Category Archives: Poetry

New and old poems

Settling back into a familiar environment in Ottawa these last few months has meant, for some reason, that I have not given myself the space to sit and write. I have time. And sometimes volition. What I lack is the ability to overcome the inertia of life’s moments .

One day, I’ll sit down and try to put words to the feeling of comfort, love, freedom; and the stifling claustrophobia, the nostalgia of home. The work of putting into words what it is to be alive is less of a project and more of a process – one that I’d like to continue. Sometimes, when I realize it’s been ages since I last wrote, I revisit old writing, hoping to spark something inside me. And it often works – enough to get me writing, even if the final product isn’t worthy of anyone else’ eyes.

New and old poetry:

Two years ago, I spent 6 months in Nunavik in the small Inuit village of Kangiqsualujjuaq. It was a beautiful, tragic, joyful, inspiring, exasperating, humbling time. I wrote a lot while up there, and after a few great editing sessions with my talented and dear cousin Stephan, and a lot of time to settle, a handful of pieces are as ready as they’ll be for the eyes of others. For more on the North, read Martha Baillie’s In Search of Heinrich Schlogel.  A fantastic novel and meditation on the North.

* 2018

**Nunavik (2015-16)

*

You have watched me through a crook of  branches

How have you seen me, moving through the years?

parting their stocks, husking cobs with steady, wizening hands?

am I strong? Do I stand an obelisk amongst the cracking shafts

bent in fingers of October howl? have I had purpose, my teeth

in peach-soft kernels? have I been straight and sure, smiling wisely?

 

these years you have watched me through a crook of branches

you have thought me strong, unwavering, bristles of adventure

growing on my chin

 

did you see the crackling light, my knees

in a rasping desert copse? did you see drops of blood parched

and flaking on my shins?

 

you have made something without my bulk. covered

in the pencil sketches of a child’s dream, a rose-coloured tunnel

you have become God

 

but you will be nothing

at the end

 

Spring

the blizzard grinds into soft flesh cheeks of spring

pelt the world with frozen lattices

origami into the ruffle of feathers

unflinching on a grey and swaying branch

it has transcended old hearths and rattling doorknobs

strangled failing army officers with hemorrhoids,

oxidized throats, chafed the angry skin of brittle limbs,

torn at family fabric

an overgrown garden of tiny feathers lie

for months, til they are consumed by a lithography of soil.

you sweat into the prickly bend behind your knees which is

soaked in expectations, the warming wind, a sun that is

toxic with eyes, and pins you to the same fluttering spot

where your head spun like an owl

 

**

the cycle

the kid everyone knows

is the kid whose insides

decorate one                       smoke peeled

room, one                       busy

funeral                       parlour

with traffic to match

the birth rate

what sage prophesied

a naked man, worn-out

leather draped on bone,

with a beard–

running over bearable

embers of blue ice

to a crack where he slips

beneath the roof

to look for mussels –

would never

sit down again

he would disappear

die?

a knot is not hard to tie

a loop is not hard to tie

a noose is not hard to tie

its like this, and then this,

I tie it, you remember

(actually, everyone does)

and then you’re done

you’re under that ice

it’s like when you put your  feet

into the snow, or your hands,

long enough they burn

and the burn goes away and then

you just don’t feel anything

anymore. once you’re down there

everything just turns off

even your ear drums freeze

so you can’t hear them talking

its not bliss, its just nothing

who never imagined

the ruinous contents of a bottle

half-empty, half-empty?

 

which mother gave her life

to a boy, her son, to eat

and walk into the warmth

of a far off winter camp

and where is she now?

 

where is her spirit in these

surrogate bottles?

 

End of a day

A stomach hollow emptied out each night

like the frozen body of a skinned fox in the snow

(soon it will be sinew and bones only)

 

when sun slides behind winter taiga – docile white ptarmigans

from afar, howling violent on approach – heaps

that grey and disappear behind ceaseless wind

there is not enough meat in the hollow to hang hopes

just frail sinew of that forgotten fox

twangs and resonates in the yawning glut of night

 

yellow globes in the river’s black bellows where

hooded children silenced by gutting wind, frozen stones

no more words

 

surely the little beast went blind before drifting away

 

it is an irreversible hollow and the night goes on

 

 

Nicholas: 2 poems

I

the birds are back

twitter in treeline brush

stunted spruce.

they are late. he has gone.

no more

steady muscles

silent in ripping wind.

