleeding snail of scarlet lipstick.
I donít know what star she was following
but back here on earth
thereís a black hole that eats its own shadow
and chandeliers of firelies
that keep putting themselves out in their tears.
Lady Nightshade never cheated her solitude
by buffing it with love.
Lady Nightshade played solitaire
with a Tarot pack of mirrors.
She saw what turned up.
Lady Nightshade followed the Queen of Cups to the block.
She said a few words
that ransomed her life with a candle.
She blew it out.
She swanned like a summer constellation
on the smoke of a distant fire.
She drowned her silver sword in the star stream
like a barrette she took out of her hair
to let it blow away like the fragrance
of something beautiful hidden somewhere
like a secret that was meant to be kept.
Lady Nightshade bloomed like a bruise.
A blue rose.
A new moon.
And when she perished
only strangers could have guessed why I wept.
if you donít live it somebody else
is going to end up with your future.
Insert local habitations and names thereof here.
Perth, Ontario. Population six thousand.
From here to Kingston the pioneers did nothing
in the way of land naming but plagiarize Scotland.
But it isnít less airy here and now
than it ever was anywhere else.
The streetlamps go on like repeating decimals.
Venus hot and bothered in the green tangerine dusk.
And even through the doe-glare of the highway headlights
and the light pollution of those who never look up,
Jupiter in the east above the Smokiní Eagles Smoke Shop
on Lanark County 10 heading toward Franktown,
the lilac capital of Canada.
You want to know what the doe feels
in front of an oncoming car sometime
look up at the stars and try to make sense of it all.
But that was in Richardson, five miles outside of Perth.
So where are we now?
In deep space?
Or back on earth?
Everybody edgy until the first snow.
Off balance astraddle a snow line
one foot on a summer beach
and the other on an ice-floe.
Hail today and cold.
How now brown cow?
However thick you lay it on
youíll still look the same in the spring
when the snowís gone.
The loosestrife and the mustard ruined.
The deer herd culled.
The moose shot, cut up and bled
and wrapped in a brown paper cover
like the meatier parts of a dirty novel.
Brown fields still in a state of denial
with a dirgeful mist hovering over them
like the last few wraiths of chlorine gas
on a few acres along the Somme
that have been allowed to return to nature again
with some enormous deformities
of man woman animal child and land.
The wild herds of pampas grass
have neglected their manes again
and they look like paintbrushes with cowlicks.
There are some fields as neat and predictable
as a pop song two minutes long with a hook.
And then there are the improvised jazz jams
in the drainage ditches along the highway
where the cattails get it on
with whatever weed shows up
in violation of its parole
to take a load off Benny.
Blown out tires, hub caps, roadkill,
and the wild irises in tight indigo nightgowns
who sang their hearts out on heroin
the way Billie Holiday sang the blues on deadly nightshade.
abundance is the root of all desolation.
How fast things age is a measure
of the depths of their disappointment.
You want your cake. You want your cake.
You stuff your mouth.
You blow the candles out
and then the cake eats you.
Life lives to eat itself and be hungry.
But Novemberís killed its appetite.
Silos like silver bullets way in the distance.
Little monopoly farmhouses
with mythically inflated driveways.
A phalanx of black iron gates
with crests and spears
and two cheesey lions just like those
youíd find outside a bank
that was trying to look imperial.
Theyíre not farms anymore.
with a Roman legion for gates.
And meanwhile back in town,
the pioneer suburb of Ottawa,
in an upstairs apartment on a back porch
overlooking a deserted parking lot
a nineteen-fifties style burgundy couch
with a bas relief of paisley brocade
abandoned by some weekend hippies
is growing too damp and organic to sit on
and smells like a sweating horse with black mold
the longer itís left out in the rain.
And there are field mice, not many, a few
like the Roma of Europe
whoíve found a niche in life
among the loose change, nuggets of bud
log jam of unsalvageable cigarettes
in its crevices and crannies,
a selection of old lighters
each with an individual story to tell
and the coiled cartoon springs and stuffing
of an era that liked to round things off
like the bumpers of their cars and couches and women
as if they knew even way back then
they were going to sit for awhile
and look long and hard and hopelessly west
for the sun to come up just once at dusk
in the land of the midnight sun
and prove them right about their point of view.
But the mice donít really care about
who got the window-seat on the bus
or how much baggage they carried on with them
like the elephant to the south of them.
Theyíre snug right where they are
and they travel light
happily balanced between security and a fire-escape
like the arsonist in all of us in autumn
as the Canada geese high overhead honk their horns
like the paddy waggons of the Keystone Cops in passing
as they leave the set with probable cause
to bust another marijuana patch like a pot boiler.
forget about the mice
forget about the geese.
The die is cast.
And thereís no turning back now.
Stand on the Gore Street Bridge over the Rideau Canal
and watch how the fish follow the Tay river
in suspended animation
and how the last of the swallows
to inhabit its fieldstones
cross it again and again without hesitation
like the flash of sabres that never clash
gleefully building a nation
like a lot of little holes in the wall
the birds can come back to
with a moat of their own
to frustrate the feral cats
that live under the bridges of Gore street
like famished Fenians on the prowl.
the nations have been unpeopled
by their governments
and data isnít history
though it took a thousand deaths
from malaria and alcohol-related-on-the-job accidents
to make it what it is today.
Some crushed by falling trees.
Some drowning drunk
trying to swim across the river
to acquisition another bottle of whiskey.
Scarlet fever and childbirth on the farm.
Itís hard to number the miscarriages and still births
these old grey sway-backed arks and barns
that look like the last of the mammoths in the distance
have seen around here.
The nightmare febrile locks of stranded hair
that snaked over the foreheads
of the young wet wives who died
into their second year
of trying to continue a blood line
all the way from Ottawa to Kingston
like the plagiarized names
of all these small towns
that sprang up like stone-mills and water wheels
all along her birth canal.
British half-pay officers in beaver skins
building dams alongside the beavers
as if this were Kandahar, Afghanistan
and tribal Scottish highland chieftains
who ran Renfrew like the Taliban.
People have a way of abstracting
whatís crucial about the stem cells of life
from the sweat and lechery
that went into producing them.
Walking boats like reluctant debutantes
that have been taken under the arm
up and down the stair wells
of a palace of water in high heels.
Spidery horse-drawn carriages on springs
that learned to sing
to the beat of corduroy roads
and keep a decent pleat in their prose.
Imported butlers holding out silver plate
to accept the salutary donations
of the calling cards who dropped in
to see if So and So were as thin
as the last letter she sent them.
People who took a bath in their own grave every day
and left a ring around the tub
like the ripple in the heartwood of a tree
on the growing edge of history.
Who considers the spit on the back of the stamp
that went off to war for king and country
just to have a return address to come back to
like a river you canít step into twice
even if you were to build
one of the worldís longest canals
with post office boxes in it for the swallows?
itís casually ironic
that one of the first things these people did
to work all this up
into a life and a home and a heritage of their own
was kill the Algonquin village next door
for having one of its own.
History is a screening myth
to cover up what someone did with the bones.
If theyíre sacred, theyíre sacred by default.
No one on the bridge disagrees
even when they see
weaving its way like a lifeline among the catfish
a long trail of blood
all the way back to the village.
Brutal to have one people vanguish another
and then turn on its own
out of sympathy
for what itís just so irreparably damaged.
Thatís why I need Azazel around.
I may be the lightning rod.
But heís the ground.
Canada Geese At Night
IíVE HAD ELECTROMAGNETIC SEXUAL ATTRACTIONS
Iíve had electromagnetic sexual attractions
to women I didnít even like
and as I got to know them despite myself
felt I was mud-wrestling
in a squalor of mutual disrespect.
And I was the one who loosing.
Anacondas squeezing me in a heart lock.
Iíve seen root fires burn underground
through ten miles of cedars for a week
down the whole length of a valley
and no one know for sure
if theyíd finally been put out.
And Iíve often thought
growing up angry bored and deprived
and caught in the emotional crossfire
of my fatherís and motherís annihilation
in an era of clashing Titans
and cannibalistic ogre fathers
on the look-out for Olympian sons
they could swallow like a swaddled stone in a single gulp
the reason I dared the thrill and danger of breaking taboos
my Icarian plunges into seas of awareness
was that it was a revolutionaryís way
of acting out against the authority of my own mind.
Light a candle in church for me
and Iíd blow it out
as if Iíd just gotten into bed
with the forbidden key to my freedom.
More of the immensities and intensities of human life
are encountered in the dark
than are met on the street in daylight.
Dark dark dark they all go into the dark.
Yes. T. S.
But for a lot of different reasons.
Mine was the desecration of old idols
myself among them.
Outlaws pariahs misfits and heretics.
Itís ironic now to look back and think
if you werenít an outcast of some kind
you were cast out
like the shard of a broken mirror
that didnít fit the puzzle
of a slowly evolving vision of life
where the whole was less than the sum of its parts.
You werenít a grand master
in the dark arts
and ardent discipline
You didnít know how to obey in reverse.
Your childhood hadnít progressed
through the initial seven stations of futility and despair
so you didnít know how to keep faith with the faithless.
I sometimes think thatís why
so many of my relationships ever since
have been misalliances of dark matter and light.
The parities of mass and function might look the same
but youíve got to check the charge and spin
before you can be sure that this is love
and not annihilation.
Synchronous happenings in a charged particle field.
Or love playing chicken in a hadron particle collider
at nearly the speed of light
But hey thatís not to say
that there arenít some women
worth evaporating in a Wilson Cloud Chamber for
like a God-particle in a mystic cloud of unknowing.
Vapour trails and skid marks
that leave their mark on the world
like comets of cosmic graffiti
spray-bombed under a bridge
by gangland trolls
to warn everyone whose turf theyíre on.
An urban form of land naming.
The writing on the wall.
And whatís annihilation anyway
when you turn the jewel in a different light
but the unsung beginning of another universe
that couldnít be any worse than this one?
Hail to the dark muses behind the veils
of my most ferocious inspirations.
Evolution consults the mutants to know what to do next.
For some the dice are loaded like chromosomes and genes.
For others theyíre hexed
like dead albatrosses
caught in the rigging of shipwrecks
that have been down so long it looks like up to them
if you can remember what happened to Richard Farina.
Killer-whales in the Oak Bay Marina
making a big splash for the tourists.
Killer-whales waiting for baby seals
to slide off the rocks like careless mermaids
or hookers in rehab.
Maybe itís just a matter of taste
and learning how to say grace
whether you wear a neck yoke
or stay underground like a missing link
when everyoneís enslaved by a food chain
for reasons that are as far beyond them
as Jamaica is from the Ivory Coast.
The difference between a domestic pet
and an exiled species of wildlife.
And maybe thatís why I often think
poetryís just a loveletter
youíre writing on death row
to someone youíve never met.
O synteretic spark!
O fairy dust mingled
in the soot of brooding chimneys
like the birds that keep getting caught in their throats
like songs they were meant to sing
words they were meant to say
I can taste the sun shining at midnight
and the eclipses that have freaked your honey
in the hives of killer bees
with the fragrance of a dangerous elixir
itís a greater madness than wisdom to resist.
Lao-tzu says a sane man prefers heaven
but itís heaven that courts insanity.
Sane long enough
and the fountain of youth grows old
waiting for Ponce de Leon.
The darker the muse the deeper the insight
and the further you have to go for stars
to keep the night happy and high.
Forbidden people like forbidden things.
No danger in the writer
and the readerís got nothing to fear.
But itís the one percenter deathís-head patched
to the executionerís hood of the cobra
the hourglass on the black widowís thorax
and the irisless eyes of the great white shark
that donít make a sound
that catches the ear
and sends a shudder through the blood
like the poison and the potion
of a dangerous love affair.
Itís not the cause of the injury
but the depth of the wound
thatís the measure of whether
youíre just another
superficial predator in a petting zoo
or your feelings went deep enough into you
itís less painful to leave the arrowhead in
and learn to live with it like a second heart
than it is to take it out.
If the rose lacks thorns.
If the mountain goat
has lost its figs and horns.
If the lines of a poem donít sting
like a loverís scratches on your back
or the striations of passionate glaciers
across the Canadian Shield
who can make love to you for years
submitting to all your desires
for fur and fire and food
without ever once yielding
anything of themselves
but tears and lakes and rivers of farewell
when things begin to warm up.
If the wolf isnít mauled by the moon
itís not high enough on the mountain
to be inspired by its wound
to intrigue the indifferent muse
on the far side of its agony
with the odes it writes
to the lunacy of its longing.
First Light, Perth, Ontario
WILD DRUNK NIGHTS ON BANK STREET
Wild drunk nights on Bank Street
in half a company of comeback poets
and the other half too young
to know what there was to lose.
Winter blues and booze
and the headlights of the evening cars
diffracted through big wet snowflakes
as we stumbled from bar to bar
between Mexicaliís and Noddyís
among the clockwork throngs of people
we were trying as hard not to be
and they were doing everything they could
not to be us though they envied
our wives and girlfriends
because they were prosperous
and thought of themselves
as a lot more deserving than us
who were obviously not.
Hangers-on without enough life of their own
to put their own show on the road
waiting to see what new circus act
would bring the house down tonight
and the quasi-liberal businessmen
sneering under their breath
like a secret agenda at an open forum
who thought of a vagina as an empty wallet
and sat there all night long
flashing their cash around round after round
like fly fishermen
waiting for something to take the bait
though it was they who were hooked by the gills
and left flopping at last call
at the bottom of the love boat.
Romeo trying to rip Bonnie off Clyde.
Blood banks coming on to Draculaís bride.
You had to be spontaneously self-destructive
to sleep with women like that.
You couldnít keep one rabbit in your pants
and the other in your hat
Nothing less than everything all the time.
Pot, coke, wine, beer for breakfast, whiskey,
and risky women with neo-romantic anti-selves
who followed us to jail
with taxis and bail after every barfight
whenever life abused the art it imitated.
Oases in the third eye of spiritual storms,
everyone trying to make something big
out of their exponential futility
we partied long and hard into the night
to exorcise the exilic solitude
we shared in common with those
who had also been cast out by their own hand.
After Rimbaudís dissociation of the sensibilities
what could you do for encore
except take ruination a step too far?
with a mystically sexual twist.
How to live with a lunar view of life
in the half lights, shadows, and uncertainties
the moon cast through the trees across the road
in a solar culture that leeched the colour out of your blood?
Hang by your legs from the bannister on the balcony
of the thirteenth floor
to prove how much more drastic
life was than death
as down is to up
when youíre sitting in front of a typewriter
wondering if the empty bottle was dark enough
to hold your message of light
like fireflies in your mouth
without swallowing their myth of origin whole.
Total eclipses abridging all the phases of the full moon
in one flyby of a night lyric
like a bird on the wing
crying out in its lonely passage
how sad it is to be so far from home
time doesnít speak your language anymore.
And your words fall on deaf ears
like junkmail on the moon.
Intensities on the nightshift
poured the gold out of the ore of our pain
as the muses appeared like broken windows
with tragic world views
to give us something to squander
our imaginations on
like stars in the dark
coming up with constellations of our own
to better express what we were not a part of.
Zodiacs for maniacs off the beaten path
of the straight and narrow firewalk
most of us were too enraptured by the night
to stop breaking the taboos of light
like fortune-cookies koans
and severing ostrakons of insight
to stay in the same orbit for long.
And when the cupboards were bare
in the huge cheap apartments of the Glebe
where the uncertain prophets lived
with their dakinis and sybils
in the belly of the whale
before the gypsies were gentrified
by the real estate agents
who liked to slum at our parties
because scum has more heart-felt fun in the flesh
even in a Petrie dish looking for a cure for itself
than someone who owns the earth
without ever having felt the squish of starmud
oozing up like his own biomass between his cloven hoofs
because his clothes are afraid of getting down and dirty;
when there was nothing to eat
and the heat was turned off
we didnít burn our stamaps
and look for a ride home.
We didnít gouge the eyes out of a winged horse
with spurs of Spanish silver
when the stars got hard and brittle
and burnt out like lightbulbs
that couldnít handle the lightning.
We didnít eat each other in a feeding frenzy.
We were pragmatic divines
with our heads in the stars and our feet on the ground
we went next door and borrowed a cup of sugar
and lived the rest of the week on symbols and signs.
Ignorant of the blessing.
Unaware of the curse of those days and nights
and those mystically anaemic sunsets
that fell between the red brick houses
and always reminded me of Eliotís dying dactylic fall
that pauses and turns around like footsteps in the hall
before some dangerous doorbell
sets off a false alarm
and puts the wick of the lighthouse
thatís sick of taking its own warning out for good.
Necessity should not be abstracted by hungry ghosts
who have no stomach for the fruits of life.
How idiotic to be afraid of making a fool of yourself
when half the magic of living the dream
is being led to real holy water
by a mirage of your own making.
Amputated stumps by the side of truncated roads
mistaking their new branches
for the flying buttresses and crutches
of a cul de sac cathedral
that wouldnít risk its dead end orthodoxy even for God.
If youíre not willing
to overcome your convictions
to transcend yourself in a shapeshifting multiverse
to add your moment of excruciation
like the singularity at the bottom of the black hole
in the middle of your seeing
to the human divinity of the transformative whole
I ask you how could galaxies and starfish and sunflowers
have ever come into being
if there wasnít something curved
about your golden squares?
And arenít those windows
somebody threw something through
whether from the inside or out
somehow always more believable
than those who havenít been broken by the moon
to keep from killing the birds
who fall for the shills of sky
that never evolved a wingspan
wider than the beautiful proportions
of the cosmic egg they never made it out of?
Who could imagine then as I do now
the immensities of innocence
behind the blind discipline
of the inspired disobedience
we sacrificed to a life in art
we raised like our own assassin
each after our own fashion
to keep from dying like a lie
in the shadows of lucid taboos
that slept with one eye open
like dragons at the gateless gates
of those with spine
and serpent fire enough
to have all the wrong stuff
for all the right reasons.
Groping our way from poem to poem
painting to painting
album to album
blind star-nosed moles
among the root-fires of the cedars
we wrote so no one could understand us.
We sang so no one could hear us.
We painted so no one could see us.
And we lived in such a way
that no one else could be us
without destroying themselves
like an art that takes
an apprentice years to perfect
and a master a whole lifetime longer to wreck.
Even young I saw through the ruse of originality.
Originality the greatest plagiarist of all.
Takes the low place.
Takes the sea bed.
And letís everything run down into it
like a million mindstreams all at once.
Originality in an interdependently originated universe
is a measure of how open youíve been
to the influence of everything
and whether youíve ever creatively collaborated
with jello telephones and the psychopyrodynamics
of schizophrenic dragons on crack
ferociously obsessed with a paranoid fear of fire.
And there are beautiful things too.
Not just the grotesque and weird
the labyrinths of wormholes in space
people crawl in and out of
hoping in one of these worlds within worlds
to die a maggot and be raised up a butterfly.
Physics is the cruelest science.
Nature the hardest art of all.
But sometimes all youíve got to do is look up
and the bullets go right through you like stars
arranged into firing squads all shooting blanks
as if no one one of the signs of the zodiac
with their finger on the trigger of the moon
wanted to be cursed by the fact
they killed an albatross with an arrow
fletched with its own flight feathers.
Donít boil the kid in its motherís milk.
Or Cygnus in the Via Galactica.
Youíll turn a martyr into a heretic
and youíll start writing the first cantos in terza rima
of your Anti-Divina Comedia
and youíll long for women you canít have
to delude you onto the rocks
like the daughter of a mermaid raised
in a sacred grove of crucified shipwrecks.
