Poem of the Week Archives

from A Part Song

What is the first duty of a mother to a child?
At least to keep the wretched thing alive – Band
Of fierce cicadas, stop this shrilling.

My daughter lightly leaves our house.
The thought rears up: fix in your mind this
Maybe final glimpse of her. Yes, lightning could.

I make this note of dread, I register it.
Neither my note nor my critique of it
Will save us one iota. I know it. And.

The Laugh

The inverse of language is like a laughter that seeks to destroy language, a laughter infinitely reverberated.
                              – EMMANUEL LEVINAS

The laugh that ate the snake and
runs through the city dressed in a sneeze, the mischief
done in these sly
passages of time, when the tongue is
severed from the voice and
fed to the weather, when the running
patter of catbirds simply
swallows the agenda, nothing to be held back,
nothing rescued in a catch-phrase or figure, your
house is on fire
and your children are gone.
When evenings pass as unseen
immaculate ships, and folk –
everyone is suddenly folk – rush to their porches
and lift their faces to this
effervescence of air,
wishing.
                Wishing what?
Just wishing.

from My Dear Double

My double
an old acquaintance
whom I visit with moderation
He is a shameless fellow
who plays on my shyness
and has the knack of profiting
from my distractedness
He is the shadow
who follows or precedes me
aping my walk
He even winkles his way into my dreams
and speaks the language of my demons
fluently
Despite our close intimacy
he is still a stranger to me
I neither hate nor love him
for after all
he is my double
the proof by default
of my existence

A List

Once, I would make certain my name
did not appear in any directory. Now
I dream I am back in different times and places,
and the people I remember I loved
are not there, and the places not at all
as they were, and it is as if I have belonged
to some underground organization
set up to allow no member
to betray another – no member ever
knowing who his associates actually are.

Now I agree to be listed, I ask to be listed –
and hope that this will make it easy to find me.
And now I dream of a list. On it
everything I and those I have been with
have ever truly felt or done is recorded
in the clearest detail. In the same dream
is a man who walks alongside me and knows
nothing but the entire list by heart,
and will recite it to the moment I die,
and then he too will disappear.

Farther / Father

Our dead call out our dead / you show your filthy face
You useless tit / you runt / you piece of shit / a shame
Unleashed by plain-talk / begging before a threshing
From the old butcher / your leather strap / unbelted
Crescent buckle for a skinning / hiding / each of us /
Slickened with blood / held down in your hinterland
Each barren mile unabating / say mercy.

What dwells in the dog’s sleep / unbounded / darkness
The closer you are to the sun the more difficult you are
To see / penumbral / who runs from whom / until kept
Down / cowering / I do not move / you will not move.

You are no less dangerous than you were as you drag
Your bones / field stones / we never once wept upon
The firmament / eight children left with the lone wife
Who would not carry the quiet / the final cardiac pall
Paled thirty years / crescent moons / scars strapped
Below the heart.

A finisher with a surly disposition / better run boy
Run / before the shadow on an August day / flight
Of the dove interrupted / who should feel shame /
Worthless idlers / caught neurotic / we are taught
You will not be tamed.

Dirige / domine / deus meus / ignominious father / aberration
Uttered solemn / all you missed is nothing / noli me tangere /
Don’t touch me.

Each child dragged by its hair across the linoleum /
Given lip / good for nothing / illicit / dusk / dusk-lit
Let these bygones / cease holding on me.

We brace in the centre / attention / nothing more than this
Far-fetched ruckus / rot-gut fuss / a latched door farmhouse
Taunting / the slap-board remains / rants / lashed feverish
Your day’s demands / fraught / cling to the bleak / this filth
In plain sight / I am a man possessed.

Beyond two graves / yours and the child’s / a sole
Pine fallen from a lack of forest / the sun-downed
Dove-wing unfolds / under night / your closeness
Lies too close.

Birch box and iron nails / buried under the cover of lichen
Scrolled years / each letter etched by lime / faded shame
Be a lesser phantom / of the bleak / you will receive no less
No blossom braided in the child’s hair.

Rosemarie / rose of thorn / rose up from prairie
Wherever you have gone you will not take her /
Unfollowed to a harrow / kin / stone / infanta
Sub rosa / only her eyes cry.