 

his soft mouth pulled

a squinting smile.

 

snow melts in May; scrapes rock

clean and boggy – a cigarette butt

caught on granite fills its plastic

pores with brown, living water.

 

It is not Nicholas’, his hand

can hold nothing now

for the rest of time.

 

II

this is a poem for you

even though you can´t hear me

even though everything goes on

while you decompose

 

I wrote something else about

you, but it just sits

waiting for time to forget,

you´ll go too, I know

 

you´ve already faded

like everyone does –

give it a few years

you´ll hardly be a synapse

 

just flowers and permafrost

ok, I´ll probably never forget

you, and your sisters won´t

and your brothers –

 

My mind from a rocking chair

I rearranged the jars in the kitchen cupboard today

I moved the peanut butter into the fridge, shuffled

the dusty barley one spot to the left, put almonds above the stove

hid my guilty nutella behind something – I don’t even remember –

maybe the oats. the little vitamin jars I left right where they were

it snowed – not like the rains that come and go

old passions that turn blue and indifferent –

no, this snow was steady: hard, brash and delicate.

I sat in my rocking chair reading a story by Hugh Hood

 

wandering the streets of Montreal talking and laughing

with my lover between kisses as we passed

garden-rimmed brick mansions bantering and drawling

with the whiny well enunciated voice of a grainy

 

Jimmy Stewart, or a bespectacled newscaster talking

out of one side of his mouth, puffing into the studio’s

carpets and glass. Mr. Fenessden – was that his name?

– was remembering the drive to Williamstown

 

he was dying. an old bearded friend of mine in Indiana

told me the older you get the more you think about

your own death. I wondered am I old? between feeling and not,

warm yellow rays moved through leafy trees

overhanging Mr. Fenessden’s shimmering Raisin River

our lovers’ cheeks brushed to rosy by the sharpness of autumn

our eyes still warm, still brash and delicate. when I looked

up from my book, out from a petrified window

the snow continued its numbing project, powdering the icy street

 

with arctic air. some local Inuit boys ripped down the road on their ATVs

I finished what was left of the oily grilled peppers I had eaten for dinner

I rummaged through cupboards for sticky and sweet

managing a batch of almost healthy almost vegan energy balls

I thought of Mr. Fenessden’s dilapidated yellow house, the one

 

he never bought, crumbling under the weight of years

under the steeple of a scorched and sleepy town

his life whirred by me like a film real, a steady thing

like the snow – but there was time yet until the night

put darkness beneath my eyelids

so I got to shuffling around my cupboard

but I didn’t move the vitamin jars.

 

 

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Poem from Florianopolis

In Floripa

 

rows of waves stack up on the pink night’s glassy beach

not even thoughts of your body pulled out by the current

and into oblivion – not even the thought of an indifferent

and aqueous murder

 

can drown the fizz of boiling waves

where they meet the land, covering it

with a shining mirror, bubbling as the clams breath

miniscule breaths through grains of sand and into the distant moon

it’s dark out, but the ocean never dies

not with the sun, not with the earth

 

ssshhhhhhhh, ffffffhhhhaaa, ssssss, pppsshhhh

your thickness speaks to me

shatters on the sand for billions of years,

ppp-hhhhh, ssshhh, I listen to my blood, you listen

to your heart beat

 

another day against granite, I watch the turquoise heave

a tanker out on the curve of the earth

like a bathtub toy in the haze,

patuuump, pppfffff, tetuunk, cccrrrssshhhh,

 

I see my body face down

power shatters me

 

to unrecognizable pieces,

I could sink to the bottom like a toy

nobody would know

and the ocean patuump, ccrrshsshshh, fffffffff

 

I breath into

the unreachable horizon, blue

sooths my granite, hhhuuumm, ssshhh,

 

I breath into the trough of a wave

it fills my lungs forever.

Poem from Cusco

(Here’s a little something I wrote back in June while living in Cusco, and reading and reacting to Pablo Neruda’s epic poem Canto General)

Untitled response to Canto General and Cusco

I came looking for blood in the stones,

strands of colour to weave into the open sky

cut apart by a rim of black blades.

 

I came to look for red in earthy rivers

that run down the tilting streets when it rains,

I came because I know adobe has a sanguine hue.