Evanescent moments of bliss.
As if you had a secret assignation
with the mystery of the universe
turned into tangible flesh
and you and your six senses and her
were going off to get drunk somewhere
you could let everybody down without regret.
THE SILENCE HAS GROWN SO MAGNANIMOUS IN THE NIGHT
The silence has grown so magnanimous in the night
it encompasses all of space and time
in a palace of dark matter
with light beaming through
the cracks of the planets
that have been stacked into walls
like the skulls the Mongols heaped up
like the foundation stones of Samarkand,
Olmecs in Teotihuacan,
or on a gentler note, Golgotha.
Upon one skull you can build a church.
And an Orphic skull might look like
a dead moon to ordinary eyes
but when your inner vision waxes to full
you realize when it drops its jaw
as if it were gaping at something transfixing
to prophesy what comes next
as you asked it to
life is swarming all over it
like black ants over the globular clusters
of the white peonies abandoned by a farmhouse garden.
Two twenty a.m. and Iím sitting
on the tie of a high train trestle
trying not to get slivers in my ass
and black creosote all over
my last clean pair of jeans.
Iím dangling my feet in the abyss below me
like a kid gone fishing in a Norman Rockwell painting
and positioning my arms like the legs of a French easle
so I can tilt my head back like a telescope
on an alta-azimuth mount
and look at the explosive array of stars before me
without falling off my vertiginous perch
because my gerry-mandered tripod
couldnít keep its bearings straight.
Itís a mistake to count on a crutch for a rung
on this endless extension ladder
on the back of a fire-engine
because it couldnít reach
the windowsills of the stars
missing a dimension or two
to reach the woman in the moon
with her hands up against the glass
screaming for someone to come to her rescue
as the windows melt faster than they can weep.
Stars are to me
what cocaine is to a mirror
in a reflecting telescope with clock-drive.
I get a rush every time I rail them through my eyes,
shoot them under my tongue
or o.d. on them sitting on a train track
thinking how weird and surrealistic
my addiction to them has made me over the years
that I only stopped to piss by the side of the road
and risking bears
made my way through the leafless trees
to end up out here in the clear where I could see better
how much higher yet there was to aspire to
and how much further to fall.
Bellatrix, Rigel, Saiph, Betelgeuse,
Alnilam, Alnitak and Mintaka.
Orion at the end of deer-hunting season
extending its license to kill by a week
north of highway 7
as it crosses zenith.
Iím not playing Russian roulette with a train trestle
but I doubt I could dodge the bullet
were one to come my way
even though it wouldnít make any sense
given that we still need each other for support
each in our own special way.
As it is Iím sitting in the middle of the Road of Ghosts
as the natives called the Milky Way
mesmerized by the doe-glare of the oncoming stars
that pass right through me
as if a head-on collision were a redundancy
their deer-whistles couldnít avoid.
Three thousand five hundred western miles that way home.
Twenty-five miles outside of Perth near Bolingbroke
I wonder what my motherís doing now
three hours behind me
in a time-zone with more of a future than mine
and if she ever
when she thinks of me
conceives of a bird on a wire
perilously suspended in space
like the last whole note
to drop out of a song
thatís getting ready to leave for the winter.
I raise myself up on my hands
and my legs straight out into space
on a balance beam at the Olympics
I swing like a loveseat on a country porch
to see if the daredevil boy in me
is still fit to wear my balls like the man
itís sometimes laughable to think that I am.
I used to do the same for her
when I climbed to the topmost branches
of the abandoned orchards of the Saanich Peninsula
to throw the choicest apples down
she used to catch in her kerchief one by one.
Looking down as I waited
for her to catch the next one
Iíd watch her gently arrange them like skulls
at the foot of a siege ladder
with her son on the highest rung of all
not listening to her warnings,
disappearing over the holy walls of Jerusalem
like a crusader that had taken it a step too far
and realized there was as far to fall
on the other side of the infidels
as there was on the side that God was on.
Now I keep my heroism to myself
like something Iím slightly ashamed of
like a movie star with a stand-in stunt man.
I take chances.
Great subjective risks
with dire physical consequences
to keep spiritual things material
by refusing to abstract my senses.
This isnít a train trestle in Bolingbroke.
Itís the bridge of Chinvat
that Zoroaster said everyone
among the holy and the damned
would have to cross
raised up from the dead on the Day of Judgement
to see hell before it was decided
whether you were a son of the lie
or the son of a truth that got double-crossed.
But given my indifference to both
as if they were just spontaneous happenings
in a charged particle field reversing spin
as high as wide as far as deep as I can see
in all directions at once
out here alone by myself,
the exception that got left behind,
all Iím aware of are the stars
and the tops of the cedar trees
tiered like rustic pagodas
trying to fly when the wind
gets under their wings
like shaggy boughs
that never make it off the ground.
Nothing but stars.
Nothing but open sky and moonset.
Nothing but space and time and Jupiter
and the Hesperides in their apple orchards
wondering what Alcyone in the Pleiades
thinks sheís got over them
thatís worth so much more of my attention
I can almost forget where I am and let go
if I werenít as unattainable to her
as she is to me.
Look at me Mum
at the top of a tree forty feet below me
like a pine cone
with all its eyelids open
that doesnít care where it lands
among all these meteors
shaken out of the radiant of the Leonids
like the Cannonball Express
given how many light years itís been
since you were last there to catch it
like a falling star
and put it in your pocket
and never let it fade away
though we both know
itís a little too late
a train too far
and a night too deep for that.
Home For The Night
OLD GATE OFF ITS HINGE
Old gate off its hinge.
Matted like a lapwing in the long blond grass.
What is there to distract me from?
I pass, but not as a predator.
I seek the high field at the end
of this narrow dark road at dusk.
Iím out for stars. Iím out for solitude.
Like these deep cuts in the road
my scars have taken me out for a walk
in the gathering darkness,
nothing to keep in
nothing to let out.
The sumac denuded.
The last of the asters ruined.
Thereís a farmhouse back here
abandoned years ago
like an old book in the basement
under the covers of its collapsing roof.
And the ghosts of two children
hidden deep in the woods
from the authorities,
who could fix anything mechanical,
clocks, watches, small engines
anything the neighbours brought them
but their own hearts and minds
and thatís how they lived for years,
with nothing but their own estrangement for company,
fixing things the neighbours broke.
A cage. But with the door open.
A road. But nowhere to go.
A house. But no one to shelter.
A mind. But no one to know it.
The chassis of a rusting car.
I get caught in the glare
of my own mental headlights
wary of making more noise than I should.
And then my eyes
adjust my fear to the darkness again
and Iím not sure I should be here at all
unworthy of the silence,
unknown to the trees at the side of the road,
no clockwork universe
to bring these backwoods geniuses
that even they could fix.
A fox on the path. A startled bird.
The barking of a farmyard dog
way off in the low-key distance.
Stars in the ripening twilight.
A clearing with maple saplings to say
here nature picked up where it left off
and broken shards of moonlight
still clinging to the windowframes
as if it had to break through its own ice
to draw water from a stream.
Perseus holding Medusaís head
above a barn drunker than it looks
swaying from side to side
gaping through its doorless loft in shock
at what is happening to it.
Aldebaran in Taurus, the Pleiades,
Castor, Pollux, Auriga and the kids,
an airliner leaving Ottawa without a sound,
and something that sweeps over me
like the shadow of a thought
with an owl for an eyelid.
So little harmony
so much tension among the stars
and their conflicting myths of origin
in the chaos and confusion of creation
and yet around here
in the stillness and profusion of their radiance
blessed and hexed alike
they all seem fixed.
Here where the unknown breathes
and eternity doesnít seem
like anybodyís business but its own.
EVERYTHING I WANTED TO BE
Everything I wanted to be.
Just like you.
I remember getting up early
every Saturday morning in Victoria
and going out with my mother
and two sisters and younger brother
and sometimes my grandmother
to scour the acres and acres
of East Indian woodlots
drying the newly split
book-shaped slabs of wood
as if someone had just put out the fire
in the Library of Alexandria
and left this toppled tower
of bottom-feeding erudition
on the outskirts of town
for beer-bottles left over from the night before
and wild blackberry patches
we had to get to before the sun and the birds did.
People went there on a Friday night
to drink and fuck in these heavy swells
of reeking spruce and fir
with Prussian blue mussel shells
still clustered in bunches to the bark
like the seaís answer to grapes.
We dumped the stale beer out
along with the used condoms and cigarette-butts
and if it werenít for the fact
we were swimming in wood
we might have been mistaken for pearl divers
given how we came up for air
gasping with excitement
that we had found another one.
It was all just a big impromptu Easter egg hunt
put on by the local church of Satan
for those kids the Easter bunny had missed.
Two bits a dozen
or two cents a piece
stacked like spent artillery casings
in a two-wheeled wire-mesh grocery cart
that made the bottles clink
like a Glockenspiel in a hailstorm
everytime my mother moved it
to a more strategic location.
We didnít come like gypsies
or crows or seagulls to the woodlots.
This was a full blown military occupation
and our survival in between welfare cheques
depended on it
like William Carlos Williamsí little red wheelbarrow
in the rain beside the white chickens.
We drank the black blood
out of the arachnid eye sacs of the berries
crushing them against our palettes with our tongues
just like John Keats
crushed that autumnal grape in his ode to joy
just before they went too mushy to pick
and took on a mouldy taste
that felt like spider fur in your mouth.
Powerful green breakers of berries
that could suck you down into their undertow
and hold you in their depths
like spiny sea urchins, sawfish, razor-wire
or giant octopi with thorny tentacles instead of suckers
you could stick like stain-glass sunflowers to a window
if you know how to lick them just right
to make their suction cups
in conjunction with your spit
stick longer than lipstick French kissing
a pricey glass of champagne.
Even then I was dreaming of the finer things in life.
Thoroughbred goblets one day
but for then those noisy beer-bottles
like the sweating horses of pussy-whipped Neptune.
And would you believe it
we were all together happy back then
laughing at what we had to do for a living.
We were salvagers of a shipwreck
that had been cut up for firewood
and these long-necked empties in our hands
as if we grabbed a flock of cormorants by the throat
useless to everyone except ourselves
after having delivered their message
like a lifeboat at the end of a James Bond movie
to those marooned here on a Friday night
werenít beer-bottles but Greek amphorae.
Na. I donít believe it either.
You make things up to adapt to the lack of them all
when youíre a kid
when youíre poor
when you dream just so
you wonít lose the habit of it
when you fall between the cracks
like a penny down a gutter
because you know too much
by the time youíre six
about what happens when you throw the full moon
like a coin down a wishing well
and how little difference there is
between the things that donít happen
and the things that arenít true
and the things that just go splash like Bashoís frog.
But happy, yes, in moments like that
collecting beer bottles in the East Indian woodlots
on the outskirts of town
as if we were shared the same joyous delirium
of improbably getting away with something like our lives
because were desperately ingenious
in the way weíd make walkways through the blackberries
by throwing down planks end to end
and topping our tin laundry buckets
and leaking silver collanders
that always reminded me of bleeding starmaps off
with the furthest, the best, the sweetest we saved till the last.
When youíve only got the slimmest of half a chance to make it
the futureís always more innocent than the present
and the past might be out on parole any day now
for things you shouldnít ask a kid to understand
even though you know he does.
Everyone I wanted to be. Not me.
Just like you.
When I wasnít preoccupied
with beer bottles and blackberries
abandoned orchards of peaches plums apples
and the geraniums and marigolds
Iíd steal from the neighbours gardens
for my mother who would invariably ask
as she was transplanting them
without expecting me to answer
where they came from.
Buckets of peanut butter
heavy as bells chafing our shins
as we tried to walk with them like awkward steeples
at the backdoor of the peanut butter factory,
running an extortion racket on telephone booths
by knowing how to tip the horseshoe of the receiver
upside down for loose change
that had run out of luck.
All the local churches
playing musical chairs with our souls
in a game of hamper hamper
whoís got the hamper this month
and who suffered their little children to come unto us,
potatoes too bruised for the potato factory,
a face cord of salmon from the fisherman
coming in with their catches to refuel
down by Johnson Street Bridge
where Iíd collect pigeon eggs under the girders for friends.
When it wasnít this
I was teaching myself algebra
from an old khaki green Salvation Army math book
on my grade six summer vacation
my mother had picked up for a dime
because after a fighter pilot, a cartoonist, a paleontologist,
a street-wise prodigy found dead in my bed in the morning
from an accidental suicide,
I wanted to be an astronomer.
Except for most of all my love affairs
I have suffered few wounds as deep
as when I used to cry in my sleep
for inconsolable hours every night
between the ages of seven and ten
because Iíd been born too early
to step foot on another planet
where you didnít have to walk the plank
to get at the beer-bottles and best blackberries
before the sun and the birds did.
Everything I wanted to be. Not me.
Just like you.
But hey, look at me now, man.
Iím a poet
and Iím more spaced out
than I could have ever been
in anyoneís air force
and even if I havenít discovered
a habitable planet to put down roots in yet
Iíve been walking on stars for light years
by putting down planks like poems end to end
to gorge on the choicest blackberries
on a Saturday morning in the East Indian woodlots
as if I were happy again
even among all these luminaries
with better myths of origin than mine
being what I am.
Just like you.
Everything I wanted to be.
In cornucopias and windfalls.
Buckets full of blackberries.
A rickety grocery cart
clinking with two dozen beer-bottles
the spoils of a Roman triumph
as we rode our golden chariot through a slum
me, my brother and sisters,
sometimes my grandmother,
I LEFT THE SCENE BECAUSE
I left the scene because after long discipline
and the labour of many mirrors
I wanted to get the careerism out of my poetry
and return to the unbrokered relationship
I had with the muse who had me
when I was sixteen sitting
precipitously on Heartbreak Hill
not caring whether the stars knew
I was there or not
because it was more than enough that they were.
I wanted to end my apprenticeship to literary owls
editors publishers agents poet-tasters court-jesters
and the quarterly reviews of the gleemen
who made a mockery of the blood sacrifices
they watered down like Druids
that had never taken a life
in the name of anything that ever mattered
to the talented or untalented alike.
I wanted to get away from the merry-go-rounds
who made a hobby-horse of Pegasus
and kept asking me
how many books I had published now
though it was doubtful theyíd even read one
all the way through
and the only answer I could give them
was I was the fucking Library of Alexandria.
Now watch me burn it to the ground.
I donít think itís true you always kill the thing you love
but I knew too many who had buried themselves in books
to prove they did
while those they loved
went right on living without them.
I left the scene because
when I wrote
too many doctorates
tried to crawl up into the womb
to monitor the birth of the baby
by prying its petals open
before it was due to be born.
Because the waters of life
like the wellsprings of Parnassus
before Helicon in Boeotian Greece
switched to hippocrene
canít be approached like a fish farm.
Because Iím from B.C.
and I know you have to be willing to leap up stream
with the wisdom and grace and courage
of a wild salmon
through a gauntlet of real grizzlies
if you want to be summoned by the ancient mystery
to the sacred pools of your own creativity
where everything begins and ends
like the waterclocks of inspiration
generation after generation.
I left the scene because
too many periodicals were coming on
like voice coaches to the nightingales
who submitted their vocals
to the editorial policies
of peacocks who sang a lot worse than they did.
I left the scene because
you canít live like a maggot
and write like a butterfly
and even if you can't find
much thatís noble about your calling anymore
itís still not an investment portfolio
with stocks in Poetry Chicago.
I liked the awards I won.
I liked the books I published
I liked the provincial and federal writing grants.
I liked the reading fees
such as the one Iím getting here tonight.
I liked the dinner I had with Max.
I liked the planes and the cars
the private homes
the reasonable hotels
that people put me in or on
and I liked the way people
would lie to me enthusiastically
about how my name would last forever
as long as there was a Canadian literature
that could stand up to the weather.
I liked the attention
and needed it
and I never met an audience
I didnít like
if theyíd let me.
I liked the radio interviews
with big studio dressing rooms
with cosmetically lit mirrors for my voice
but Iím still more than a little ambivalent
about the visual effects
they laced my voice with like acid
to make the documentaries
more interesting than my life.
I liked the artists who did the poster-poems
for most of the poetry readings in Ottawa for free for years
and the back up guitarists
like the Roddy Elias Jazz Trio
and this triune expression of musical experience
thatís coming up shortly behind me here.
I liked the intelligently generous restauranteurs
who were gracious enough
to give me a chance to read above
the sounds of falling spoons and crashing plates.
I liked the man who passed the hat
at the end of every reading
like a collection plate
that made me feel
if I stood at this pulpit long enough
Iíd get to be the leader of a church.
I liked the losing and the finding and the search
for inspiration among the covens
and the choirs of fallen angels
who showed me all the things you can do with fire
that have nothing to do with global warming
which isnít a function of natural desire.
I liked sitting alone on a runway in Terrace
on a cross country book tour
surrounded by mountains and ice
wondering how anything could gain enough altitude
without being stoned out of its mind
to avoid a collision with the peak moments of your life
like a decision that isnít yours to make
and youíre not quite sure
whether youíre going to die or not
nor for whose sake
or in the name of what
when you remember
and this is your last best hope
youíre an integral part of Canadian Literature
and youíre going to live forever
as long as you can clear the Rockies and the weather
and get your landing gear up in time
like a duck flying over a duck blind.
I liked the vegetarian hosts
who let me smoke at some readings
because they said they liked my work so well
they didnít have the heart
to make a demon like me
go through nicotine withdrawal
in the name of art
and gave me the breathing space
I need as a poet
to read my poetry
though I took great care
not to blow the smoke in their face.
I liked the way I was adopted
by exiles in the capitol of the country
I was born into like a changeling
by the Arabs and Chileans.
I liked the special connections I had
to Calabria and Arezzo.
I liked editing a poetry magazine.
I liked publishing other peopleís poetry books.
I liked having a talk-show
and being an artificial life support system
to prevent guests from inhaling too much dead air
so they could talk live on the radio.
I liked pulling into the Canadian Tire Gas Bar
on highway 7 just before midnight
and being recognized
three years after I quit broadcasting
by the sound of my voice alone
by an overly enthusiastic gas-jockey
who thought I was some kind of big shot
and I wanted to say hey, buddy,
do yourself a big favour
and get a life of your own
because I like being heard
but that doesnít always mean
Iím worth listening to
or that the noise I make
is many more wavelengths longer than yours.
Or the acoustics of your dick
are merely the hollow echo
of mine that roars by comparison.
Anyone can wake the valley up
with a bull horn.
But it takes a rooster with real class
to crow softly,
knowing the rose likes to sleep in.
I liked it all.
The Blue Gardenia, The Wildflower,
the aging nightowls of LíHibou,
the legends of Mandrex and alcohol
that made the mice feel farcical.
I liked having as many detractors as I did friends.
I liked being asked to be poet laureate
and have a Jewish sister insist upon it
after sticking up for the Palestinians
and being reviewed
as the White Ayatollah of Ottawa
in the Ottawa Citizen
when in fact
I thought of myself
as a kind of throw back to Mephistopheles
with a host of demi-gods
and black-hearted magicians for friends.
I liked the wild witchy beauty of the women
who loved me like a finishing school
for fucked-up creative females
and took the madness I embodied to heart
and made it their own
to give themselves a good start in art
with my blessing.
And they liked the way that was o.k. with me.
Anything for poetry.
Even the empty doorway
they left me to remember them by.
And I do.
For having enriched my solitude immeasurably.
