Sonnets from the Portuguese 24
Let the world’s sharpness, like a clasping knife,
Shut in upon itself and do no harm
In this close hand of Love, now soft and warm,
And let us hear no sound of human strife
After the click of the shutting. Life to life —
I lean upon thee, Dear, without alarm,
And feel as safe as guarded by a charm
Against the stab of worldlings,...
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d...
Sons of Orion
for Alton Sterling, Andrew Loku, Philando Castile, et al.
I wanna live, son. But which son are you?
There where the rivers are made
of moonshine and the lights still wait,
move by the music of the dealer’s bootleg CDs.
Have you left the street-side, the Rigel stage
for another watery home?
i twist and gasp
open and close my mouth
searching for air
whenever a sturgeon is caught in the rainy river
the feel of strange hands touching my body
to be free
to go where i want to go
the impact of stick or rock on bone
the splash of colour...
I Have Something to Tell You
I’ve come to talk to you about shaving cuts
I was waiting across the road
right over there
for the light to turn
and you were on the other side
fumbling with change at the newspaper box
don’t buy this one buy this one
pointing to identical newspapers
I cut myself shaving
Under the Answering Sky
I can manage being alone,
can pace out convivial hope
across my managing ground.
Someone might call, later.
What do the dead make of us
that we’d flay ourselves trying
to hear them though they may
sigh at such close loneliness.
I would catch, not my echo,
but their guarantee that this...
Two Hours on the Train
During two hours on the train
I rerun the film of my life
Two minutes per year on average
Half an hour for childhood
Another half-hour for prison
Love, books, wandering
take up the rest
the hand of my companion
gradually melts into mine
and her head on my shoulder
is as light as a dove
he played injun in gods country
where boys proved themselves clean
dumb beasts who could cut fire
out of the whitest sand
he played english across the trail
where girls turned plum wild
garlic and strained words
through the window of night
A Short Story of Falling
It is the story of the falling rain
to turn into a leaf and fall again
it is the secret of a summer shower
to steal the light and hide it in a flower
and every flower a tiny tributary
that from the ground flows green and momentary
is one of water’s wishes and this tale
hangs in a seed-head smaller...
Now I set out across a minefield,
space having taken all I owned, I’m starting over
from a point where every pebble may explode
beneath my shoe and the flowers blaze up
behind my body as I gasp for air,
although in this world I’ve never known
either flames or dragons or the fury of war
in these lands where the sky was always calm...
I threw away your letters.
Years ago, just like that.
The tight black swirls,
circles and strokes
filling fine sheets —
I would not see them again.
The last items I had left.
The dates. The phrases.
The things you said. Forfeited.
Crushed. Melted. Dissolved....
howlin at the moon
take the moon
nd take a star
when you don’t
know who you are
paint the picture in your hand
nd roll on home
take my fear
nd take the hunger
take my body
when i’m younger
paint the picture in your hand
nd roll on home
take my ghost
nd make the...
Illegalese: Floodgate Dub
(for the Chinese maroons, British Columbia, 1999–2001)
if you arrive in the belly of a rusting imagination, there are grounds to
outlaw you. but Canada is a remix B-side chorus in the globalization
loop: a sampled track of “back home”-desiring, “old days”-admiring,
democracy-dreaming, racism-reaping homesickness that even
The limpness of a bird's legs in flight.
The place, the question, the question.
The place, the interest, the question.
There is the place.
There is what you do in the place.
There is your belief.
There is the faith in a knowing.
There is your instruction
by the gods.
There is your instruction as you are told.
There is your relief...
There’s a joke that ends with — huh?
It’s the bomb saying here is your father.
Now here is your father inside
your lungs. Look how lighter
the earth is — afterward.
To even write father
is to carve a portion of the day
out of a bomb-bright page.
Say the Names
— say the names say the names
and listen to yourself
an echo in the mountains
say them like your soul
was listening and overhearing
and you dreamed you dreamed
you were a river
and you were a river
— not the flat borrowed imitations
of foreign names...
Both guitars run trebly. One noodles
Over a groove. The other slushes chords.
Then they switch. It’s quite an earnest affair.
They close my eyes. I close their eyes. A horn
Blares its inner air to brass. A girl shakes
Her ass. Some dude does the same. The music’s
Gone moot. Who doesn’t love it when the bass
Doesn’t hide? When...
At the heart there is a hollow sun
by which we are constructed and undone
Behind the mirror. Favourite place to hide.
I didn't breathe. They looked so long I died.
The Novel As Manuscript
An ars poetica
I remember the death, in Russia,
of postage stamps
like immense museum masterpieces
wrapped in linen, tea stained,
with hemp for strapping...
these colored stamps designed for foreign places
were even printed during famine—
so when they vanished...