 

***

 

When time was young, when water was mist and rock was river,

when your hands mashed the roots and flowers

of man’s mortal mix, you imagined us

onto stone roads before wounds, before gashes,

before the blood that I came looking for in this city.

 

You knew where to sink your hands in ancient grains,

warm and wise to paint with a sage’s fingers

your memories of birth, of king condors hunting empty skies,

waiting feet on ancient tracks, waiting beside the bundled alpaca,

waiting for death to come in every moment,

 

every rain, every drought, every fall,

every thorn, every sickening headache,

each rotten potato, each death each day.

You knew to wait, to melt the stones to molten,

to reveal a perfect creation full of sin.

 

I came to find the blood of these stones

after you drew their makers from delicate leaves

and the stained and extenuated coins of yore,

the mists that breathed once for a cordillera

and twice to soothe wounds with the juice of a cactus.

 

After you stroked with your lover’s hands

the threads of a thousand stories, a million deaths,

forgotten in the jungle’s lust that trickles up the mountainside,

that drips from heaving bodies in the sierra’s ecstasy

where smoothness turns to hard stone, hard steel.

 

Your delicate fingers

opened mouths and traced pain to ancient

misty vegetation in the thinning hills

but your careful strands have since been gathered

and woven into the sky, planted in the multicoloured terraces,

 

slipped into invisible cracks and sewn into the fabric of

each baby’s bundle, each separate breath

a memory of mountains and the black condor

that lives on drifting winds and febrile beasts.

 

***

 

A blanket lies over bald hills, babies in awayus

on their mothers’ backs learn to breathe

the rhythm of their home under a pall, under a roof

or the ceiling of a billion stars

 

that watched Atahualpa’s fingers drop a Bible

to the earth, that watched saints marry into Inti’s pantheon

and melt into the eternal soils, that watched 180 men

drive swords into Pachamama’s womb till she bore a bastard.

 

After you left, the wave of a Red hand

swept the brown faces of babies from their mothers’ backs

forever into a wrath of bullets and jungle camps, obscured

even from the condor’s searching eye

 

And in the red-brown earth, corn bathed,

potatoes drowned, weapons were buried

by the blood of government guns. Then came

the tortured lips, sewn shut

 

by the shining winter sun. They may speak

of something in the summer, but words sink

and drown, smoothed over by the roar of rain,

the sweat of rape diluted in rivers,

 

the blood of steel buried by rocks

and temples to an idol God who watched it all

erode into the soil, let it grow into leaves

and pine needles, into the sentinels,

 

the stoic citadels of black and ice

that watch the world unmoved.

Each stitch made is another death,

each strand is tinted with the vermillion sins

of other hands and other fingers.

Come back! Come back! Let your soft fingers

massage secrets from between the carnal stones

and if you find no words, give voice to the pain,

and if there be no voice, then let there be birth again.

Lake from the sky

From up here

I can see your belly

infected by an aquarium

of smog

seamless braids of blue and grey

paint inside the glass of your shores.

Disappearing disease,

I move

away

and you begin to shine

What I’m supposed to do

My work

is to sew the mosaic of these days together

without weeping,

and find silken strands in rivers of sweat,

down to a quarrel’s bitter oil

and the crimson ecstasies of a bed

My reasonless hand searches the

strands, combs a mane of moments for meaning,

fumbles my sunsets into some frame

by still words of written volumes

it’s never leafed, that hang here

like a mist

My job is the weaker proposition:

that engineless push from a foliage

of smiles

to the violence of squares, blocks, cubes, days of eight,

days of ten, days of hours, and counting

jewels in a shining ship

that runs up on sands,  grains of sand.

Love is the strongest proposition:

not a luster’s tongue but a mother’s

guiltless gifts that stitch all these days

into one blackened quilt.

 

But up, up,

up goes the smoke of burning suns,

up with love, coughing into a sky without me

 

My work

is seen like fragments,

singed squares of fabric,

disappearing embers into the goo of time

and love, it turns out grains of sand

 

Really, goo of time is my only work

done

down to my dithering

 

I found a glistening day of still, a passage on skin

of earth, a mouthful

of bliss,

another indifference emptying out

a stomach into the cloud of days

that float in my memory.

I found precious stones in the belly of my lover,

precious stones in my thousand sobs,

parts peeled away, pulling a fabric,

the strands are free