But for all that I liked roosting
with the crows and peacocks
the swans and the larks
the sparrows and nightingales and seagulls
in the sacred groves of poetry
I couldnít get this cosmic hiss out of my head
this white noise
this multiversal whisper
from the afterbirth of creation
that kept suggesting
there was no point in making a Big Bang
if it didnít turn into a universe.
So I looked for space.
I looked for time.
I returned to my potential
I looked for cheap rent
on a small town apartment
where I could spill paint on the floor
and write myself to death
without anyone coming to the door
to tell me how much I had to offer other people
though I wasnít aware of the fact that theyíd even asked.
I wanted to take a bath in my own grave
alone with the moon by an unnamed lake
to renew my innocence
among the scarecrows and voodoo dolls
I refeathered like a phoenix in the fall
with burning leaves of sumac
on the last pyre I had to spend
on getting closer to the stars than Iíve ever been.
I left the scene because
longing and silence and solitude
are the three water birds I collaborate with the most
when I want to say whatís in my heart.
I left the scene because
only the night and the hills
and the wind and the fields
and the wildflowers whose names
are poems in and of themselves
and the six thousand unattainable stars
that I aspire to like women Iíll never have,
though theyíre happy enough
to turn themselves out like muses
who like to marry men on death row,
reminded me of how
refreshingly insignificant I am
to anything thatís going on with them
like a big-hearted, good-natured ghost
they feel free enough to call upon
any time they want
and thatís what they like about me the most.
Medicine Woman Calling The Eagles
THE RADIANT NADIRS OF THE UNDERESTIMATED
The radiant nadirs of the underestimated,
all these small town upstairs windows at night
where people bloom like flowers,
trout lily, hepatica, wood violet
under the duff of life,
old books and teetering obelisks of magazines,
nobodyís ever going to see
in this hemisphere
unless their clockwise life
has gone down the wrong way
and the worldís been turned
up side down on its head
so youíre compelled to walk on stars
to keep from falling off.
Thereís a novelist across the street.
Window to window our apartments stare
blankly at each other
through the dirty winter grime
and the occasional moon
and ambivalent rose of the dawn
after a long sleepless night
when even the dead are appalled by the solitude.
Seven novels and heís never published a word.
Seven novels. A mouth and a heart
like the Gulf of St. Lawrence
but no Cabot, Cartier, Champlain.
And thereís a poet I know
a mere four blocks away, beautiful,
a wild crazy witch of a woman
among muses that couldnít hold a black candle
up to the serpent fire she can inspire
in any two lines of a poem
that could take a common garter snake
and give it the wings of a dragon,
a genius whoís laid herself aside to raise a baby
and write in between the cracks of concrete
her crackhead ex keeps trying to pave her with
like a parking lot on a coke binge.
Sheís the spearhead of a blade of grass
trying to wound its way through stone
into the light
but itís not likely
sheís ever going to make it
given the avalanche of circumstance
that waits for her like a mountain on the other side
to come up for air in the middle of a seal hunt.
Unknown geniuses, the gifted secrets
of heretical martyrs and orthodox suicides
like the Sylvia Plaths, the Emily Dickinsons,
the Kafkas, the Rimbauds, the Van Goghs
the hidden motherlodes of gold
that freak the fieldstones
of the small c conservative, rural, born again
redneck towns that overturn talent like tractors
all through the Ottawa Valley
on too steep a slope to make the grade
and crush the life out of it without
anyone really knowing what it was that died
or what it died for
or what it wanted to die in the name of.
The sole East Indian proprietor of Macís Milk
like a single ant in a glaring peony of light
that stays on all night,
the bartender at the Imperial,
the bouncer at the Shark and Bull,
the cook in the kitchen at Fiddleheadís,
the adolescent in the doorway
with her elbows on her knees
and her hands on her head
like the flying buttresses of a small planet
blazing with comets and lightning bolts
of insights into life that even at her age
would put a wounded voodoo doll to shame.
I write this for the beaders who thrust thin needles
through the eyes of paradise
making rosaries of the ninety-nine names of God
and one hidden one on the back of a upside down cross,
for the Celtic smithies of silver jewellery
that wrap the worldís fingers and wrists
in kells of wild grapevines
and the Kufic script of copulating snakes
with star sapphires for eyes,
for the sculptors in their one room ghettoes
making hash-pipes out of soapstone,
Michelangelos trading David for a quarter ounce of pot,
the lame dancers that leap higher than Nureyev
like white tailed deer over a cedar rail fence,
and those who can carve guitars
out of the heartwood of their lives and tree-like souls
you can caress like the body of the Venus de Milo
and get a hard on.
I write this for all those small dark planets
that sustain the life of art
in the methane seas and magmatic mindscapes
of the most unlikely extremities
of time and place and circumstance
in the shadows of the obvious stars
whose light is barely dimmed by their passage.
This oneís for all those Luna moths
driven crazy by the light of their talent
like a candle theyíll never be immolated in
like an Arab spring in Tunisia
held back by the bug screens
that keep them beating their wings
against the windows into their minds and hearts and souls
until they drop from exhaustion, despair,
futility, the sheer absurdity of trying,
like a phoenix among dead houseflies on a windowsill.
Hereís to your lunacy,
hereís to your kind of madness
and the hill and the stone
that might have shown us how
to better deal with our own absurdity
by learning to listen to fire-hydrants
and abandoned house-wells
that echo with underground thunder
as if there were still cthonic gods beneath our feet
that wanted our attention.
Here I establish this poem
like the mother of all awards in your name
you never expected to win
like the published poets do
among small cartels of themselves
when they lose.
I raise this poem up
like a constellation, a sign at zenith,
a thirteenth house of the zodiac
to commemorate you.
I cut the ribbons of death and life.
I cut the Atropic filoes of fate.
I cut the knotted umbilical cords.
I cut the kites from their kite-strings.
I cut the chromosomes of the Neanderthals and Cro Magnons.
I cut the pie evenly like phases of the moon
from the fullness of the old harvest
to the darkness of the new.
I cut the spinal cords that moor your yachts
to the vertebrae of the assholes on the wharves
that hold you back like a gull against a headwind.
I cut your sentences short
on the basis of justice delayed is justice denied
and I parole you to halls of fame and victory
like Muhammad Aliís conscientious objections.
I cut the veins of this poem
like a woman taking a bath in her own grave
to renew the virginity of the black rose like a new moon
just to show you how serious I am.
I cut through the bullshit the aesthetic necrophiliacs
with the taste and culture of an undertakerís corpse
like a black hole theyíll never crawl out of
and I open their coffins up to the public
like a salon for the uniqueness
of the rejects at a Paris exhibition of your works,
or a new and selected volume of poems
dedicated to all those people and muses in your life
who hauled you into a lifeboat
like the moon on the waters of life
just as it was going down in the nick of time
when no one else would.
I open this poem up
like a mine in a Klondike gold rush
that just struck it rich
like a snake pit in the darkness,
to acknowledge how deeply you had to dig down
into the inner resources of your own lonely holy lives
with your fingernails, your teeth, your claws, your fangs
to sing in the darkness
like yellow canaries in the Burgess Shale
with diamonds in your eyes
and a beak for a pick-axe
and a pen for a jackhammer
just to keep the air sweet and breathable
for those of us who are down there with you
in word and body and spirit.
This is for all the unknown geniuses and junoes
who went down like Orpheus into the underworld
to see things through the eyes and the jewels of the dead
with nothing but a harp stuck
like a wishbone in their throats
and divining where the stars were buried
in the frozen watersheds of their lunar seabeds
brought them up to the surface like pearl divers
to make their own inestimable contribution
to the sun that shines at midnight
and the moon that rises at noon
in the radiant nadirs of the underestimated.
I award this poem to your intrepid anonymity
like a Canada Council A-grant with a travel allowance
like a Nobel Prize to the moonrise of your dark genius
or a Guggenheim Fellowship
to all true warriors of the forlorn hope
who fight their homely holy wars
like distant rumours of legends yet to come
rising out of the shadows of a farce of stars
to make all the lies, even the biggest of them,
even the ones you couldnít bring yourself to believe
though you told them to the night
and the streetlamps outside your window
like you, come true, come shining through
like prime-time supernovas
at the radiant nadirs of the underestimated.
I give you this poem
like the eye of a hurricane
from the bottom of my life in art
to say you have not laboured in vain
beyond the border stones
of the anthologized gardens
of more ornamental strains
like a November rain
at the roots of the wildflowers
in the high starfields that bloom
like astrolabes and sundials
and tuning forks fashioned
like witching wands from the dead branch
with the moon in full blossom
when the wolves and the frogs
and the night birds sing
for nothing, for everything
for a gust of fireflies, dust,
stars on the wind
at the radiant nadirs of the underestimated
WATCHING THE SKY TURN BLUE
for Steve Forster
Watching the sky turn blue
in the last hours of the night.
Up like the stars dreaming myself awake.
Insomniac watchman making the rounds
of my own private zodiac
on the graveyard shift
looking for signs of an afterlife
thatís in spiritual alignment with the pyramids.
A clean slate.
A new day.
The world a new creation every morning.
Empty streets empty stores empty sidewalks.
The vertebrae of bridges sheathing the Tay River
like a spinal cord thatís stopped
sending messages to the brain
like wavelets and rain
to put the serpent fire out
thatís rooted at the base of my spine.
And the windows that couldnít get over
the loss of the moon
arenít talking to those
anticipating the sun rise
like the trickle of water music
arising from the willows of Stewart Park
slowly leaking out of the silence
like a crescendo of birds that come out
one by one like the stars
until youíre washed away
in the undertow of it all
like the words of this poem
riding the mindstream like a paper boat
all the bumpy way down to my heart.
The leaf and starmap of a lost art.
The dew on the cool blue green grass
has taken the spit shine off my boots
and turned their anthracite
into a flat Mars black nineteen-fifties Ford.
I can see the glass tears of a streetlight
thatís been crying all night like a candle
in front of the broken mirror
thatís been seen with another lover
slowly turning like a mood ring
into the sapphire blue of a new birthstone
with the occasional star in it.
A runaway Milky Way of lapis lazuli
pops into my head like Indian jewellery
in the showcase marinas of Dragon Moon.
Dolphins and flying fish
are leaping off the prow
in the fathomless depths
of the subconscious mind
from my shipwreck
like the nautical find of the century
up to the surface
to mark where I went down.
Maybe the Perth Courier will carry the news
in black slug lines of mourning
indelible as the darkness I feel
whenever I walk past the office door
and remember when my buddy
was Clark Kent editor by day
and Big Steve Forester and the Mudcats by night
singing Kansas City rhythm and blues
to night owls and feral cats
prowling and howling
into the wee hours of the morning.
And his death may have passed
like yesterdayís obituary
into local history
but there will always be
some events in the lives of poets and reporters
that will always be breaking news to the heart.
Heíd come to my place
at seven in the morning
and weíd sit at the kitchen table
like seven year old boys
dealing with death and cancer
trying to find an accurate answer
among all these rumours of an afterlife
about what it was going to be like
to wake up one day
any day now
without eyelashes ears
fingers toes a nose and skin
and your eye for picture-music
the braille stops of a bird bone flute for the blind
buried beside you
as if you were an Archaic Indian
who died young
five thousand years ago
by the Straits of Belle Isle
knowing timingís just as important as content.
We corroborated each otherís testimony
on the wild side of things
and whenever Iím down
by the Perth Soap Factory
lavishing its thick floral scent on the night air
I look up at his old apartment window
that the new tenants look through now
and though he and I would both agree
that it blows the public cool
of a private clown
to be so sentimentally foolish
even when no one else is around
I say God bless you Steve
wherever you are now.
And I think I can almost hear you
rocking out with the celestial spheres
like a blues harp among the angels
and I like the new underground sound
thatís taking heaven by storm
though it brings me to tears
that water the root fires
of this whiff of wildflowers
working on the nightshift
to think of you gone.
Gone gone gone
altogether gone beyond
like the riff of a base run
on a guitar-shaped universe
under the travelogue of play-dates
and places you gigged
stuck to the lid of your coffin
like the leaves and constellations
of an autumn that always comes too soon.
God bless you man.
I sing it out
like a one man band
with soul and heart
under your window
like a wolf pack
howling at the moon
for the loss of one of their own.
God bless that big awkward heart of yours
and the lonely boy you told me about
playing by himself
in the abandoned World War Two airfields of France.
Iíve tried to get closer to him over the years
as I always did when he was near
by impressing him with
the smoothness of my take-offs
and the fireworks of my emergency landings.
You were the first unimperial Englishman
that ever convinced me
he could wear cowboy boots convincingly.
And that you knew what it was like
to be down and out with George Orwell
in west Vancouver
sleeping among violent drunks
that kept waking up
just to spit into your wishing well.
I know you spent your whole life wondering
whether you were or not
and wandered off the horse trails
of the bronze riding academy often enough
just to prove you were
to me and to yourself
but you were real.
Outlaw blues man
with a lot of good habits
you were addicted to like your upbringing.
Iíve ridden with a lot of bad dudes
and seen a few hung along the way
like identity thieves caught red-handed
branding their names
on other peopleís logos
but none of them knew how
to head off a stampede
in a lightning storm
like you could with a mike
and an edgy audience in front of you
as if youíd just pulled a gun in a bank
like Robin Hood.
I donít know if it does any good
to lay food and tobacco and beer
bread and a baggie
of Lanark County homegrown
with colas the size of treetops
frosted with the galactic radiance of stars
with crystal healing powers
and wine-tipped Old Port cigarillos
at the eastern doors
of the burial huts of the dead
approaching the autumnal equinox
as the Ojibwa at this time of the year
believe it does.
Or if our souls go east or south
in the bodies of migrating Canada geese
when the moon takes them off
like lockets and rosaries around her neck
as the Ojibwa Pythagoras the Persians
and the Christians
who caught on to the thought
all said they did.
Or if the Great Spirit
has a wingspan that includes us all or not.
Hard to imagine nature
comes pre-prepared with a womb
but not a tomb
thatís big enough for all of us.
And maybe thereís no more distinction
to be made between the exit and the entrance
than there is to be made between
a sacred grove and a parking lot
and in the clear light of the void
weíre all bound to see for ourselves
you donít notice the difference
between the living and the dead
the way I do
looking up at your window
as if the oldies and goldies
of the rhythm and blues
had turned into the base metal
of an alchemical universe in reverse.
And maybe everyone ends up here
sooner or later
beside a soap factory
below somebodyís window
trying to throw
a philosopherís stone through it
like a grain of sand
through the blank stare of an hourglass
whose timing is as bad as eternityís
always half a note off the tempo
like a white boy playing jazz
with one foot on shore
and the other in a lifeboat.
And maybe youíve got to
syncopate the backbeat
to stay on your feet dancing
long after the musicís over
and the lights have been turned off
like stars and streetlamps in the dawn.
I donít know Bud.
Iíve just lived on
doing what Iíve always done.
And I hear they put that painting
I did of you dressed up
like one of the Blues Brothers
bending the music
like a mike stand
up against your coffin
and I was happy to hear that.
And there have been two elegies
Iíve written for you since
that have tried to say farewell
in a way that could convince my heart
but they both failed like a funeral
and it looks like
given Iím standing here tonight
watching the sky turn blue in your window
that itís going to take more than your death
to make me say good-bye
at the end of the gig
when theyíre breaking down the music
like roadies disassembling a Rubikís cube
or typesetters yesterdayís news.
So Iíll just keep saying thank-you
over and over again
for being a friend of mine
until you hear me
wailing like a wounded blues harp in pain
and not just another banshee
scratching at your window
like a cat that wants to come in
and make a demo
with fading stars in the studio.
Iíll watch the sky turn blue
over the Old Brown Shoe factory
thatís given over to body builders
and tomorrowís ballerinas now
and intrigued like the bees
by the smell of soap
Iíll jack into the sun like a power-amp
and youíll grab the mike
like the bud of daffodil
or a streetlamp around the neck
and we wonít play
Should Old Acquaintance be forgot
on the deck of the Titanic
as itís going down
like the moon and the stars
but as I heard you once sing
Kansas City on stage
in Stewart Park.
The amplified echo of your voice
long after dark
all over town.
Portrait Of Benjamin Chee Chee
EVERYBODY LOOKING FOR SUBSTITUTE STATES OF MIND
Everybody looking for substitute states of mind. Trying to change the veils and myths theyíre looking through, the
blood-stained glass of their last full eclipse, the rainbow windows that canít look the light clearly in the eye without
dissembling like a chameleon. False prophets and snake-oil salesmen selling digestible fountains of youth to love-struck
lightning rods that donít conduct as well as they used to when they once could thread the eye of the storm like a bird on
the wing. Now the shamans sit on cosmic eggs in nests of pubic hair waiting for a crack of dawn thatís long gone. And there
are teenagers so far out of it theyíre living their youth at the wrong end of the telescope like star clusters of displaced
persons who donít trust anything that isnít as aloof and alien as the pharmaceutical fire-proofing they crawl into like a
chrysalis of stillborn butterflies. True love is a junkie hanging by his neck in the deep woods because he lost his trophy
girlfriend who keeps cutting her flesh as if she were inventing the first calendar by nicking and gnawing on herself like
a bone. People fuck like pre-nuptials that took a contract out on themselves for vendettas that havenít even crossed the
threshold yet. Future crimes with present punishments. Abattoirs before mangers. The point of the pencil stabs the eraser
in the heart. Voodoo as a wedding vow. The aftermath of Armageddon before the four horsemen of the apocalypse have had a
chance to saddle up or the Mayan calendar strike twelve midnight. Root rot on the moon. Everyone without a leg to stand on
trying to get a leg up on doom. Everyone drowned before the Titanic went down. Sending death threats to the future as a way
of trying to survive their own paranoia. Real, imagined, or drug-induced. Terms of endearment dropped like mice into a
snakepit. Mirages extolling the illusory nature of this desert of stars. Appearances inveighing against a clarity that
canít be trusted to be on your side like your eyes are when theyíre open to whatever comes. Possession by a drug, a demon,
an ideal, a political platform, rabies, religion, money, sex, the cult of the body, exotic states of mind with a surrealistic
sense of black humour. Genies granting death wishes like urns of losing lottery tickets to Luna moths in despair.
Deranged. Everyone trying to put a happy face on a death mask. An artificial paradise in real hell. And it scares
me sometimes. And other times it makes me want to weep. So many fish dying of thirst beside a freshwater lake. So many fish
drowning in the dry creekbeds of mirages swimming in hallucinogenic waters. Toxic liars polluting the wellsprings of life
like corporate impersonators with the souls of oilslicks. What shit havenít we tracked into the house? We defecate in our
own wombs. What jackal, what wolf, what caste of animal ever fouled its own crib the way we do? We eat everyday like a
plague of locusts in the company of childrenís corpses. And we call it a standard of living weíre prepared to kill or die
for though it cost us the planet and every sentient life form on it. As long as the path is clearly laid out and strewn with
rose petals and eyelids just for us, everything else is roadkill. A goatpath of thorns. Ghoulish the uncanny similitudes.
All this just for us? Just us? Who die like flies do? This body bag of water with nine holes in it that is always leaking
radioactively out of itself as if it were watering something it wouldnít get a chance to see bloom like a magic mushroom.