I’ll Teach You Cree
with the tip of my spring tongue, ayîki frog
your mouth will be the web
catching apihkêsis words, spider
a crawling-out ceremony
that cannot be translated.
hâw, pîkiskwê! Now, speak!
I’ll teach you Cree, nêhiyawêwin...
Gotta love us brown girls, munching on fat, swinging blue hips,
decked out in shells and splashes, Lawdie, bringing them woo hips.
As the jukebox teases, watch my sistas throat the heartbreak,
inhaling bassline, cracking backbone and singing thru hips.
Like something boneless, we glide silent, seeping ‘tween floorboards,
St John’s Burns Down for the Umpteenth Time
Let’s say the fix was in. Let’s say history,
Being human and thus short on ideas,
Made change from an old bag of tricks. Say this
Was something reported as news
On a day when your life came to no good.
The new homeless drifting from row houses
Along streets tamped down by the heedless
And paved in afterthought. Out of hollows...
What Is Poetry
(a twelve-tone poem)
trite yap show
rosy twit heap
a wept history
it’s yawp rot, eh
a wisher potty
a power shitty
a whitey sport
poetry is what
whips yo tater
pets it awry, oh
oh, twisty pear
two hearts yip
it’s paw theory...
Poem For Duncan Campbell Scott
(Canadian poet who “had a long and distinguished career
in the Department of lndian Affairs, retiring in 1932.”
The Penguin Book of Canadian Verse)
Who is this black coat and tie?
Christian severity etched in the lines
he draws from his mouth. Clearly a noble man
who believes in work and mission. See
how he rises from...
Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border
It is never easy
Walking with an invisible border
Separating my left and right foot
I feel like an illegitimate child
Forsaken by my parents
At least I can claim innocence
Since I did not ask to come
Into this world
I Feel the Sun
Down a long, long corridor
I keep walking…
—A window straight ahead so bright it hurts the eyes,
reflective walls on both sides.
I stand with the sunlight.
—The sunlight is so intense!
So warm people stop in their tracks,
so bright people hold their breath.
All the light in...
The books sit on the shelf, a row of coma patients
in a ward, a series of selves no longer able to learn
and trapped at the point of injury: the last page.
At the donor clinic I offer my arm to the spigot
of the needle and think, as I see the bag fill
with blood, there goes some of me. But that’s a lie:
Your best friend falls in love
and her brain turns to water.
You can watch her lips move,
making the customary sounds
but you can see they’re merely
words, flimsy as bubbles rising
from some golden sea where she
swims sleek and exotic as a mermaid.
It’s always like that.
You stop for lunch in a crowded
Chemo Side Effects: Memory
Where is the word I want?
in the thicket,
about to pinch the
berry, my fingerpads
I can hear it
scrabbling like a squirrel
on the oak’s far side.
Word, please send over this black stretch of ocean
your singular flare,...
I've Tasted My Blood
If this brain’s over-tempered
consider that the fire was want
and the hammers were fists.
I’ve tasted my blood too much
to love what I was born to.
But my mother’s look
was a field of brown oats, soft-bearded;
her voice rain and air rich with lilacs:
and I loved her too much to like
how she dragged...
We have each tried to read to him, with no success, except for James, who read him all of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes
I was there, in the first of the long-term care centres, when he finished the story,
And we all shared the narrator’s sadness about giving up his donkey,
Not having realized that he loved her; unable to...
Coin Exhibit, British Museum.
Their misshapenness strikes the table in tiny splashes,
like still-cooling splatters of silver. Stater and shekel,
mina and obol. Persia’s bullion had a lion and bull.
Athens an owl, Messana a hare, a jar for Terone, Melos
a pomegranate. Call it museum money, written...
Sometimes we are led through the doorway
by a child, sometimes
by a stranger, always a matter of grace changing
the past, for if there is anything we must change
it is the past. To look back
and see another map.
Love enough to fill
a shoe, a suitcase, a bit of ink,
a painting, a child’s eyes at a chalkboard,...
My Meadow, My Twilight
Sure, there’s a spell the leaves can make, shuddering,
and in their lying suddenly still again — flat, and still,
like time itself when it seems unexpectedly more
available, more to lose therefore, more to love, or
But to look up from the leaves, remember,
is a choice also, as if up from the shame of it...
When I began to write, I didn’t know
each of my words would bit by bit remove
things from the world and in return leave blank
spaces. That poems would begin to take
the place of my own homeland, mother, father,
first love, and second youth, and what I write
would fade from this world, trade its solid being
The trick to building houses was making sure
they didn’t taste good. The ocean’s culinary taste
was growing more sophisticated and occasionally
its appetite was unwieldy. It ate boats and children,
the occasional shoe. Pants. A diamond ring.