Our dire wolf / bewildered / breath taken in plain sight /
Before the sun is farthest south / ruck-sacked / a shadow
Across the face / red zenith / dog-light / Dead Dog Creek
In the faithful hour / his small body filled with buckshot
Carry him / carry him.

Undreamt / the sleeper remains untouched.

Debarker

I just want to go back
into the bush and eat
more blueberries
growing wild as she
drops me off at the lumber
mill I’m fifteen and a janitor
cleaning out the urinals
at the debarker I find
pubic hair the lumberjacks
have left long barbs curled
to “put me in my place”
debarker: where they
keep the machine that
cuts the bark away from
the trees years ago my
blood cousin fell in
and emerged skinless
that was before this brain
sprouted from my spine
in an allegory trees
would be distributed
evenly throughout the
narrative in a gesture
of looking back over
my shoulder as mom
pulls away from the
yard I have on a hard
hat that is orange and too
big over my weird bleached
hair I have only the same
rag for the toilets as the
dishes when I look up the
sky is obscured by smoke
I can never tell what
they’re burning

from A Bit of History

I followed the path into the woods, and just as my friend described, it led across the old railway bridge. The water beneath the bridge was wide and deep and not particularly clear. It seemed to swell as it flowed, as if pushing something unseen downriver. Indeed a large dredging barge was planed in the midst of the river, doing its unseen work. At one point along the right-hand side of the bridge was a bronze plaque, along with three poems and some plastic flowers tacked to the wooden railing. A boy had jumped to his death here some time ago it seemed, and the poems – one by his parents – were there not only to mark the loss, but also as a means of speaking with him directly. The poems, expressed in commonplaces, were not fine art, but they were communication. They were the sort of poems that say what they mean. Amazingly, almost superstitiously, people still fall back on writing poetry when they feel they have something truly important to communicate.

I understand the parents’ wish, despite everything, to speak to their son, though if it were up to me I’d take the poems and flowers down. Yet I too would like to place a poem on the bridge for those who’ve gone under, as well as those of us who’ve stayed above.

On the last night of the year
the swans set sail at evening.
Then among the boats and fireworks
we can see the black water,
the city in the river.
That’s where all our life is,
beyond the grief and failure,
the wake among the reeds.

Down there
down there
what is that place now
but a hill studded with lights
and a pine tree that doesn’t move with the wind?
Wherever there is summer,
wherever the crickets sing to it,
that place is.
But longing is a wind that blows through you,
and like the pine that is nowhere
you do not move.

Someone

someone is dressing up for death today, a change of skirt or tie
eating a final feast of buttered sliced pan, tea
scarcely having noticed the erection that was his last
shaving his face to marble for the icy laying out
spraying with deodorant her coarse armpit grass
someone today is leaving home on business
saluting, terminally, the neighbours who will join in the cortege
someone is paring his nails for the last time, a precious moment
someone’s waist will not be marked with elastic in the future
someone is putting out milkbottles for a day that will not come
someone’s fresh breath is about to be taken clean away
someone is writing a cheque that will be rejected as ‘drawer deceased’
someone is circling posthumous dates on a calendar
someone is listening to an irrelevant weather forecast
someone is making rash promises to friends
someone’s coffin is being sanded, laminated, shined
who feels this morning quite as well as ever
someone if asked would find nothing remarkable in today’s date
perfume and goodbyes her final will and testament
someone today is seeing the world for the last time
as innocently as he had seen it first

a)

he played injun in gods country
where boys proved themselves clean

dumb beasts who could cut fire
out of the whitest1 sand

he played english across the trail
where girls turned plum wild

garlic and strained words
through the window of night

he spoke through numb lips and
breathed frontier2

A Rushed Account of the Dew

I who can blink
to break the spell of daylight

and what a sliding screen between worlds
is a blink

I who can hear the last three seconds in my head
but the present is beyond me
              listen

in this tiny moment of reflexion
I want to work out what it’s like to descend
out of the dawn’s mind

and find a leaf and fasten the known to the unknown
with a liquid cufflink
              and then unfasten

to be brief

to be almost actual

oh pristine example
of claiming a place on the earth
only to cancel