I remember a madman when I lived alone on a big isolated farm, trying to shoot the stars out all night, night after night,
with an M-16 that ricocheted out over the lakes and hills like the echoes of ululating loons changing clips. Cops told me
not to stand in the window with a twinkle in my eye. Might get mistaken for alpha Cassiopeiae. But I was so crazed myself
at the time, I rose up like Regulus in Leo in a rage of the first magnitude and said like an enlightened sky to someone who
is not. Take your best shot. Iím mythically inflated. The bullets go right through me. Though I donít see whatís so urgently
cosmic about this weíve got to take it out on each other like eye witnesses. To what? How worthy of death everyone else in
the world is because of a fucked-up relationship with our own hormones? Mommy beat you with a vacuum cleaner pipe because
you tracked your life all over her flying carpet one day when you got home late in a hurry from school. Boo hoo. That
doesnít make you an Ethiopian. A cold sore isnít Chernobyl. What sorry night scope declares a holy war against the stars in
its cross hairs? The way I see it in my skull bound island fortress with emotional moats, the world is a couple of angstroms
short of a wavelength to make anything bloom these days. The asylum is prying the petals of a crocus open with a crowbar.
But the timingís off. And not all the flowers open at once like banks and store-fronts with regular hours. And there are
people who also serve by standing and waiting like fire-hydrants to be called upon to put Dresden out in a fire-storm.
Someone garotted all the swans like prostitutes along the Rideau River as if they were cutting an artery off to staunch the
flow of blood. What kind of a wound is that? Is your god a pimp pigfarmer that he should demand the blood sacrifice of the
renewable innocence of a sacred whore? Are you the self-appointed proxy of a god who canít speak for himself any other way
than to send the likes of you to express your true feelings? To appall the world with another nightmare of what itís capable
of. See what I mean? Strange, strange dream. Elixirs and lictors of love potions addicted to solipsistic oil slicks. And the
Sphinx not a snitch thatís apt to question anyone. The butchers go to sleep and wake up smelling as sweet as little Bo Peep
in wolfís clothing. Atrocity has become an unnewsworthy cliche to a nation of sensation seekers numbed by consumerism
marketing alternative lifestyles to the skeletons in the closets they sold you last week. Everyoneís trying to sweat
deodorant out of their pores. And when we open our mouths to speak when is anything heard like the word from the man that
isnít a mouthwash of lies? Kids take this in like smallpox among the natives and the next thing you know someone murders a
highschool and some genocidal patriot is practising germ warfare by coming out with a new celebrity line of infected
blankets. You canít help ingesting the psychological pollution of whatever medium youíre swimming in. And thereís a critical
mass to every tumour beyond which you canít put the garbage can lid back on the nuclear waste like Pandoraís box or the
Fukishima reactor. Or propose amendments to the constitution of a caste system that would help it digress peacefully into
the middle ages possessed by the few miserable acres of a feudal land grant mortgaged and bundled by a baronial bank. You
get the picture? You see the corpses in the Ganges flowing along with the pop cans to the sea like your mindstream sickened
by what it discards the deeper and wider it gets? When do we all stand up and walk out of this snuff movie in disgust? When
do we let our sons and daughters see us set fire to the movie house on you tube and go viral?
High-tech viciousness. Killer bees and nano chip parasites. Eleven dimensions and a shapeshifting multiverse with
as many cosmologies going on all at once like feature movies ahead of the cartoons. And weíve got this one, starring us as
both the hero and the villain of a black morality farce. The Arabs say if you canít help a situation with your hand, then
use your mouth, if not, your mind, and if not that, keep a kind thought in your heart. And I used to think even growing up
under the street here, you can get fat on the garbage of the promised land and rolling all your deprivations up into one
massive black hole, still be looked upon justifiably by the rest of the world as a glutton. Rich people feel they deserve
to be spoilt. So do most of the poor. And Iíd seen enough shit by the time I was seven to make me want to write about roses
for the rest of my life. But thereís the blood of children caked all over their eyelids like make-up. And being the Canadian
poet I wanted to be at the time expiating my guilt for a crime I didnít commit, I thought counter-intuitively maybe the word
is mightier than the sword, though less succinct and to the point, if I were to scream murder when I saw murder being done
upon the innocents, maybe the unwitting complicity of an eye witness might get off with a lighter sentence for being a
dependable air raid siren. I went to boot camp to wage peace. I declared a holy war upon myself. I learned how to put root
fires out with gasoline. I protested against my own seeing in the name of the inalienable rights of the blind. But savage
indignation is no more protein rich than fame and flattery and going to war with a plough in your hands feeds about as many
people as ploughing the moon with a sword does. So I met in the middle just a little to the left of Canada, and retrained
them as shovels to dig their own graves given they werenít all that good at gardens. Which left me as defenseless as Baffin
Island wearing the scars of other peopleís wounds. Quicksilver dolphins ran aground in mercurial bays due to a lack of
tunnel vision. Driven exponentially by dark energy things began to expand in the aftermath of that insight until the stars
grew so far apart I was compelled to make do with fireflies as an alternative state of mind. A little radiance for the blind.
What did Robert Lowell say? Weíre all here for such a short time we might as well be kind to one another? Before he died of
a heart attack in a New York airport. And if he were alive today? Iíd put these words into his mouth. If you wonít throw
your pearls before swine, why sacrifice another messiah to a snake pit when no good comes of it? When in Rome do as the
asylums do and wait for the sane to come to you pleading to be enlightened by the crazy wisdom of your daily meds. Learn to
give your futility a purpose in life. Your absurdity a reason to live. Stop trying to get a grip on your mind by believing
everything is out of control. Regard the extreme chaos of conditioned consciousness, yes. But donít pollute the drinking
water in a mirage by throwing a goatshead into it to deprive others from finding the holy grail. Where the delusion of power
rules compassion is not well served by a crueller truth. Being is highlighted by the void with a magic marker. And if your
myth fits your demonic origins wear it like a housefly thatís proud of its shit, but doesnít take it out on other people
because maggots donít turn into butterflies. Drink deep from the dark elixirs that pours excruciating transformations into
the chalice of your skull like spiritual exiles sweetening the hemlock with artificial flavours of black kool aid. Taste
life right down to the last tea leaf of despair. Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood, bone of my bone, suffering is a
stronger bond than love if youíre not used to it. If you havenít lost your appetite for eating your own. If you havenít
stopped cherishing your misery like a voodoo Barbie doll in military fatigues. If you havenít stopped taking a bite out of
your heart like a noble enemy who gives you the homoeopathic courage to carry on without one. Donít shun the black mirror
to keep up with appearances and plead you havenít got time for reflection because nothingís indelible in a world that keeps
changing your mind like a watercolour that didnít get it right the first time. Donít suckle your sour grapes on acid rain.
There are no substitute states of mind that are fool proof. Everybody answers after their own kind whether theyíre on the
road to paradise, Damascus, Pandemonium, purgatorial Perth, aligning compass needles in the direction of prayer, or drawing
up starmaps like emergency escape routes out of here. As if here and now werenít the precise space and time of what their
own minds are trying to run to and from like the long odds of dark horses running back into a burning barn you can only
enter through the emergency exits like a substitute state of mind gone critical on an artificial life support machine.
And, hey, who has the right to say, who can blame them? And expect an intelligible answer. Trying to open your third
eye isnít the same thing as trying to launch a spy satellite in Kazakhstan. Life isnít a dirty movie your wife made behind
your back youíre compelled to live frame by frame like a directorís cut. The triune identity of triple XXX isnít restricted
to sex alone. There are substitute states of mind just as guilty of identity theft that donít leave any fingerprints at the
scene of the crime because when you mark one you mark them all like plague doors and ostrakons and jewels in the net of
Indra. Data is power when there are bugs in the tree of knowledge. Telescopic keyholes in the gravitational eyes of dark
matter. The bituminous clarity of deep space washes its hands of the matter in fire. Which makes fire out to be just as big
a liar as the hot water weíre all up to our necks in watching our lives flash before our eyes like post cards from an acid
trip we havenít come back down from yet because weíve been down so long it looks like up on our passports. Born in the
thirteenth house of a raving zodiac, itís your front door, and thereís no doubt itís your sign, but the junkmail accumulates
on the inside like substitute states of mind without a point of reference or a reliable address. Life after life passes you
by like a loveletter with return to sender as the final resting place of your name. As the windows frisk the light for
concealed weapons and liberation armies addicted to dope. If the doors of perception were open, and Lucy in the Sky with
Diamonds thawed into a Hard Rain Thatís Gonna Fall without the carbon emissions of an exhausted life committing vehicular
suicide in the garage by breathing in the expired atmosphere of a tired planet, if the cataracts in your eye were to
disappear like ice off your mindstream by noon, and the mud and clouds in your puddle were allowed to settle and clear like
Soto Zen, and you didnít rely on substitute states of mind like simultaneous translators trying to express your mirror
image in your native language without a Rosetta Stone, all things would appear as they are. Boundlessly finite. And
homelessly out of reach. Whether youíre wishing upon, or trying to shoot out the stars.
Picture-Music With bubble
The howling of wolves.
Venting the agony in the wasteland
of nightclubs, bars, jails, parking lots
in the grubby all night greasy spoons
with the pizza oven in the window
and a heavy snow falling outside
at three in the morning
when the ghouls like us were out
like afterhours carnies from the Ex
the hooker in the corner
the pervert in another
the dealer in a booth in the middle
and hot camera for sale
by a drunk in another
who isnít ever sure of where or who he is.
And the Mexican restaurants where we were banned
permanently for life twice
because no body drank as much as us
and our outrageous bullshit was good for business.
And everybody knew how difficult it was
to be an alcoholic artist those days
and get some really good work done
that never pays much
until after your dead
and everybody puts your picture up on the wall
and thinks of it as a signal honour
you got arrested first in their restaurant.
You didnít live in the big homey
awkward cheap rent run-down houses of the Glebe
before it was gentrified back then
by the real estate agents who crashed our parties
to entice our women away,
property for property,
you encamped, tribally.
Parties ran from house to house
like waterclocks of booze
and every fourth bucket of a house
had a porch and a beached whale of a couch
you could sit out on in the dark with a candle all night
and listen to the music coming from the back of the house
and three doors up the street
with a toke, and a girl
as you let the story of your life in art
drift off into the cool night air thematically
like smoke from the end of the spliff in your hand
you were a wickedly dangerous genius
who could only be saved from himself
if he took her beauty and her pain
and her body to bed for a muse.
The howling of wolves
like a displaced tribe of Sioux among the Seminoles
lamenting the only holy war path left to them
was the longest way home,
venting their agony
in a self-abusive wilderness
of longing, madness, and aspiration.
Ferocious false starts to damaged careers
as a litmus test of who was sincere or not
as we ran our tongues along the razorís edge
of the things that we would say
and the things that we would not
and the things we would do
that we were willing to bleed for
to prove we were crazy enough
to be who we said we were
even in absentia.
Singers, poets, painters, mimes
and the wannabe agents
and mythically inflated producers,
the editors, publishers, girlfriends
trying to con a candle into a constellation
so they could be as important and controlling
as a contract with a bad ear.
And I still very much doubt
if thereís any more murder
in a terrorist cell
than there is in a room
thatís just given birth to a new poetry mag
and all the editors claiming paternity
are arguing among themselves
for equal visiting rights to the baby
even before itís out of the incubator.
Nightfall over the city
and the stars no brighter over the capital
than they were over Toronto and Montreal
but something colonial and sinister
about the way the ass-kissing
quislings and collaborators
thought they were dimmer somehow
and wheeled Toronto into their poetic agendas
like the Trojan horse through the gates of Ottawa.
So many sleepwalking through the snow
talking to themselves
as if they had a pillow over their mouths
they could scream through
as it dawned on them in the streetlights
outside a negligent poetry reading
things are often as true as they seem
and how hard it is,
what a lonely brutal discipline it is
to try and convince the moon youíre wounded
when youíre only bleeding for poetic effect
to howl with the wolves
so crazed by the lunacy of what they longed for
and knew was so utterly unattainable
even the echo of what they asked for
wouldnít be given back
when they broke off the engagement
to the coyote pack that practised
mimicking their derangement
as if to feel that way
were creatively stimulating
and not self-destructively real.
Snarling backwards thirty years later,
raising an ear,
baring a fang to the past
as if it were a crucial snake pit
in my formative years,
trying to weave the downed powerlines
in an ice storm of broken chandeliers
into paradigmatic creatively visual
magical mystery tour flying carpets
bejewelled with my tears
that so many now are as threadbare as crosswalks
at the corner of Bank and Fifth
laid like welcome mats
for the public to wipe their feet on
before the revolving doors of aesthetic perception.
But itís as hard to turn
the memory of a bad acid trip
it took years to come down from
into a flying carpet
thatís going to sell as well
as a genieís latest line of touch lamps
where you only have to clap once
when you enter a room
like the light coming out of the darkness
and your reputationís
made in the shade for a lifetime
until it gets real dark
and the full moon breaks out above the city
and the wolves begin to howl
and all up and down the Valley
from Ottawa to Kingston you can hear
the dogs, the cowed dogs, begin to whine
like a Japanese two stroke
compared to the big-hearted snarl of a bad Harley
with a throttle for a throat
with all the bridges itís ever crossed
burning in a quarter ounce aluminum rear view mirror
with a big heart-shaped gas tank
metal-flaked in cherry red
full of fire and freedom and tears
that would rather wipe out honestly
on the newly gravelled dirt road ahead
than the black ice
of the treacherous highway behind it
thatís been unravelling like a snake with its head cut off
for light years.
THE MARTYROLOGY OF A MORPHINE MESSIAH
Azazel sends a black sheep out into this desert of stars to look for you. Even at forty, though less of a stepson now and
more of a friend, and light years away from the sunny planet where I stayed for awhile with your mother, you still belong
to the people in this life who love you, and you hope thatís blood, but just as often as not itís a mix of holy oil and
violated water. So letís be clear as starmud about this. I love you. And thatís a mix of mosh pits at the Nuremberg rallies
and jazz. And something softer that I can only listen to one side of because the other side makes me weep. Sometimes I look
at you like the dragon that guarded it must have looked at the Golden Fleece on hot August afternoons when copulating flies
were the only thing that was happening. If Iíve been the scarred warhorse for the last twenty years of your life, youíve
been the radiant gazelle in a blond savannah of long hair, blue-eyed and artsy, a little flossy, sociopathically paranoid
of the female principle of the world, because you are the son of a single mother, that insists counter-intuitively that you
become a woman like Tiresias the blind prophet every seven years or so just to see that theyíre as humanly fallible as you
are and get more pleasure out of sex. And being mortal means youíre as susceptible as anyone else to what youíve been
spreading around without showing any symptoms yourself. Your flying carpets are infected with a spiritual disease that ties
whatever wavelength youíre on into gravitational eyes and knots in the heartwood of a birch tree, because thatís what youíd
be if you were one. Leaves trembling in every little breeze like your hands when you go to paint, flammable naphtha under
the bark, like those mood swings when youíre jonesing for the moon, and one moment youíre an arsonist in a fireworks factory
of mystic insight, and the next, youíre just another dumpy fire-hydrant trying to put things out.
You remember Azazel? My anti-ego on the dark side of enlightenment? Heís fascinated by the way you keep
shapeshifting your states of mind like a mini-multiverse thatís trying to keep more than one balloon up in the air at once
like a one man, sword-swallowing, fire-eating juggler under the big tent of a small county fair like the one that encamps
here in Perth every year with the same old rides. Little brother, friend, I never had a father myself, so I faked it a bit
to be something approximately paternal for you. I didnít feel all that comfortable in the role, and sugared the medicine a
bit with a few stars of my own, and spurned the rod and the whip and the psychological assassins I could have sent out like
the Old Man of the Mountain. I never keel-hauled you on the moon. And if there was ever a point I was trying to make like a
sabre, I never made you walk the plank blindfolded. I had a son once. He disappeared out of my life thirty years ago. He
lives. And I expect Iím the ghost of a lot of strange feelings and eerie intensities he canít understand except by
theorizing there must have been another large planet that was knocked out of the configuration of the solar system he finds
himself in now, early in its formative years. Without meaning to. Bring on the fuck-ups like the sacred clowns who toy with
the old taboos in gales of ironic black laughter. Everyone I wanted to be. Not me. Same as you. And itís as impossible to
prove to a welfare mother that she gave birth to a winning lottery ticket of a son as it is for you to believe you actually
You won. Youíre here. Wandering around on the earth with the rest of us like sleepwalkers gathering nuts and berries
before itís too late to sustain the lifespan of the long dream weíre having like a nightmare of being suddenly woken up in
the middle of a brutal winter unprepared. For what? An encore by popular demand? Regardless of what condition your human
conditionís been in, I will say this, you have a big heart, and Iíve watched you stay loyal to a tree long after the other
birds have left, and even Azazel who thinks youíre a court-jester with a chip on your shoulder, admires you for this, but
says donít expect credit where credit is due because street justice is an extortionist racket that eats its own first. And
what kind of martyr is it who doesnít expect to suffer for something good he does without even being aware of the electric
chair heís sitting in and how when somethingís done right here the lights flicker like a power shortage in hell. The page
boys of Prince Valiant with your kind of hair cut have long since abandoned their childish crusades to encipher their own
hieroglyphic fantasies in the cartoon columns of the temples of Karnak. True deceivers. And unbelieving infidels who prefer
their own tribal heretics to anyone elseís false prophets. Unionized religion. With no rights accorded to those who work on
the nightshift like nightwatchmen and lighthouses and certain unassuming stars whose eyes have adapted to the dark for less
than nothing. And I know youíre trying to develop a reputation as a seer, but until you can go down on the Medusa and not
turn into stone, and youíve looked at nature red in tooth and claw as if it were your own like the irisless eye in the
blackhole of a sharkís pupil just before it milks out to bite, and not seen a rainbow, a covenant of peace, a pot of gold,
the moon dog of a Bronze Age engagement ring, or even a troll under the Rainbow Bridge where the herbal hippie chicks go to
commit suicide like medicine cabinets, youíre just looking at the world through two chunks of coal in the fat head of a
seasonal snowman who breaks down into tears at the thought of global warming. Youíre not flowing diamond yet. Youíre just
another crystal skull in the coal pits of Pennsylvania handing out environmental pamphlets like starmaps to make it easier
for someone to spot you shining whenever you blow your mind like a supernova above your manger as if you were strip mining
your own immaculate conception of the mother who gave you birth. And I wonít say physician heal thyself or charge you to
raise yourself up from the dead to prove your miraculous healing powers arenít just the rebranding of the same old snake
oil trying to read your future in a Tarot pack of warning labels. Terminal symbolitis. Youíre dying of an overdose of
meaning in a cosmic rehab centre where Sisphysus breaks his rock up into a small avalanche and boils it in a spoon like a
smithy at a sacred forge to heat the iron ore up and pull it like a sword out of his veins. And Azazel says to remind you
that youíre not Sir Launcelot but Parsifal the mottled fool, and sipping like a hummingbird from a spoonful of ashes isnít
the same thing as drinking from the holy grail as if it were a methadone treatment programme some drugstore put in place to
get the ailing kingdom to kick the absurd like a rock down the same road you took as a boy on your way home from school.
Donít trust any cure that makes a profit off of suffering like a dispensing fee. In a snake pit. In a clean needle exchange.
The toxins are the darling changelings of the anti-dotes. Beware of oviparous births in your love nest. You can hatch
serpents out of those cosmic eggs youíve been sitting on as easily as you can nightingales. And hey, little brother, since
when does the messenger of the gods, Hermes the Thrice-Blessed, even as a new moon of occult knowledge, go from house to
house like a passenger pigeon brokering deals for everyone else in exchange for a toke, a rock, a pill, the leftover crumbs
of the dream that fell from the corners of somebody elseís eyes, like a trader on the Toronto Stock Exchange bundling
mortgages for the pharmaceutical companies that run a small town like a junkieís budget into the ground of his being? Iíve
seen sparrows hunting seeds and worms in leftover gardens and ferrets in the fall hunting sparrows with the same quick
nervous energy you expend crisscrossing the street enervating your last quantum of dark energy on what you think you need
to live another painful day on earth. You may roar like a lion but you hunt like a fly. And, anyway, as Azazel says, even
in hell the hardest of demons donít like to see an eagle being led around on a leash by tapeworm. It offends their sense of
aesthetic distortion to see a magnificent predator enslaved to spineless parasite. Hic sunt dracones. Not vampire bats.