Hammers. It ate promises and rants. It snatched up
I’ve heard the phrase between you
and me too many times to believe
it to be true, but between me and you
there was Cocteau, wagging his testimonial
finger, as usual, while flat out on the floor
with my arms in receipt of the flower
of thought, palms upwards, I envisaged
The Cold Green Element
At the end of the garden walk
the wind and its satellite wait for me;
their meaning I will not know
until I go there,
but the black-hatted undertaker
Let the Ponies Out
oh papa, to have you drift up, some part of you drift up through
fresh water into the teal plate of sky soaking foothills, papa,
to have your breath leave, escape you, escape the
weight of bone, muscle and organ, escape you, to rise up, to loft,
till you are all breath filling the room, rising, escaping the white...
the re-invention of oneself
through the tongues of whispering mountains
the re-arrangement of the universe
because a spider wrapped her legs around a star
the remembering of stone’s story
while walking down a dried riverbed
being serenaded by crickets singing the blues
because everyone except them has...
Here at Woodlands, Moriah,
these thirty-five years later,
still I could smell her fear.
Then, the huddled hills would not have
calmed her, now as they do me.
Then, the view did not snatch
the panting breath, now, as it does
these thirty-five years later, to the day,
I relive the journey of my salmon mother.
Chinese Chimes: Nine Detours of the Yellow River
you are unaware of your obscure sources
but you are explicitly sure of the vast sea
as your final destination
you always frown with your brownish wrinkles
but you prefer a nonprofessional smile on your face
your only luggage of life
I dreaded those future aeons when I would not be present —
an endless succession of days I would miss, with their own
news and songs and styles of machine.
— John Updike, “On Being a Self Forever”
No, nothing much has changed.
A year later, the world is still one you’d recognize...
I Have Not Lingered in European Monasteries
I have not lingered in European monasteries
and discovered among the tall grasses tombs of knights
who fell as beautifully as their ballads tell;
I have not parted the grasses
or purposefully left them thatched....
It was down that road he brought me, still
in the trunk of his car. I won’t say it felt right,
but it did feel expected. The way you know
your blood can spring like a hydrant.
That September, the horseflies were...
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a...
Lagoons, Hanlan’s Point
before the sun’s liquid
spilled gradually, flooding
the island’s cool cellar,
there was the boat
and the still lagoons,
Wild Nights — Wild Nights!
Wild Nights — Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Futile — the Winds —
To a Heart in port —
Done with the Compass —
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden —
Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor — Tonight —
Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
in space and time:...
Homage to the Mineral of the Onion (I)
In the onion, there’s
something of fire. That fire known as
Fog. The onion is the way
fog has of entering the earth.
Into the soil. Through the green leaves of the onion....
Thou poem of lost attention and half try,
do you fear more the inner world or outer?
I do not love the self less than the others,
my name is legion and my mouth one cry....
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading — treading — till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through —
And when they all were seated,...
The New Experience
I was ready for a new experience.
All the old ones had burned out.
They lay in little ashy heaps along the roadside
And blew in drifts across the fairgrounds and fields.
I too, dislike it: there are things that are important
beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it,
one discovers that there is in...
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —
And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard — ...
like the beginnings — o odales o adagios — of islands
from under the clouds where I write the first poem
its brown warmth now that we recognize them...
From Chapter I
for Dick Higgins
Writing is inhibiting. Sighing, I sit, scribbling in ink
this pidgin script. I sing with nihilistic witticism,
disciplining signs with trifling gimmicks — impish
hijinks which highlight stick sigils. Isn’t...
O Captain! My Captain!
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,...
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?...
Holy Sonnets: Death, be not proud
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the...
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’...
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d any thing.
“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;...
Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden’s end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
We Wear the Mask
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, —
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while...
When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
Contract into a span.”
So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls
The tide rises, the tide falls,
The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
Along the sea-sands damp and brown
The traveller hastens toward the town,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.
Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls;
The little waves, with their soft, white...
Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
Me it sucked first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, or shame, or loss of maidenhead,
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pampered swells...
The Author to Her Book
Thou ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, expos’d to publick view,
Made thee in raggs, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judg).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
How One Winter Came in the Lake Region
For weeks and weeks the autumn world stood still,
Clothed in the shadow of a smoky haze;
The fields were dead, the wind had lost its will,
And all the lands were hushed by wood and hill,
In those grey, withered days.
Behind a mist the blear sun rose and set,
At night the...