Time took your love – now time will take its time.
‘Move on’, you hear, but to what howling emptiness?
The kinder place is closest to your dead
where you lounge in confident no-motion, no thought
of budging. Constant in analytic sorrow, you abide. It even makes you happy when you’re feeling blue. Jump up, jump back. Flail on the spot.
I can disprove this ‘moving on’ nostrum. Do the loco-motion in my living room.
This poem contains brief excerpts from the lyrics to ‘The Loco-Motion’, words and music by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, originally performed by Eva Boyd as Little Eva.
Write, write, never stop. Tonight and all the nights to come. When I am at last face to face with myself. And must take stock. No more uniform. No longer distractedly pacing a measured area for the regulation exercise period. No more obeying wretched orders. My number still on the other side of the door. When I am done with drinking, eating, urinating, defecating. Done with talking, with calling things by their worn-out names. I light endless cigarettes whose smoke emerges from my lungs in broken chains, bitter swirls of rejection. Prison night has gobbled up the artificial light of the day. Ragged stars populate the vault of my visions.
When I stop, my voice begins to sound very peculiar. As though unknown notes were clinging to its cords, driven by strange storms from all those zones where life and death watch and spy on one another, two oddly hued wild animals, each crouched ready to spring, ready to slash and destroy the other’s essential nature.
I can live now only by wrenching myself away from myself, by wrenching away from myself my points of rupture and suture, those places where I most acutely feel splits and junctures, where I cut myself into pieces so as to return to life in unfathomable elsewheres: earth, roots, trees of intensity, granular effervescene under the sun.
Some similes act like heat shields for re-entry
to reality: a tramp in flames on the floor.
We can say Flame on! to invoke the Human Torch
from the Fantastic Four. We can switch to art
and imagine Dali at this latitude
doing CCTV surrealism.
We could compare him to a protest monk
sat up the way he is. We could force the lock
of memory: at the crematorium
my uncle said the burning bodies rose
like Draculas from their boxes.
But his layers
burn brightly, and the salts locked in his hems
give off the colours of a Roman candle,
and the smell is like a foot-and-mouth pyre
in the middle of the city he was born in,
and the bin bags melt and fuse him to the pavement
and a pool forms like the way he wet himself
sat on the school floor forty years before,
and then the hand goes up. The hand goes up.
I have been thinking about the music for my funeral –
Liszt’s transcription of that Schumann song, for instance,
‘Dedication’ – inwardness meets the poetry of excess –
When you lead me out of your apartment to demonstrate
In the Halloween-decorated lobby the perfect acoustic
Of the stairwell, and stand among pumpkins, cobwebby
Skulls, dancing skeletons, and blow kisses at the ceiling,
Whistling Great War numbers – ‘Over There’, ‘It’s a Long,
Long Way’, ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ (the refrain) –
As though for my father who could also whistle them,
Trench memories, your eyes closed, your head tilted back,
Your cheeks filling up with air and melody and laughter.
I hold the banister. I touch your arm. Listen, Lucy,
There are songbirds circling high up in the stairwell.
The book that says the President is a friend of trees is a book of lies! The President should read the one about the little mouse that drove a car and got his girlfriend pregnant and they had to fly a rubberband-powered airplane over a stack of newspapers. Not a tree in sight. Not a tree in the whole book. Another book that he might pick up casually could strip the veil of illusion from his eyes: pretty women, the unpleasant foot odors of. But that is only what it appears to be about. It is a book about how to have a big piece missing from your head and live.
And then there was no more Empire all of a sudden.
Its victories were air, its dominions dirt:
Burma, Canada, Egypt, Africa, India, the Sudan.
The map that had seeped its stain on a schoolboy’s shirt
like red ink on a blotter, battles, long sieges.
Dhows and feluccas, hill stations, outposts, flags
fluttering down in the dusk, their golden aegis
went out with the sun, the last gleam on a great crag,
with tiger-eyed turbaned Sikhs, pennons of the Raj
to a sobbing bugle. I see it all come about
again, the tasselled cortege, the clop of the tossing team
with funeral pom-poms, the sergeant major’s shout,
the stamp of boots, then the volley; there is no greater theme
than this chasm-deep surrendering of power
the whited eyes and robes of surrendering hordes,
red tunics, and the great names Sind, Turkistan, Cawnpore,
dust-dervishes and the Saharan silence afterwards.
A dragonfly’s biplane settles and there, on the map,
the archipelago looks as if a continent fell
and scattered into fragments; from Pointe du Cap
to Moule à Chique, bois-canot, laurier cannelles,
canoe-wood, spicy laurel, the wind-churned trees
echo the African crests; at night, the stars
are far fishermen’s fires, not glittering cities,
Genoa, Milan, London, Madrid, Paris,
but crab-hunters’ torches. This small place produces
nothing but beauty, the wind-warped trees, the breakers
on the Dennery cliffs, and the wild light that loosens
a galloping mare on the plain of Vieuxfort make us
merely receiving vessels of each day’s grace,
light simplifies us whatever our race or gifts.
I’m content as Kavanagh with his few acres;
for my heart to be torn to shreds like the sea’s lace,
to see how its wings catch colour when a gull lifts.
Ruth Smith, Executive Director
The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry
363 Parkridge Crescent
Oakville, Ontario L6M 1A8