Deep root powers of the earth who spread their wings like waking volcanoes, not the blood thinners of no-see-um succubi
dreaming of falling in love with a blood bank like the gift that just keeps on giving the more it takes from the foodchain.
I once told you you could charm your way through life up to the age of twenty-face and then the spell wears off
like a snake skin or the aura around a rainbow body depending on whether they used serpent fire or holy water to anoint you
at birth. Twenty-five. And youíre forty. The funeral bells have long since turned your wishing wells into the steeples of a
fire-worshipping church by now, and the eternal flame looks a little more hurried than it should with all that time on its
hands to brood on why it feels like the lonely flightfeather of the last phoenix that flew by on its way to the sun. O
Icarus, Icarus, my ex-stepson, Icarus, I see you lining up like a stealth fighter on a Nazca runway flapping your arms
like an aerial photograph of a totemic self-portrait you recently tarred and feathered trying to gain enough altitude on
drugs and overly euphoric women with brain-damaged hearts to meet enough extraterrestrials who can understand you, you
could become the cult leader of occult ufos. And somehow prove youíre not as crazy as the rest of us afterall. Thereís
madness in your method. Thereís a triumph in your mortality. You want to ride a golden chariot through a slum that never
thought you would ever amount to anything more than the golden boy of last yearís New Yearís baby. And look at you, now.
Muddy Waters, thereís another mule kickiní in your stall. What happened to the manger? Now that all that holiday spirit has
entered you like a float in a parade you once peed on as if you were being tested for drugs? And youíre so fucked-up, as
most of us are in this labyrinth of cul de sacs we pursue like the life of the mind following the counter-intuitive leads
of artistic breadcrumbs we dropped in our sleep to find our way out of this retrogressively, youíre talented by acclamation.
Youíve hybridized your bestiary. Birds have fangs. And snakes sing in a perfect harmony of wavelengths to greet the morning
like the powerlines of a barber-shop quartet in the rain. Auuuuum. Do wa, do wa, do wa ditty. An independently sponsored
approximate haiku moment whose opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the current broadcaster. Blow up your nose.
Snow in Tibetan begging bowls. Up here in the mountains. You crap once. Itís good for life. Nobody has to keep their shit
together. And to play fair with the square-minded. Nobody has to lose it. Even if time on the food chain is your just desert
for breaking the law of diminishing returns like a missing link that didnít want to cultivate wild grasses into a
civilization based on agriculture where all the children starve to death, the shit you put into your mouth should be of at
least a little higher quality than the shit that comes out. Youíd be better off cannibalizing yourself than living on that
ghost food that surfeits you like a blood transfusion of pharmaceutical nectar and no-name brand ambrosia. Thereís no
chromosome in your space-shaped fortune-cookie thatís going to change the fate of this nightmare in the Land of the Lotus
Eaters. And any koans around here that might be worth breaking into to get a fix on yourself, have long since blown their
minds like milk weed pods from the sixties and scattered their thoughts of a better world like a thousand hail-marys all
at once on the last play of the game to try and make it out of their end-zone. And itís not unusual for a hippie mother
to give birth to a fascist kid, or a fascist kid to turn his reactionary mother into a hippie who looks at her life as a
bad acid flashback thatís gone viral on youtube and appears as if itís about to be picked up like a reality show on a major
network with a viewing audience ripped out of its mind. And you flagellate the world with savage indignation because itís
not logical, not rational, not answerable to the crystal paradigms you hang like swords and chandeliers above everybodyís
heads because they want to fox-trot when you think it would be more appropriate if they followed in your painted footprints
on the ballroom floor, and learned to waltz the way you did. But not everybodyís got a hand-stand in them, or even a novel,
and sometimes itís even hard to find a line of implausible poetry.
Drug-induced, alcohol-exacerbated, pharmaceutically suppressed schizophrenia. O.K. Caesar was an epileptic,
Neitzsche had syphilis, Byron had a club foot, and Apollinaire almost had his whole head shot off in World War I. The black
sinister hand shapes the clay on the wheel as surely as the white dextrous one does. An over-compensated disability could
almost pass for a definition of genius. Or juno, if youíre a woman. Or both, if youíre really honest with yourself. But you
want to salt the clouds of unknowing that make the whole thing ineffably mysterious with dry ice to make it rain acidic
tears that anyone ever doubted your insight. We tolerate the mystery. The mystery tolerates us. It may be irrational, but
that doesnít mean it isnít clear. Like stars are at a distance. Though up close their nuclear cores must feel just as
confused as you are with the fission and fusion thatís going on inside your head. Yet out of that turmoil. The elements of
life. All the way from light-hearted hydrogen and helium up to and beyond the heavy metal anti-psychotic likes of Lithium.
They used to tell me in creative writing that it was crucial for me to find my own voice. Only one? For a lifetime. For
everything? One voice fits all? But one day I did find my voice only to realize it was a stem cell, and quickly multiplied
into thousands of others like vital organs each with a function of their own. I wasnít a lonely folk guitar with white line
fever hitchhiking down a midnight highway to get to my next gig in Toronto. I was a symphony orchestra. I was a whole tree
full of birds. I wasnít a seance unto myself. A lot of different ghosts spoke through me over the years. And itís the same
for schizophrenia from my point of view. Just two? To handle every situation that comes up in a lifetime? Go polyphrenic.
And if itís all just a big ego delusion in the first place who cares if itís one mirage or many? Go hydra-headed. Tolerance,
see? Five petals open. One flower blooms. And itís o.k. to hold a seance in the middle of a mystery. Whatever comes comes.
But not an exorcism. Who decides whose shoes get to stay neatly parked outside the door and who gets the boot because
theyíve been tracking starmud into the house as if they lived in a pig-sty? You say youíre into light. The white magic of
the radiance. But the light is omnidirectional and itís got to light up hell just as well as it does paradise. It doesnít
illuminate just one side of its eyes the way you do. Or were you talking about flashlights? Head lights, spot lights,
search lights, the aurora borealis as opposed to the aurora australis? Let everybody throw a little light on the mystery as
far as they can, each according to their own candle power whether they understand it like a firefly, a lightning bolt, a
light house, the momentary flare of a match in a dark room, traffic lights, the light at the end of the tunnel, or the
Andromeda galaxy. Everybody shine. Who knows what flowers might come of it? Intense heat, unusual sprouts. Azazel, for
You say youíve got a bad back. There are rungs broken on the ladder. You got into a car drunk with a drunk. And won
again. You lived when it flipped. You see how you live to escape the danger you place yourself in? You bait your own leg
hold trap to see if you can get away with something. Itís like playing Russian roulette. There are never any losers when
it comes right down to it. Bang. Click. Everybody wins. Nothing but theatre after life. Just the same, you might find a
wild fox or an opportunistic coyote toying with a trapline. Never a wolf. Theyíre smarter than that. Theyíd rather turn a
porcupine like a needle exchange with their nose than stick it in something like that. Your friends are talking about
intervention and I know you hate them for that. Iíve watched you carefully pulling the pins and needles of their remarks
out of your psyche like a voodoo doll out to prove theyíre not quills theyíre mystic spearheads of Bronze Age insight and
youíre so advanced in your weaponry youíre living in the twenty-second century. Different strokes of your atomic clock for
different folks I suppose. And some of what they say is freaked with malice and gossip and excessive small town excoriation
for the things they themselves did yesterday. Winterís coming on, and you know how people would rather put a skidmark on the
black white screen, a little blood spatter, than look at nothing. Because they have no inner resources my mother would say,
though there are ten cubic cords of two year old red oak stacked in the woodshed. But itís not easy to make a rabbit run in
a white-out so youíve got something to chase that makes you feel Canadian and dangerous. I say cool it. You say chill out.
And our body temperatures drop by ten degrees. And I can feel the edgy shadow of the knife cross my throat as the white swan
you were a moment ago goes into total eclipse. But I wouldnít let anyone take you away. Especially when I hear your motherís
walking out on you and your girlfriendís just told you that sheís slept with some dog who was panting under the table for
something to fall off like a morsel off of Caesarís plate, if you can remember any Shakespeare. Right now youíre a mythic
inflation of yourself. Not a Saturn booster. A helium weather balloon. An inert gas in the upper atmosphere. Gills on the
moon finding it hard to breathe in a sea of shadows. A fever you contracted from a dream. But thatís not camphor under your
nose. And I know youíre looking for another mirage in the mirror of the medicine chest youíve addicted to lethal placebos,
but it doesnít look like the stately pleasure domes of Xanadu from here. And youíve got no right to make people care for
your mortality if youíre not going to let them ride with you in your golden chariot in triumph. Through Perth or Persepolis.
No matter. Youíre riding through your own ruins like time-lapse photography wondering where all the bling and flash went.
So what do you do? You carve. You paint. You write. If the fear comes over you. You give it a name. You dedicate a
poem to it. As Rilke suggests. You kiss that dragon back into a princess. You be a good apple tree. You express yourself.
Not to save the world, though a little bit of that may come inadvertently of its own accord. You make blossoms, you grow
branches, you recite leaves, you produce apples. The bears, the birds, the wasps, the worms, the artists, the lovers, who
doesnít benefit from it? By their fruits ye shall know them. Who the fuck are you? Or anything or anyone of us if it werenít
for the fact weíre nothing if not expressive? Like the sea and its weather. Expressive. Whether there are shipwrecks
littered like yarrow sticks all over the seabed in the Book of Changes or all your arrows are stealing their plumage from
the very birds theyíre trying to target, or mother pelicans are feeding regurgitated sardines to baby birds while cormorants
bob on the logs on a halcyon sea. Thereís no disconnect between the sea and its weather. You and what goes on in your head.
This is you. And as it happens, this is the all inclusive, eternally premiering movie of your life. As it happens. As it
makes you up fractal by fractal. Youíre not a boarder in the House on Elm Street. Youíre the camera man. You look at a star.
In your case, Castor and Pollux in Gemini. Your eye makes it a star. The star makes it your eye. Everythingís like that.
See? Expressive. Creatively collaborative without trying to save anyone out of the ordinary. Making things does that.
Spinning mulberry trees out of a silkwormís ass. You havenít got time to hang on to your misery long enough to make it an
identity because youíve got both hands full and youíre always dropping stuff. Expressively. People see you yachting around
town with two or three canvases under your arm for sale and some of the old farmers around here will begin to see what kind
of tree you are and give you the name their grandfathers taught them. And your friends will begin to see that even a birch
that the beavers have gnawed through when itís flat face-down on the ground trying to make the whole earth its death mask
isnít a disability but a creative resource. And your madness will grow more intriguingly intelligible to them. Theyíll see
the darkness inside as ore the gold pours out of like your hair. Express yourself. When has a storm ever not come too early
for calm weather? What does the applause of the waves on the surface for some stunt a flying fish pulled off mean to the
bottom feeders? In those depths you shine by yourself. You donít wait for the moon to do the job for you.
Youíre addicted to addiction. So hook up with something thatís just as habitually good for you and youíre the only
dealer. Express yourself. In or out of control. Just as you are, whatever the hell that means, and donít try to take control
of things like a steering wheel on a sunami when youíve already gone down with the yacht. Check out the lost continent of
Mu and express yourself. Because Muís you too. And your sister there. Sheís Atlantis. Azazelís a refugee and I was the
original land mass of Pangea before I pecked my way out of the cosmic egg like a miner trapped deep in the heart of the
motherlode that came down on me like an avalanche when things began to fall apart. Express yourself. Like genetic variations
in the shapes of dinosaurs adapting like South America to its new independence from the establishment. Like a coal minerís
canary in a tunnel. Like bananas say Iím yellow with sunspots. Make art. Make love. Make a mess of your life with taste and
style. Put on an exhibition of your palettes. Go Japanese about the way you arrange your dry paint-caked brushes in no-name
brand enameled coffee cans. Write like a poet who knows heís doomed to die tragically old and full of a fetal sweetness of
things being born in autumn like the karmic apples of his next life. One, for Sleeping Beauty. One to win Helen. One to
seduce Eve. And one because it contains the seeds of sacred syllables and symbolizes Q, the letter that stood for poets in
the Beth Luis Nion Druidic Tree Alphabet because weíre always supposed to be asking why, and all the why questions begin
with Q in Latin. Qís an apple-tree. And as any Druid will tell you. Once and a while itís good to eat one of your own. So
be a windfall. Apples or skulls. Shepherd moons and solar systems. Dumb blind flint-knapped asteroids in their planetary
middens. Express yourself. Like the Burgess Shale. Like the Grand Banks just off the continental shelf where things drop
off your body and your mind and it gets too deep for any anchor to dare to pull you down. Intimidate your chains with the
insurmountable challenge of your freedom. And if youíre having coffee and a spliff with death in Aleppo as often as you say
you do, why waste your death on trivia, and blow up a highschool, when you could take advantage, even by a reflected glory,
not what you know but who in your case, of the incredible power and freedom to take up any lost cause you want, like
yourself, for example, and declaring a holy war on yourself, have nothing but a few badly defended mirages to lose? Or you
could go on liberating the windmills of your mind with blood, sweat, and tears in Jerusalem without having the slightest
clue about whose side your on. And donít tell me youíre on all sides at once to dodge the bullet because that just means
someoneís going to have to go to the extra expense of putting a few more firing squads on the night shift. And youíre the
only one of them that can show some compassion toward yourself like a blank and a cigarette and a blindfold.
I love you, little brother. Take the mask off. Put this on. Itís Azazel idea. Itís Kevlar.
TRYING TO PUT SOME DISTANCE
Trying to put some distance between myself and my past
is like trying to stale-mate a cloud with a mountain
by resorting to the last hope of all experienced liars,
objectivity. Third person singular pronouns,
he, she, it. Shipping containers from alien places
stacked neatly on the dock
like coffins and cord wood
you can talk and write about as if
you werenít buried in anyone of them
and none of the stowaways
and none of the illegal immigrants
and none of the corpses
were anymore related to you
than Cantonese graffiti from Seattle that rode the rails
all the way to Jakarta like one long sentence
about something you dreamed last night in your sleep.
Somebodyís elseís views in somebody elsesí language.
You can stand on one side of the tracks
in the red glare of the most serious-minded lights
at the road block with the crossed swords
and half-bored with waiting for things to pass
read the story of your life on the sides
of the train going past gene by gene
in the most unlikely couplings of a chromosome.
You can read your own genome
like beads in the rosary youíre kneading
between your thumb and your forefinger
as if you were counting the prophetic skulls
of the full moons that have passed
without any sign of a harvest on an abacus.
You can hide your past under the death mask of someone else.
You can play scrabble with the sign of the zodiac
you were born under,
you can rearrange your stars
and lie to your scars about which among many wounds
was their real birth mother,
you can spin a new myth of origin like a changeling
to explain why your axis is tilted beneath the equator
but when youíre finishing patching over to another gang
and youíve got new top and bottom rockers
and a brand new mandala on your back to empower you
and your winding down the Malahat on Vancouver Island
that writhes along the side of the mountain
like a snake with its head pinned by your front wheel fork
two hundred feet above the tiny eyelids
of the waves with the white lashes
on the surface of the sea below,
thinking of Jefferson Airplaneís
tongue in cheek retort to John Donne
that no manís an island.
Heís the Saanich Peninsula
though they didnít say Saanich
but if the peninsula fits wear it
and thatís where I was at the time.
You can tear the wire youíve been wearing
like the narrative of your life
as if your own mind were listening in on you
from another room in the hotel across the street
and your silence would still provide enough evidence
to prosecute you for living outside the box
instead of just sitting in it
and trying to think of a way out.
All those improbable entrances with impossible exits
you walked through to change your life irreparably
like some crude street rendition
of the Eleusinian Mysteries in Edmonton
just to verify your right to exist
in a world that rejected its own extremities
like the left hand of fate and circumstance.
And it wasnít so much the actuality you were after,
that would come of its own accord
like an apple after the blossom,
but just the mere chance
of being someone you werenít
who wasnít burnt and bitter
wary, angry, cruelly clear-sighted
as a spider-mount on a telescope
waiting to catch stars in the webs
of the glimmering constellations
they mistook for dreamcatchers.
Every cubic centimetre of me back then
as dense and intense as a black dwarf
that sucked all the light out of the air
so that even in broad daylight
I always felt this darkness within me
like a night too heavy for the world to bear.
My mind was always a wavelength shy of a snake pit
when I was around other people
that hadnít been chronically humiliated
by growing up poor
and my heart would condemn itself out of hand
just to deny them the privilege
of doing it for themselves eventually
and to show them the difference between
a passive scapegoat and a demonized pariah
that wouldnít hesitate to use his horns
on any matador of the moon
who thought he had the crescents for it.
Alone under the microscope
I furnished my solitude like a habitable planet
with converging mindstreams
that carried me out to sea
like an empty lifeboat
drifting down the Milky Way
like a leaf, like a poem, like
a deep insight into the radiance of nothing
as soon as it got dark enough to see the stars.
Out of the void I sought shelter in
emerged a truce of aloof familiars
who were multilingually conversant
with my kind of madness and imagination.
And I called them Azazel, Blue Flower, Black Dog,
Dead Dogís Dream Self, Character and Womanpit,
and of the ones that appeared the most benign
one was a mystically empowered altruistic idiot,
one was the tabla rasa Adamic blank slate of everyman
and one the female sister demon of my right brain
that was dark and artistic and long-suffering.
And of the first magnitude black hole constellations
with eyes like dice pricked out like fang marks
on an occult starmap of dark matter,
one was a Satanic standard bearer
who had gone from being a scapegoat
to being the master of a Renaissance of evil
with the Machiavellian curiosity of a reptile
intrigued by its deepening insight into mammals
and the other two were the black farces
of their own burnt out legends
passively-aggressive as extinct volcanoes
growling at each other
in the nightmare of their waking hours
like fortune-cookies strung out along the same fault line
like junkies who rage at the futures
that keep giving up on them
like a species that knows its endangered
all the way from southern California
through West Vancouver up to Alaska.
Thereís a big part of everyone
that wasnít born of man or woman
when theyíre alone with their own cartoons
and the mythic inflation and deflation of themselves
makes them feel the whole universe
is breathing along in unison with them
between rapturous moments of solar exhilaration
and dead seabeds of lunar depression
like a musician with his finger on the pulse
of the copulating wavelengths
of a blues guitar in heat at high tide
heís going to ride out like providence into the flood.
These were my Sahaba,
my lost tribe of desert companions,
the nightwinds that came all wrapped in black
like lone Tuariq out of the southern Libyan Sahara
like dark energy in a whirlwind of stars
ready to kill you from a great distance
for drawing the waters of life
out of one of their wells
without tribal consent.
And who knows what flows down into the mind
from what mountaintops
or through the valleys of whose heart before you?
Maybe thereís some leftover starlight in the mix
and the taste of a full moon
lingering on the tongue of a corpse
like a coin some loved one put there
like a sacred syllable to protect it against the dark.
And the tears of someone you never knew
for things youíre not aware of
crying like a waterclock from life to life
like the dream theme of a mindstream
that keeps the whole thing together
like the loose thread of a flying carpet
that just keeps on unravelling.
Life is a geriatric medium with a young message.
The oasis mentors the mirage
like a dance company rehearses Swan Lake.
Dark matter is strung out through the universe
like a junkie neurally connected to the same mind
we all are the way water is to intelligence and lucidity.
Weíre all drinking from the same mindstream
in our own skull.
And when I pass mine around
like a sacred chalice of the moon
around a common fire
to each of my familiars and anti-selves
thrown together in this desert of stars
like symbols that made a habit of each other
for mutual survival,
the big question
thatís always greeted with silence
is whether lifeís an exorcism or a seance.
Were we driven out of somewhere
we all long for
for things we canít recall
to never be summoned back,
or were we invited here
by an anonymous unresponsive host
possessed by his own imagination
to guess at who or what he might be
so the hidden secret can know itself
in every one of us?
And I ask myself creatively
is the potential for darkness
greater than the reality of light?
Is the one infinite
and the other doomed to be exhausted
by living it one insight at a time
some with the lifespan of stars
some like fireflies and lightning
some in the shadows of black walnut trees
and some like me
who dream under the eyelids of past eclipses
like a dragon who once swallowed
a black cosmic egg whole
to bring rain to the new moon
without putting its ancient root fires out?
IíVE STOPPED MISTAKING MY LIFE
Iíve stopped mistaking my life
for evidence I exist.
Iíve stopped watering
palm-trees in a mirage.
Iím leaking out of myself
like sand through a crack
in a wounded hourglass.
Iíve stopped doing my time
and approach things more
like a circle
thatís been squared
by a reclusive hypoteneuse.
Iíve stopped asking
how many legs are on a snake
or what does it mean
when things donít mean anything.
For all the auditions I held
I never did find a stand-in
for the meaning of meaning.
I can hear crutches breaking
like dead branches
from the tree of knowledge
that rails like an ice-storm in hell
thereís no light for its chandeliers.
How many voices are in a secret?
How many theories in a thought?
How many lovers had to die
to keep one feeling alive?
I deserted the circus of high ideals.
I unfeathered my heels
and stopped trying to invent
new alphabets that would read like birds
before the first snow.
When youíre everywhere
thereís nowhere left to go.
I stopped telling time to its face
what hour it was and wasnít
and started listening to it
as if it had nothing to say.
I stopped asking space for i.d.
and it stopped showing me
an old picture of me
with one eye.
A voice spoke
out of the purposeless undoing of the fire
and everything went up like smoke
trying to get a little higher.
I wasnít on a mission
to save the souls of the trees
like native peoples
by converting them
to doors and ladders.
I swept through steeples
like a forest-fire
And the judgment came down:
And I knew I was free
to take liberties with the abyss.
And everywhere I rode
a flying carpet of karma
through the infinite darkness
unspooling like a wavelength of light
I made up my own myths
about the stars that were passing
clandestine lovenotes through my eyes
as if they were doves
sent out to look for me like land.
But I had a hell of a flood
of my own going on
and took wing for Atlantis.
Iíve given up trying to walk on water
but I can go for miles on quicksand.
Stars are another matter.
A firewalk you take alone.
I live in a house
where the windows
are lightyears across
and a black hole
is my last known address
surrounded by trees
that keep opening my mail
like leaves of their own
to see who signed
what the light confessed
when it wanted to get
the night off its chest.
Tell me your sorrows.
Tell me your fears.
Tell me your hopes and passions
and Iíll listen like a universe
to its own afterbirth
like a flawed soul
listens with compassion to the rain.
Illusory cures for illusory diseases
of rivers that never flowed.
But I take a deep breath
and put my shoulder to the wind like a bell
thatís taken on a heavy load
like a backhoe in heaven
to see if anything
can truly save us from ourselves.
I come up like the full moon
of a mushroom in the night
and I wait for elves
to enthrone me like a footstool
under everybodyís feet
as the last of the hanging judges
takes his seat.
But I know like a man
who wrestles with angels
how to grow stronger with every defeat.
I am no longer defined by things
that donít know the limits
of what Iím becoming
now that Iíve dropped off my body and mind
like a demon jumping from paradise
without a parachute.
And this is the anti-papal decretal
of the fallible man
they stone with churches on earth
for showing up blessed like a human
who took the shape of the world
from the inside out
not the outside in.
This way lies redemption.
That way, too.
Fireís not a heresy
thatís committed to its flames
anymore than autumn consumes
the heartwood of its orthodoxies
when it burns the trees.
Desire doesnít cut the tongue
out of the mouth of love
for saying the secret name of God
as if it werenít junkmail
on the threshold
of the old neighbourhood
the cornerstones of sounder reasons
had torn down like a slum
to make room
for better things to come.
There are still scarlet geraniums
blooming in red brick clay pots
on the windowsills of longing
that havenít lost their faith
like leaves yet
one day theyíll return to the garden.
And baby boys born
like heartsongs with hards on
that are not the cliches
of impish cherubs
in a painting of original sin
but angels holding burning swords
at the gates of the mothers
theyíve been driven out of
to guard the way in.
Itís deeply ontological.
But if things didnít happen this way
how could you ever find
your own way back
to that shortcut you took
like time off at the beginning?
And havenít you noticed yet
how the universe keeps showing up
a star too late for the end of things
making up excuses along the way
like a touring playhouse on wheels
rehearsing what to say
for the long delay
in catching up to itself like a thief?
You can tell a lot about a man
by what he steals.
You can tell a lot about a world
by the way your life feels
when thereís no one around
to make a sound
as you fall like a tree in the forest.
How many koans need to be cracked
like skulls full of insight
before you get the gist of the joke
that everything you see
is whole and perfect and broke.
Hell and heaven
are only the first two stairs
on this fire-escape
the stars have lowered to earth.
And then thereís a bridge to the other side
of a river thatís given up looking
for its lost shores
to put an end to its weeping.
And I donít know who she is yet
but beyond that
thereís a woman on her knees
crying like one of lifeís immensities
for her dead baby
as she washes its blood off the floors
with her hair
The Birch At Long Bay
GENEROUS TO A TRAGIC FLAW
Generous to a tragic flaw I have squandered myself on noble gestures to keep something alive thatís crucial to the human
spirit. Or at least mine. I have acted in proportion with the stars. I shine but not by design. A lethal tenderness
overwhelms me whenever I meet someone whoís suffered so long theyíve forgotten what it was like to be astounded. Not social
work. No morals. No ethics. No five-year plan. Just a man trying to make a good memory for a worse day as if to say you see
itís not all relentless. Remember this. Yes there are pitfalls and impact craters but there are parachutes and airlifts too.
Unexpected boons even among the unlucky who keep being snake-bit by the dice just as theyíre about to cross the Rubicon.
Making a gift of a gift is the true art of life. But you donít have to discipline your spontaneity to master it. Just open
your hand your heart the eyes in your blood and let go of whatever youíve been holding on to as if it only had a value in
relation to you. Give the drunk who asks you for a quarter twenty-five bucks occasionally and tell him that your only
condition is that he goes and spends it on booze. Why make a liar of the man and and a hypocrite of your gesture? Give him
the money as if it just fell out of his pocket and you picked it up to return it. A manís body asks for water. Donít offer
him bleach for his soul. And donít walk away pleased with yourself as if youíd done something enlightening about your
shadow. But for the grace of God or the Zeitgeist there go all of us. You donít know how time and circumstance and pain may
have twisted the space around him into some kind of blackhole he canít get out of. The way things are so interdependently
original here he may have been born to entertain one random thought on an uneventful morning before the bars open that the
whole universe turns upon without his knowing it. He may have thought of someone like you he didnít believe in coming
through with a few bucks. Stagger his incredulity by coming true in a way that doesnít abuse the wound youíre trying to
heal in passing. And however estranged you are from his unkempt rendition of human dignity because more people are familiar
with yours than his donít pour weed-killer on his dandelions and expect him to admire your roses. You can kill a human
deeper than you can with a knife by the way you give them something that their life depends upon. Giving is a beauty-based
power not a power-based duty of soul that militates against the ugly and poor with beautiful stratagems of charity. Take the
low place like the sea that everything flows down into and youíll be closer to heaven than the mountain that seeks its place
among the stars. Give as if you were grateful for the privilege. And not just money. Not just the heartfelt concern of a
decent progressive humanist purging the tragic with pity. Donít let the critic step out from the chorus as if there were an
answer to the way humans suffer the way we do. Beyond fault beyond blame beyond judgment opinion or reflexive habit of
thought we are all mystic specifics of the same mind. Distinction can change the picture frame but it canít lay a brush to
the view. Itís a lame self-portrait that canít catch the likeness between him and you. In the need. Not just the
gratification of it. In the seed. Not just the fruit that comes of it.
Iíve met people in life standing in estranged doorways hugging their hearts close to their chests like eggshell urns
full of the ashes and acids of orchards scorched by napalm. Iíve stepped over people in the street lying like corpses in a
war-zone of steel and concrete and glass that stared back at humans as if they were from the wrong class of perfection. Iíve
heard the poppies scream out in their sleep that the ambulance doesnít know the address of their homelessness and all their
emergency exit signs are beginning to panic like a run on a bloodbank in a severe depression. Sleazy lovers made savage by
love licking the toxic arrowheads they pull out of their own wounds to taste what theyíre dying of. Iíve seen a wise man
stand like a jewel foundationstone in an avalanche of fools buried up to his neck in their skulls like the broken rosaries
of full moons that forgot the names of God. And what can you say to the cracked mirror with wrinkled skin about why she
unsilvered her beauty like a chandelier on cocaine when you know from the puncture-wounds in your own heart that thereís
nothing illicit about pain? Iíve attended lectures in a street school for unmanageable solitudes given by the insane to a
conspiracy of traffic signs that rewrote the golden rule. I have watched the ingenues of the spirit perverted by wannabe
Buddhas and forsaken messiahs deciphering light and reason as if theyíd just broken the code to the enigmatic subterfuge
of their own self-promotion. Iíve seen death close the eyelids of those adrift on the great nightsea of subconscious themes
like overturned lifeboats that returned to their dreams like watercolours flowing into their mindstreams. And I have marked
their likeness to Japanese plum blossoms and then detested myself for sugarcoating their deaths in distractingly beautiful
simulacrums of mimetic coral when I know for a fact they had the hulls of their hearts ripped out on the reefs of their
brains like the moon at low tide. The moon drops anchor like a lockmaster among shipwrecks she canít exhume. You look at a
human and you see right away that pain plays the chameleon. That suffering isnít the effect of illusion. Itís protean. It
envelopes itself in its own coils like space. It slowly seeps into a childís eyes like a watershed without rainbows and
irises when she cries. The features of her face begin to go awry and you can see another one coming through like a wisdom
tooth. With that dumb blank stare of a human looking down into her eyes like wishing wells that didnít come true. Asking
why there are no fireflies in her lunar landscape any closer to her than the stars. Agony of mothers kicking their
breastmilk cornucopias down the road like an empty soup can that fell off the bumpers of their honeymoons. Nightshifts of
jellyfish tangled like kites in the downed hydrolines hissing like lightning in a snakepit because they donít know how to
holster their neurons before they empty their gun on the guilty bystanders. Shadows that have grown paranoid of the people
who cast them. People who were defeated by everyone they ever believed in and went around preaching despair as if the word
hadnít already come to all of us in its own good time without screaming like an air raid siren to take immediate shelter
from oncoming comets butterflies and stoned Mayan calendars predicting the end of the world though they didnít anticipate
that they wouldnít make it to the end of their own. And from cradle to grave for every living thing death has never been
any further away than their next breath. And whether youíve packed a backup atmosphere for a parachute or not or youíre
just freefalling in a cosmic starfield like some anticlimactic Icarus whoís just been washed like a cinder out of Godís one
good eye. Fear smells like death to us and a vast darkness reveals to us whatís uninhabitable about all we behold. Living
on earth is like being homeless with a roof over your head. Weíre all faithfully waiting like cornerstones with nothing to
build on. Even the dead who excavate their names like masons with time on their hands.
I have seen the despair terror the fury the hate. The machine-think of calculating minds in their white knight
armour of chrome and tinfoil who like to be known for their largesse with big numbers provision an army of children with
violent video-games to make up for their lack of creative vision. The incubator on the night ward full of baby rattle-snakes
that were born as toxic as their parents. In the great war of the logos against the icons itís easier to kill something you
never think youíll be than it is than it is to learn to live with the difference like one of your own eccentricities. Itís
not even enlightened self-interest to ignore the fate of the woman and child sitting next to you in the same lifeboat with
solar-powered oars rowing toward Vega down the Milky Way in a full eclipse of the sun. And singing in the choir isnít going
to feed the children of Darfur or stop rape in the Congo from becoming a military tactic of war against the womb. Anymore
than this is. Radioactive outrage in the humiliated heart. The obscene gigantism of unseen olegarchs casting their shadows
upon the earth like the gaping Martian canyons opening up like the gaps between the rich and the poor. Who owns the air the
water the food the cure? Obese spiders importing fireflies like databanks on the optic fibres of the worldwide web tearing
under their weight like a safety net the poor rely upon. The enslavement of knowledge. People summoned like ghosts to the
seances of virtual avatars to be re-educated in an upgrade of their simulacrums. Innocence corrupted by children. Experience
revered like a warcrime in trying times as the last alibi of a demonic adult in front of a firing squad of his peers. But
sometimes the bullets take lightyears to get there if the history of the victors is rewritten in the blood of the victims
who are as loathe to pull the trigger as they are to face the fact. You canít dupe a jackboot into believing its out of
fashion anymore than you can impress a Nazi with compassion. Liberty isnít red white and blue a cracked bell fifty-one and
a half stars or a maple leaf. Thatís a flag of blood blowing in the wind like Isadora Duncanís scarf. Thatís a head wound.
Thatís a fatal shot. The poppy that bloomed from a musket ball. The scarlet bunting of Ouzi machine-pistols redecorating
the highschool dance. Canít you smell the reek of formic acid advancing over the distant hills like a conflagration of red
army ants inspired like pill-sized runts of fire to destroy greater things than they ever dreamed of coming true in their
vision of a coma? You can look in the eyes of the pumpkin-skulled candle-holders any wind can blow out for lightyears and
still never see a comet on a grailquest looking to quench its thirst in tears. And wash its hair in the light. Most people
speak a universal language theyíre born knowing but theyíre as possessive as an apostrophe-s after their names. The fireís
free but they own the flames. Everyoneís free to express themselves but donít trespass on the false claims they lay on the
history of misdeeds like an alibi to justify the new moon of blue blood stuck like the dumb-bell of a sacred syllable
through their ancestral tongues. And itís a small matter of aesthetic indifference whether you bleed like a red ribbon on a
birthday surprise or a bottle of wine with a message to the world that he doesnít want its help washed up like a drunk in
the gutter. If you hang out in Babylon long enough you might communicate like the polyglot tower of Babel but youíll end
up trading your human accent in for the high rhetoric of a different class of jargon and you wonít be able to speak of left
or right-handed holy things without a stutter. The skulls of old men mutter under their breath to the aeons about their
loss of face in history and the young lions are spayed on the threshold of a zookeeperís philosophy of rendering caged
ferocities impotent. Lightning rods and weathervanes pulling the fangs of the storm out by grounding it like a snakepit
to an antidote. War offering sweetmeats to the poor to go off and spill the blood of the poor like the flag of another
country no one wants to belong to anymore except the slumlords that depend on the poor for a living and are willing to
defend themselves with their deaths for it. Politicians like pot-bellied guitars with blackholes in their guts and tapeworms
for spinal cords and strings. And it sings an octave higher than a spider-web but it lies about the lyrics just like the
vox populi lip-synching the words to the national anthem. Just another bass guitar trying to pretend heís a man of the
people who could rock with the best of them in sensible shoes. And feigning the humility of a humorous failure at hitting
it big in the music world is willing to run like a band on the road like the lead singer of a country that beats the drums
for war. Government has no fury like a politician scorned. Frustrated sex is sublimated into power politics. A select few
are elected to reject the will of the people for the good of the nation. The lineaments of satisfied desire are martyred in
the fires of sexual frustration.
Good can quote chapter and verse but evil doesnít even have a table of contents because it doesnít go by the book.
The light might have a better bedside manner when things fall out but itís the darkness that lives on forever and ever as if
nothing happened of any consequence. Like water after someoneís drowned in it. Like the silence that follows the telling of
a story where heroism doesnít stand for anything and the villains are all victims of circumstance. Everything you give isnít
a winning lottery ticket. Itís just a chance. A way to tweak evolution in someoneís favour without thinking of it as a
course correction in the direction of prayer. Luck loads the dice with two of every kind like snake-eyes in a casino. A
random neutrino arises like the full moon on the event horizon of a wavelength that still thinks of itself as a particle in
a unified field theory. Flood myths from the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates lose their significance like waterdroplets
and tears in a shoreless sea if you make your frame of reference big enough to include more than 180 degrees in your
triangles so you donít have to do an about face when youíre scuttled in your final resting place like an ark on the top of a
mountain in Turkey. But even if youíre as cold and hard and adamant as a diamond about seeing things clearly you donít have
to thaw like a snowman to be a radiant focus of
fire. You can warm things up like a thief of fire. You can steal industrial secrets from the gods. You donít have to curse
the crow to exalt the dove. As above so below means that enlightenment is omnidirectionally true for all of us and to know
that is to render yourself homeless at all times and places like Heisenbergís Uncertainty Principle. No locus fixed in
space. No place at the table. But plenty of camels and tents on their way north on the Perfume Trail so the Queen of Sheba
can dazzle the King of Israel with the Lion of Judah like Bob Marley with a thorn in his paw making up redemption songs like
Yaís asmatographer to ease the pain of his abandonment. Giving is the greatest irony of all in an absurd universe that takes
what it wants without regard to the consequences. Babies are torn from their mothersí arms like apple blossoms and those who
lent a helping hand to the local villagers just as often come home dismembered like stale breadcrumbs as whole and golden as
a silo of wheat at peace in their hearts. Thirty pieces of silver. Thirty nights of the moon. Or a school bus in Bolivia.
And Jesus Christ is repatriated to heaven like an illegal immigrant and Che Quevaraís bones return to Cuba forty years
later. To address yourself to the need of the multitudes means you have to learn to feed your assassinís children with no
regrets. Your flesh. Your heart. Your art. Your mind. Your means. Your dreams. Your blood sweat and tears. Until youíre an
emptiness that even God steers clear of for fear of not being able to fill it like a vacuum she abhors. The night is not a
reward for shining and space isnít the inner lining of a crusty robe of jewels meant to entrance the onlookers with the
blazing of their blindness. Giving is coming across something ugly and painful and making it beautiful and whole for a
moment as a matter of taste like you just sewed another button in the eye of the doll to take the lost oneís place. And it
wasnít a law or a reason that made you do it. But the look on a childís face when you give it back to her repaired and she
stares at you like the first letter of the alphabet trying to put words together out of the silence of her astonishment
that even a poet canít. Giving is a way of saying thank-you for flowers to the flowers and stars to stars. Water to water.
You canít keep what you wonít give away. And the only place youíre going to find a stone to lay your head on for the night
and dream of every threshold youíve ever crossed as the last step of the return journey home is less of a place than a way
of seeing how unjustifiably bright everything is. Giving is a way of handing out poems like one of a kind pamphleteering
snowflakes to people standing in line at the foodbank no two alike to remind them that the ore might be pitted and dark
like a Martian meteor that had the bad luck to fall out of the tropics into Antarctica but itís still as full of the gold
and diamonds and lottery tickets of life as it had sewn into its lining when it left home. And then to offer one of them
your Josephís coat because itís cold out and say keep whatever you find in the pockets. And not revel in the realization
that you can change a species with the slightest impact of the tiniest thing youíve ever given away. That every atom of our
bodymind starmud is the unborn beginning of a new universe that gives it all away in time like a secret that was hidden and
wished to be known. Giving is a form of self-expression when thereís nothing left to say to the emptiness inside about why
hundreds of millions of children go to bed hungry every night. Why one man floats on an inner-tube in a swimming pool on a
hot day and another drinks his own tears like a mirage in a dry wishing well in southern Sudan. Feast and famine. Beast or
human. Yeast in the whole wheat bread of the summum bonum rising like the intimate smell of home cooling on the windowsills
of heaven whether we imagine it or not just to make it happen like a good guess or the hospitality of the lampshades and
urns of Auschwitz and the ashes of bitter broken burnt unleavened loaves of millions of corpses rising from the ovens like
the six-horned spark of a phoenix ascending like the first sign of karmic life in a nuclear winter where lizards are
feathered like birds in a tree where nothing sings. Giving is a way of depleting yourself without diminishment. Of defeating
yourself by celebrating the victory of the outcome as an encounter with the demon or the angel in your way you never walk
away from weaker. Even when youíve given up believing in the lies in the eyes of a seeker. And thereís nothing to illuminate
and nothing enlightened in the stars over head that shine down on nothing like a nightlight in a morgue that closes the
eyelids of the dead like the petals of a rose in full eclipse or white peonies of moonlight shedding their feathers like a
rape of swans on a newly tarred asphalt driveway thatís trying to run them out of town like the hidden god of the KKK even
though theyíre both dressed he same way. And those are seashells that were their eyelids. So no one can tell the difference
between a burning cross and the immaculate crucifix of Cygnus in the Summer Triangle migrating down the Road of Ghosts to
nest in the west like the souls of Ojibways Persians and Pythagoreans bottled like a message from an island universe in the
bodies of birds. Like the man who stands behind these words like the red-shifted wavelength of a distant echo in the shadows
of the starfields who doesnít think thereís anything holy about being a ghost but hangs on to it like the last known
identity of a sentient transcendental life form singing like a secular nightbird in a sacred grove of trees as if all he had
to give was the memory of a new insight into an old lucidity. And to go on believing without a single shred of proof that
wherever we walked upright in the tall grass to get a better view of spotted leopards in our surroundings is the holy ground
of our common humanity. Not a golden chariot driven through a slum but things sitting full lotus like a windfall on the
flying carpet of the earth waiting like an airlift in the desert like manna from heaven. The bread of life shared in the
midst of danger and pain and want not nuclear missiles of apocalyptic serpent fire with alternative interpretations of the
same revelation. But the extraordinary ordinariness of our natural genius for decency and compassion to invite the Whore of
Babylon to join the choir without making a liar out of her. Either that or weíre all immoral oxymorons trying to keep a
lifeboat afloat at high tide in a snakepit that threatens to overwhelm us like a last sos on the same wavelength as the
approaching sunami weíre trying to avoid like Atlantis. But giving it all up is the code that breaks the enigma of the
fortune-cookie like a run of good luck against the odds of not being sunk by our own lies like a wolfpack of periscopes on
the moon. It is the generosity of the human spirit within us that will save us from the obscenity of our own lovelessness
and the insanity of our pain. Not the spoonful of ashes we make of our native tongues when anyone asks us what weíre doing
on earth and we donít know whether to reply like houseflies that taint the meat or dragons that bring the rain.
MEDITATIONS IN A SNAKE PIT OF DISSONANT WAVELENGTHS
Meditations in a snake pit of dissonant wavelengths.
An anti-Zen photo-op of enlightened dark energy.
Does a clean slate mean
thereís no starlight in the windows,
no fossils in the Burgess Shale,
no kings with any grave goods in any of these hills?
And I suppose I forgave you some time ago
but if I did
youíll forgive me if I forgot.
Things have been intense over the past few years.
Iíve been living secretly underground like a nail
driven into the heartwood of an old growth forest
I donít want them to cut down
whether itís the tree on the moon
or Clayquot Sound.
Most peopleís relationships
are mediocre books with purple passages.
Ours was a purple book with all the pictures torn out.
And thatís o.k. too, and thatís o.k. too,
and thatís o.k. too
I keep repeating like a mantra to myself
trying to zone out into a trance
that helps me feel as numb as a frozen gum
whenever I remember you in moonlight
with my eyes half shut
and my heart not as wide open as it used to be.
My eyes focus on a memory but it seems
theyíre just seeing for show
and thereís no insight in it
neither they nor I want the courage to know.
And I guess itís you Iím talking to here
or this simulacrum of what I remember of you
thatís kept on growing inside me
like a ghost that hasnít made its peace with me yet
or maybe just this void I imagine
among billions of eyes
has yours in it too
and the way things are inchoately connected
somehow resonates vestigially
on the same wavelength you and I used to.
But even if nothing and no one are there anymore
thatís o.k., thatís o.k., thatís o.k., too.
Iím not going to break my teeth on a koan with a time-lock
Iím not going to give myself a concussion
knocking on a door from the inside
to get someone to open it and let me out.
The last time I did that
you were the storm that took me in again.
You were the third eye of the hurricane
and I was the star you washed out of it
because you couldnít make it fit
that cocaine constellation
you liked to buff with fairy dust
before you took it to the streets
to find a black market for inspiration.
I was never desperate enough in those days
to keep up with you in your moodswings
so I tried to get behind you and push
your voice out onto a stage equal to your talent
and you wowed them. You did.
You had them standing up on the tables
and afraid to come out of the green room.
And I especially liked it when you dedicated
Walking in the Rain to me
and ever since Iíve listened to it
like a gnostic gospel I buried in the desert
to keep from using it like a sacred text to start a fire.
Hey, but two days later you turned from a hit
into an atomic albino Queen Cobra Apache-Aztec witch
with your fangs stuck like a wishbone
in the throat of your voice coach
for not singing as well as he listens
to what the lyrics of your raving hysterics meant
between the lines when you were coming down
like a junkie in a decaying orbit
that didnít make it all the way to the moon.
Living with you then
once you got back on the blow
was like walking across a mine field
covered in blood-stained snow.
A black rose with the bite of a rattlesnake.
The thorns of a Yaqui mesquite cactus
like the tongue piercings of a prophetic skull
trying to make itself known
like a hidden secret in a savage language
written on flesh and bone.
Remember that night you slashed my sportsjacket
down the spine with one eagle-feathered swoop of the knife
for doing the dishes that had sat
growing green mould like alien life
in a junkyard of contaminated space parts
because you didnít want to be taxed like a dealer
with the same chores as everyone else?
I liked painting all night at the kitchen table
with you watching me
like a kataba worm at the bottom of a bottle of tequila
wondering whether I was toxic to eat or not.
I painted you four by six foot love notes
on square-riggers of canvas that ran before the wind
like the skull and crossbones from the slower angel fleets
trying to regain command of their own lifeboats
to rescue our relationship.
But thatís o.k. thatís o.k., thatís o.k., too.
Iíve deepened my perspective
like a shipwreck on the moon
inundated by shadows below deck
with none of my water gates and fire walls in tact.
It took more light years traversing the void
without a point of origin or destination
to ever make me feel off course
because in any dimension
and every direction
one move was as good as another
before the cosmic mystery
dwindled into the mundane fact
of the aerial perspective I put behind me
when I painted time blue to keep it in the distance.
Just as I was happy you were gone with our son
like d.n.a. evidence
we did have something to say to each other once
before the house burned down with me in it
spitting into the ashes of a demonic failure
to immolate me at the stake of a familial heresy
while the birds were dropping in mid flight
at forty below outside.
I was far from a daycare father
but I hoisted him up on my shoulders in pride
as if the weight of the world were nothing
but the bubble of a laughing boy
goading an elephant with no sense of gravity
into a full gallop before he starts flapping his ears.
But thatís o.k., thatís o.k., thatís o.k. too.
If you walk it long enough alone
youíll find thereís more dust on the road
than youíve got tears to keep it down.
People might want to cling to your skin like cornerstones
and you might rather want to be keel-hauled on the moon
than wash your hands of them.
Sometimes the heart thinks itís indelible.
The stars have fixed the tats for life
and all youíve got to do is connect the dots
to see what constellations have been revealed
as signs of loveís misplaced centricity.
And then one day gone.
Who knows where?
There was a bubble, a gravitational eye,
A birthday balloon full of laughing gas,
a shepherd moon with an oceanic vision of life,
the impression of scarlet lipstick
like rose petals on a white kleenex
beside a make-up mirror
that managed your campaign of faces
like a drug cartel running for mayor of Shangrila.
Glacial ages of archival snowfall
sublimate like dry ice into thin air
like dreamers at their own exorcism
like the ghosts of wild swans
evaporating off the Rideau in the morning
without warning, one moment there, incredibly
the waterbirds, the light, the shapeshifting clouds,
the pudgy hands of a child
that hasnít yet learned to make a fist
and the body of a woman with a taped wrist.
A fish jumps and disappears like a comet
back into a starmap of black holes
that plumbs the depths of your soul
from top to bottom
like skin-divers dragging the river
for the corpses of nightclub owners in Hull.
Forgiven, forgotten, foretold and fulfilled,
no more bones to make of it,
when you werenít the blue lapis lazuli mask
of a jaguar goddess in heat
you prowled nocturnally like a smile
through shady emotions on the bestial floor
and you killed, not so much out of appetite
or to propitiate some ancient instinct in blood
but for the thrill of it, the rush, the ride
because you could, just because you could.
And no divinity was served.
You didnít sleep with men.
You dragged them off into the bushes by their necks.
And thatís o.k., thatís o.k., thatís o.k. too.
The last time I saw you
you were draping yourself like an oilslick
over the shoulders of a bad movie
who was trying to man up among coke dealers
in a nightclub where people danced out of desperation
because everyone there had the lifespan
of a photo-op in the fast lane.
You wanted me to see
though I thought you overstated it a bit
how wonderful it was to be free of me
and spend the rest of your afterlife in theatre.
You couldnít have been pleased
to see me with another woman
though I swear I didnít know
you were going to be there.
I made a cold truce with the worldís brutality
and moved deep into the country
to mime the moonlight on the winter snow
where fate ran a cleaner casino than destiny.
At least the mouse knew
when it was being torn into pieces of Orphic meat
as the fragrance of hot blood steamed starward
it wasnít being consumed by a coke rage
and the owl needed to eat.
A thousand re runs of that night
have tempted me to say something magnanimous
and make a gracious bow from the audience
as I headed for the emergency exit
knowing that was it for good between us
and what was left could only get worse.
Time is a stem cell in a shopping mall
that waits like a terrorist in all of us
outside an abortion clinic
for the right opportunity
to replicate the lack of heart
that just couldnít go through with it.
Born in fire eventually
the salamander grows back its tail
to keep the phoenix intrigued
with the resurrection of its body parts.
No need to talk of a soul.
The fire-pits are full of bloodless abstractions
that burn without smoke or flame
like the jinn in the Koran
some good some bad
some grant wishes like new lamps for old
and some are weaving snakey emeralds
into the imageless wavelengths of their flying carpets
to tie up loose ends in their threadbare snake pits
by looking for live embers
in the ashes of a long firewalk
and more in the way of a Zen mondo
than a black mass in the way I put them out
to see more clearly what Iím stepping on in the dark
than I used to give a second thought to
and be able to say with genuine conviction
even if I do by some mistake
thatís o.k., thatís o.k., thatís o.k. too.
Namu amida butsu.
Given all I lived through with you
itís easy for a retroactively enlightened man
to understand why you had to lie to stay true to your public.
You had the radioactive charisma
of a terrorist movie star up for an Oscar.
And I was the donkey you wanted to smuggle your amps in.
I may be slow, but Iím as thorough as a fuse-box
when it comes to snake charming circuit-breakers
so that the lights go out
long before the musicís over
and the real stars emerge from hiding
from the aftermath of your blazing
with google maps and cellphones.
There are darker intensities
and gentler lucidities
wired in parallel to the universe
like black matter to our synaptic neurons.
I snapped out of you like a lightning bolt
but it hurt to wake up from a coma and learn
youíd gone off like an i.e.d. after the big event.
Things that shine for themselves
like the light of a dream
in the sunless depths of the sea
or the T Tauri stars in the Pleiades
are better seen with the spotlight off than on.
And I donít know why.
Maybe you suffered from stagefright
but you always killed the messenger
by sending a lighthouse
to do the job of a firefly
when a blasting cap in a beaver dam
would have done the same collateral damage.
But thatís o.k., thatís o.k., thatís o.k. too.
Two fools saw their names in light.
The bright one reached up for stardom.
The dark one looked down for insight.
The donkey looks into the well.
The well looks back at the donkey.
And things just go off by themselves.
YOUíRE A SWEET LITTLE ZOOKEEPER
Youíre a sweet little zookeeper
but Iím not the beast
you need to fill your cage.
Youíre a constellation of fireflies,
a chandelier of warm spring tears
but these burnt out eyes of mine
arenít the reflecting mirrors
youíre trying to make them out to be
by adjusting their focus
to see you shining in the dark.
You might dance like a star
a glow worm in a Mason Jar
the chimney spark of a good fire
on a cold night
a go go dancer behind bars
enflaming the tinder of desire
in the love nest of a rising phoenix
but Iím the total eclipse of hope
seen through the wrong end of the telescope.
And even if you were to turn me upside down
and burn me like a heretic at the stake
to correct the error of my ways
Iíd still be the snake on the cross
nailed to the doors of paradise
like a notice of eviction
like a warning against trespassing
and not the waterbird with folded wings
youíre trying to get a rise out of
like a moonlit lake waiting
for a footsore messiah
tired of walking on waves
whose feet you can wash with your hair.
Hic sunt dracones.
Iím not the dark window of wisdom
you want to consult like a starmap
to see if you can find in my eyes
any glimmer of insight
like a star I named after you
you can wish upon.
Go away from my window little bird.
I donít want to see you hurt
trying to fly through your delusion of open sky
like Alice in the looking glass
when the moon is cast through it like a stone
to see the whole in every part
of a broken heart.
I am not the stem cell
of a new relationship to hell
and you are not the vital organ of the clone
that might come of it
were I to love you as my second self.
Beauty is the moonboat of the heart.
Life fill its sails with gusts of stars
when things are full
and when theyíre not
takes them down like daylilies in the fall.
I am not the new moon of another beginning
and you are not the total eclipse of mine.
My sails are black and bloody.
Yours are white as waterlilies.
Sunny laundry on the line.
The shroud of Turin
with the shadow of your mother burnt into it
and you playing nearby on the lawn
as the late morning light grows too strong
to stay outside.
Go home now.
Go seek the other youíve kept waiting.
Go follow the song
until the longing stops
and thatís where youíll find him
waiting like a guitar
carved out of heartwood
strung with circular tree rings
keyed to the tuning forks of the rain
like all the springs heís dreamed about you.
Iím as deep as a star receding
into the boundless darkness within me.
There are planets in my wake
that make me wish Iíd been
a better gardener than they thought I was
and I donít want you to be one of them.
Thorns lie along this path.
Long firewalks in the company of ghosts
who were once great enough to let go
of what they cherished most
like water and blue air
and nights when a single candle
lit up the whole universe
in a way that baffled the stars
when love blew it out
to make the darkness shine
with eyes everywhere
eyes in our blood
eyes in our flesh
eyes in our voices
eyes on the tines of our tongues and fingertips
like large pheromones of light
that looked into the black mirror
that made things appear
inconceivably mysterious and near.
Your way back will be strewn with flowers.
Apple bloom and asters.
Chicory and the petals of wild roses.
I could make you the high priestess of my art
but those robes of night
and snakes of insight
would weigh heavy on you.
So go home now.
Someone waits to offer you their heart.
To turn your suffering and solitude into music
and teach you how to play
all ninety-nine chords of the rain
as lucidly as the willows down by the Tay
strung out like harps on their pain.
Apprentice yourself to the light awhile
like blossoms on a windy day.
His radiance is white.
I shine by a different light
that life in time without a teacher
will pour into the fruits of your seeing
when the darkness
grows sweeter than your sadness
like wild grapes on an autumn vine
and you feel something fall from your eyes
like cataracts from a crystal skull
like winter windows from starless skies
like fountains that offer you the elixirs
you seek to drink from
like flowers and grails and wishing wells
rooted deep in their fathomless watersheds.
When the sun shines at midnight
and the hour comes round at last
like a lamp in the hands
of its own long dark radiant journey into insight
you will taste the waters of life
in the tears of the sorceress
standing in the doorway to clarity
that summons her to leave everything behind
and without hesitation or reflection
know for yourself
the dark wisdom in the heart of the light
that makes the black mirror
older and deeper than the white.
Thereís nothing in this world
however far you wander from home
nothing youíve experienced
nothing youíve known
you can claim as your own
until a stranger comes back from the stars
with no trace of personal mythology
her hands full of the earth
she weeps upon
and shapes like starmud
until it flowers in her eyes
into a universe where poppies and wheat
see you in the same light
by which you see them.
Dreams and bread.
Opioids and magic mushrooms.
Passion and common sense.
Peasant gypsy fish
with hoops of the moon
hooked through their earlobes
and long scarlet scarves of fire
streaming from their necks
like portentous comets
that arenít trying to scare anyone
nibbling at the broken loaves of the flesh
being distributed by a foodbank on the hillside.
Go home now.
Go dance naked and alone in the rain
whenever you feel like it.
Who needs to bind themselves to the void
when their emptiness is everywhere?
Be as kind and compassionate
toward your follies and delusions
as you are to the deepest of your insights
and one day youíll see the crazy wisdom of it all
and be humbled like a fool in tears
by that which exalts you
like a constellation of fireflies
deep in the darkest nights of your being.
Those brief flashes of lucidity
that are half the silent rapture
of the cool bliss that blows on the fire
and half the last flaring of a call for help
when what you treasure most
sinks to the bottom like a sea chest
full of hope and desire
and comes to rest like the moon
in the breast of a big-hearted shipwreck.
Stars in the well.
Night lights in a morgue.
Candles in a coffin on nightwatch.
The sacred syllables of the fireflies
on the snake-tongues of neural lightning
witching for rain on the moon
in a sea of shadows and mirages
putting down roots in the darkness
like zodiacs along the cowpaths of the starmaps
that laid out the Milky Way
the Road of Ghosts
like the short cut of the mindstream
that follows its own inclinations
like wild flowers through the abandoned star fields
to keep the lights on in this house of life
long after nothing else will.
The Trees in Stewart Park Before The Ice Storm, Perth, Ontario
HIGH IN THE Y SHAPED BOUGHS
High in the Y shaped boughs
of the nude wrecked marsh wood
a gathering of abandoned heronsí nests
that look like a colony of lonely vaginae
that have done their work
and were put aside
when everything went south.
Crowns of thorns
on the heads of crucified saviours
no one ever bothered to take down.
Or you could see in them
the beginnings of new fires
the tinder and the kindling
waiting for someone to strike a match
or come down like a bolt of lightning
on a tuning fork
and burn the witch at the stake
for heresies of love she wonít forsake
and a vow of silence she took before the mystery
of her own dark science that she wonít revoke.
Pyres and sky burials and begging bowls
as if they were orphans asking for more
or humbled celebrants beseeching the stars
to receive the little they have left to give
and add their nothing to the nothing that is.
To judge from the number of taboos at the gate
shrunken heads atop the lodge poles
of an Ojibway village that abandoned its gods
and moved on when the river began to rise
and left it to the sky
to cover their nakedness with the whole cloth
of a tent that doesnít keep the wind or the cold out
like the unpetalled stems of the black-eyed Susans
spreading like a cult along the banks;
to judge from the apprehensive signage of my instincts
that it isnít death but life
thatís as dangerous and near
as my next step is to falling in
this must be a sacred place
the animals come down to
like totems at night
to revel in their starmud
and give thanks
the stars were brilliant enough
to root their pure radiance
in the mutability and muck of decay.
The wombs of the milkweed
have exorcised their ghosts
and the paint brushes of the wild irises
are no longer loaded with violet
and stand uninspired in a blue canning jar
in the corner of the deserted studio
of an artist who just woke up one day
and disappeared without a word of a lie
like a crow into his own mindscape
as if he had finally achieved what he was looking at.
But if the moon doesnít fear walking here
nor while I.
Startled wavelength of a black watersnake
fleeing like dark energy
across a supple mirror of stars
and there on the withered eyelids
of the lily pads
the hold out bullfrogs
disgruntled in the aftermath of their boom times
by the lack of insects
and their loss of sexual appetite
like the mythically inflated rhetoric
of bellows that canít get the fire to light.
The Clovis point arrowhead of a jumping trout
hits its own bullseye from the inside out
and embeds itself in a flank of wounded water.
Among so many nemetic affinities
you could lose your heart
like a waterbird
that nests in its own reflection
to a snapping turtle around here
where the swans of moonlight
for all their enchantment
hold no more sway
over whatís beautiful and not
than this parliament of necrophiliacs in the dark
ready to pull them down
with their parrot beak vise-grips
into the carrion beds of the house rules
that say even the Taj Mahals must rot
and Ledaís just meat to the gods.
Forty-three years later feels strangely
like Iím back in my old neighbourhood
and this marsh is its emotional life.
Peacock blue green sky closing its eyes
to see the stars better in the dark
Taurus and Gemini up
and Cygnus a lost crucifix in the west.
I step on the trunk of a fallen birch.
It gives way like a leper whose flesh
is as dozy as a bowl of wet cornflakes.
My foot slips down into the ooze
as if a hand had reached out
and grabbed me by the ankle.
And then lets go with the pop of a suction cup.
And besides among shipwrecks
Iím just a birch bark canoe not an ark
and this is not Atlantis or Mt. Ararat.
This is the low spot.
This is the drainage ditch of afterlives.
This is the boiling pot
that everything runs down into
like the effluvium duff and detritus of the mindstream.
This is the meditation of a Zen master
who isnít appalled by anything
and embraces all as it is
with indiscriminate compassion.
This is the scum and the froth
and the fizz and festering of creation
in the Vas Hermeticum
of a biodegradable alchemist
throwing flower seeds on the shit
like tiny chips of a the philosopherís stone
to turn the shit of base metal
into the golden petals of the elecampane.
Four amino acids open
and one protein molecule blooms.
This is the catacomb and bone box
of an early Christian buried next
to the Via Cloaca of Rome
waiting to rise like an enamel-painted buttercup
or nuns of the wild columbine
meek among the towers of the common mullein
the Algonquin used to use
to line their moccasins in winter.
This is the matrix of the dark mother
fouling the waters of her womb with life.
This is the cauldron.
This is the crock pot
that simmers the flesh off the bones
of the deer and the fox and the rat together
with an eye of bat and the briny legs of the frog
and reeks like a corpse flower
in the bridal bouquet
of a wedding party of Elizabethan witches.
This is the dismembered body of Kingu and Tiamat.
This is the consecration of the desecration of the flesh
made whole again like the wafer
of the rising moon
thatís waxing to full on my tongue again
as if it hadnít learned by now what a pagan I am.
This is the filth we were born from
to serve the gods
if youíre Sumerian enough to believe it.
This is the one-finger salute of the staghorn sumac
to the October wind that plucked it like a phoenix
after showing up
to blow its green wood into flames
like a flight path for the fires of resurrection.
This is the primordial id.
Cannibal stew made into a soup for leftovers.
And no one not invited to the table
above or below the salt.
No oneís fault.
Not a moral issue.
Just the way it is.
Starmud and cell tissue.
As above so below.
Heronís nests in the crotches of dead trees.
Mermaids that ran before the prow of the ship like dolphins
and wooden figureheads parting the waves
like the cleavage of their breasts
now in slingshot bikinis high in the crowís nests
among the masts of a sunken navy
on the lookout for a northwest passage.
But Iím not fooled.
Iíd be a drunken sailor
on this or any other ocean
from here to the moon and beyond.
On the great radiant sea of awareness
on the third watch of the night
Iíd drink stars from my skull
until I slumped down in a coma of insight
that showed me my way through here
like a life boat through a northwest passage
with an oceanic view of things
even when itís scuttled in a swamp.
Goblet cup or cranium
Itís the heart you pour the wine of life into
that determines whether
itís a poison or a love potion.
Death might be the medium
and this swamp the rite of passage
of a drunk through his delirium.
But whether itís full or empty
a loveletter or an s.o.s.
life is still the message.
The Way Home, Westport, Ontario
A CANADIAN POET SINCE YOU ASKED
A Canadian poet since you asked.
Iím madder than the landscape.
Glaciers have scarred me
retreating north like my father.
My heart has been shaped by neolithic chisels
into a dolmen of Michelangeloís David
with a silver bullet and a rock in his hand
and the determination of a statue
who refuses to be intimidated by a scarecrow.
The end of an ice age.
The platter scraped clean as the Canadian Shield.
Savage runes carved in rock by rock.
Older than the Rosetta Stone
my silence is indecipherable.
I mean marrow.
I mean broken bones.
I mean blood on the snow.
The moon comes like a nurse to the wounded pines
and applies a cool poultice of light to their limbs
in a season of storms
when the lake raves
and the fish dive deeper into themselves
and the bears huddle up under their layers of fat
in caves theyíve turned into dreamwombs
and I burn underground like the root-fire
of a radical evangelist
among survivalist cedars
gathering under tents of snow
to be born again in the blood of the Caribou.
There are more heretics in the wilderness
than there are saints.
Whatever it takes to keep warm.
There are nights when my spirit is so cold
it congeals on my eyes
like breath on a windowpane
and Iíd say anything
without amending an iota of it
just to be burnt at the stake
and thaw the chandeliers of frozen tears
that hang over me like the sword of Damocles
or the brittle radiance of the Pleiades
where they pick glass apples from sapphire trees
or the crystal castles of Arianrod in Corona Borealis
where everything turns like a Sufi top
but no one ever gets vertigo
and the Celts pay back money they owe the dead
after they die
if you can imagine that.
I make a significant Doppler Shift in my lifelines
and heaven sees red.
I am a Canadian poet
and my wingspan
is the sky over Saskatchewan.
Iím the firemaster of the staghorn sumac
when it rises like a phoenix in the fall
and then Iím a bird in the chimney
like a word stuck in my throat
I canít recall
but it had something to do
with a wishbone and a harp.
Iím not the nice guy everyone purports me to be.
Iíve got the manners of a mountain
and the emotional life of the sea
and if I seem happy to meet people
itís only because
it sometimes gets as lonely here
in the vastness of this snowblind no manís land
as an icebreaker
shattering imageless mirrors
like cataracts in Frobisher Bay.
Iím a warm house
that opens its door to strangers on a cold night.
I bond like fire and shadows to anyone
against the impersonal inclemency of the weather.
no man is Baffin Island
but there are foreign submarines
breeding like pods of killer whales all around me.
Explorers have been planting flags here for years
like artificial flowers in real gardens
but they keep getting lost in the holocaust of maples
gliding through no manís land
behind a barrage of pine-cone artillery shells
to overrun the hill
like October assaulting Vimy Ridge.
What the earth teaches us here
like a female warrior shaman
is the hard love of an exacting mother
that no one owns
and canít be possessed by another
because sheís got thresholds like timberlines
even a wolf canít cross
and a memory like the Arctic
if sheís taken for granted
or real estate.
I am a Canadian poet.
from English ore
and uranium from the French.
The raven trickster of native lore.
The sacred clown.
The dangerous taboo
that lives too deep in the woods
for anyone to break.
I am a Canadian poet.
I marry knives like superstitions
that are meant to protect me from myself
but the moon keeps baiting my lovelife
with sexual acts
to trap and trade me in
like the skin of a mink
for a double-bladed ax.
I am a Canadian poet
with multiple identities.
A multilingual polyphrenic patriot.
A chameleon with a passport thatís turning green.
because itís spring here
and the lilaceous asphodels are up
but the seasons change like manic moodrings
and by the fall Iíll be burning my i.d.
in a protest rally of disaffected leaves
just to balance things
between Cain and Able
heaven and earth
murder and sacrifice
in a fair-minded farmboy kind of way
where everyone gets their ten minute say before God
and then sits down like the House of Commons
to break meat and wheat
salt and bread
loaves and fishs
or barbecued burgers and hotdogs with the crowds.
I am a Canadian poet.
I was cooked like a kid in its motherís milk.
I grew up on the scraps they threw under the table.
Iíve learned to sing
like a streetcorner guitar case
that belts it out
like an open coffin at the Last Supper
where all they ever eat is flesh and blood
and Iím a desert on a diet
thatís not into moral food.
If religion wanted to do my generation any good
it should go confess its accusation
to a world itís misunderstood
like a child it wonít admit
is the issue of its own miscegenation.
I am a Canadian poet
from a big country with with an aquiline overview
of human nature red in tooth and claw
and like you
I am a citizen of the same abomination.
I arm myself to go to peace.
I talk myself to death
instead of committing suicide.
When nobody wants to know you
what have you got to hide?
Thereís no risk in being open.
And yesterday always tells me the truth
about why it lied to my youth
about why the windows were weeping for the future
like a skull with glacial lakes for eyes
and a place on the totem
they keep for the dead
where I just canít seem to get ahead
of my own prophecies.
Stick a fork in it.
Iím as done as a barbecue in hell
and that doesnít mean I just donít feel well
it means I can feel the flesh slipping from my bones
like snow off a roof in a spring warm-up
and all Iíve got to live on
is recalled food for thought.
Iím grateful for everything
but sometimes itís hard to know
what to be grateful for
when everything tastes like a foodbank
or Canadian culture
with the government for a muse.
For nearly fifty years
Iíve burned like a furnace
with the mouth of a fountain
firewalking across the waterstars.
Thereís no axle on the wheel of birth and death
but for years Iíve been spinning it in the mud
thinking it might go somewhere
if I drive hard enough
but all Iíve done
is carded and spun whole cloth like Ghandi
from cottonmouths and fer de lance
meant to regulate the baby boom in slaves
like a cottage industry.
Now the skin I wore
like Yeatsí coat of old mythologies
in the foolsí eyes
to cover my enterprising nakedness
fits like the shroud of Turin
in a snakepit of sewing machines
that keep testing my bloodstream for plutonium.
Itís hard to learn to walk on water
when itís high tide without any waves
and youíre always falling through the ice
too far from shore to risk a rescue.
When Iím cold enough to take my own advice.
I am a Canadian poet.
Second to none.
Because more than any nation could encompass
Iím first and foremost human.
And though itís my brain
itís not my mind
anymore than the wind is
and what it thinks
is not my personal property
to put my name on
and say I own this.
Sooner say you own the leaves in fall
you can at least take a rake to
and gather up and dispose of
like junkmail that came to the wrong address
than say this thought is mine
and that thought is yours.
You make a fist
of an open hand.
You begin to live behind closed doors
to keep yours in
and theirs out.
You concoct wars
that get out of hand
to change their childrenís minds.
Wasnít King Canute
and Britain when she put to sea
enough to convince anybody
that if anyone did rule the waves
nobody told the waves?
Itís the same with your mind.
How are your wavelengths
any different than those of the sea?
Itís like a star saying I own that light.
And Iím the one who decides whom it falls upon.
I am a Canadian poet.
The light is free
as it always has been
to create anything it wants to.
And though theyíre my eyes
who can say the seeing
belongs to them alone?
You get the pointless point
of cowboy Zen?
Iím not a fountain pen
with blue blood for ink.
I say what I think without a blotter
to wipe my mouth clean of what Iíve said
like snow melting on the red oak in the woodshed
because it canít take the heat
and wants to get out of the fridge.
I am a Canadian poet.
Fireweed after every conflagration
and columbine in the ashes
that didnít know what else to grow.
And I suppose I should say something corny
about wheat and beavers and maple leaves and Mounties
and all that
but you already know and besides
at the bottom of all these totem poles
and reformed trees
that went to A.A. for drinking too much
Iím a lot more complicated than that.
Iím more dangerous
than any hardware store
youíve ever met before.
And one thing about being born into a country
with enormous natural resources
like a mouse in a well-stocked pantry
you can afford to be seen
being kind and considerate to the poor
or as I do
when I hear them being killed on the news.
Orpheus picks up his guitar in the corner
and begins to sing the blues.
See what I mean?
Itís obscene to be so decent about suffering
you raise both hands to stop it.
Every quarter given that was asked.
In this country that makes me an iconoclast.
Stand fast in the name
of any deception you disown
and youíre an outlaw
bad to the bone.
In literature class
they teach you to kiss ass anapestically
at wine and cheese soirees
making small talk awkwardly
across language barriers
with cultural attaches
after the reading
after the hour you spent
listening to cement
lament some lost cornerstone
that brought the house down
like the government
when she just couldnít shovel
or churn it out anymore
and pretend it was butter
and good luck woman
made for the door.
He wants to call her a whore.
But heís too nice for that.
So he talks about her poetry
as if it were as flat-chested
as she believed she was
playing to her worst fear
like paint ball
in suggestive overtones of camouflage.
A whole hour
waiting for one good line
that isnít about making jam
or bleeding maples for their syrup
and how to flip a pancake like a lyric
over an open fire on the shore of Canoe Lake
where Tom Tomson drowned
standing up in his birchbark
to take a piss
or being hit on the head with a poker
out of jealousy
and somebody swapped his body with an Inuit
so its hard to intuit whose ghost was left
to give the creative seance of poets on tour
a sponsor to write about.
I write from the inside out
not the outside in.
I put the pauper before the prince
because I donít like dressing up for royalty
and my girlfriend couldnít afford a hat to meet the queen.
She was a hell of a human being
but she had rude hair
that wasnít familiar with protocol.
She could paint like Frieda Rivera
or Georgia OíKeefe
but she was raised on welfare in Westmount
and didnít think she needed a hat
to go anywhere
except when it rained
and even then she didnít mind getting wet.
Things are so bittersweet here
youíd think everyone kept killer bees
and a hive was as good as a muse
to poets as dormant as smoke.
They all burn cedar boughs in a bucket
they swing like pioneer incense
to chase the bats out of the attic
across the road to their neighbourís house
who answers them in kind with odes.
But Iím not a turtle crossing.
I am a Canadian poet
with low enough self-esteem
like the sea at the foot of the mountains
to compel me to abuse myself
by pursuing an earthly excellence
thatís always a threshold beyond
my material means to achieve
but works wonders for the spirit
you wouldnít believe.
I can conceive gold easy enough
when I write like the Yukon
but I live like ore
at the bottom of an abandoned mine
that was staked out by alchemists years ago
like base metal trying to strike it rich
without having to be philosophical about it.
I am a Canadian poet.
Thatís not a fact.
Thatís an interpretation.
And Iím turning it
like a jewel in the light
to see if that means
Iím the right man for the wrong nation.
Nature or nurture.
or the membranal equivalence of hyperspace
blowing bubbles that pop like worlds?
The same eye by which I see my country
is the same eye by which it sees me?
I can live with the ambivalence if need be
but what I canít stand
is the artificiality of the collective unconscious
when it starts adding flags and logos to its archetypes.
Jung would weep himself to sleep
every night like a recurring nightmare for years
or turn into an advertising executive
just to see how polluted things can get
when you leave the farm to an idiot.
You end up threshing waterlilies
and the engineers canít help
competing with beavers
to see who can build the most dams.
I am a Canadian poet.
I think like Montreal
but I feel just like Toronto
with Vancouver for a spiritual life
and Ottawa for a conscience.
But Iím most at home in the backwoods
with flowering weeds and islands of trees
the farmers circumnavigate with ploughs
with little things that go on in the grass
as if everything that went on in the rest of the universe
were of absolutely no concern to them.
Ants on the chicory.
The fox is in its den.
I can see more space in a grain of sand
than a dragonflyís got places
to plant pot on crown land.
And I like the way time stops
when nobodyís watching
and thereís something ageless about aging
I hadnít noticed before
that makes me feel Iíve been here forever
and none of my questions
about what human beings are doing
walking around on the earth
really mattered anymore
now that Iíve found a place
for my homelessness
in Canadian folklore.
I used to feel trivial
surrounded by so much that was majestic.
Sunsets out over the Pacific
that put poppies to shame
and the savage pyramids of the pharoanic Rockies
too young to have an afterlife
worth the time and effort that has to go into it.
who needs hieroglyphs
when youíve got the Burgess Shale?
I used to feel small
scurrying around in the shadows
of the tall imperium next door
under the feet of a brontosaur
waiting for a meteor
like my only hope
to get this dinosaur off my back.
I donít have the genes to dominate a species
and evolution when you get right down to it
isnít much of an achievement
when all it amounts to
is trying to make up for what you lack.
In art that means
thereís lots of grants for ingenuity
but none for genius.
The first painting goes up on the fridge.
The second jumps from a bridge
just to show them
how creative it is.
But that was years ago
when the only things I didnít doubt
I learned to weather things
like a whistling cherub in the corner of a map
that tells you which way the wind is blowing
by the gps of its cheeks.
I tasted the weather for myself
and found out all that rant
they taught me in highschool
about the pathetic fallacy not being true
was just scienceís way
of looking at snow like a labcoat.
I am a Canadian poet.
It really does rain when I do.
All works Copyright (c) 2012 by Patrick White.
Former poet laureate of Ottawa. Eight books of poetry: Poems (Soft Press), God in the Rafters,(Borealis), Stations
(Commonerís Books), Homage to Victor Jara, (Steel Rail Press), Seventeen Odes, (Fiddlehead Books), Orpheus on Highbeam,
(Anthos Books), Habitable Planets, New and Selected Poems, (Cormorant Books), and The Benjamin Chee Chee Elegies,
(General Store Publishing). His work has been translated into five languages and appears in hundreds of national and
international periodicals and anthologies, including the likes of Poetry (Chicago), Dalhousie Review, Texas Quarterly,
the Fiddlehead, and Georgia Review, etc. Winner of the Archibald Lampman Award, Canadian Literature Award,
Benny Nicholas Award for Creative Writing, he was also a runner-up for the Milton Acorn Peopleís Poet Award. Founding
editor and publisher of Anthos, a Journal of the Arts, Anthos Books, and producer-host of Radio Anthos, a popular literary
radio show. George Woodcock wrote of his Selected Poems in the Ottawa Citizen: He promises to be one our best and best
respected poets. Sharon Drache, in the Kingston Whig Standard: He might well win the Nobel Prize one day in his own
inimitable way. And Orbis, (London, England), has said of his work: His images are strong, lyrical, moving. He dares and
All selections are copyrighted by their respective authors. Any reproduction of
these poems, without the express written permission of the authors, is
YGDRASIL: A Journal of the Poetic Arts - Copyright (c) 1993 - 2012 by
Klaus J. Gerken.
The official version of this magazine is available on Ygdrasil's
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