From all you can is the best you can
i once shoved my foot through glass
getting to know my own anger
its patches of stupid
stress is just a socially acceptable
word for fear
i’m ashamed of feeling too much
river edges like a cut
left too long in the sun, a bloated...
From: Incantation: Memory of Water
Tonight, a strand of my great-grandmother’s hair
sashes an amber beer bottle discarded by a tourist.
A white thread of my grandmother’s baptismal robe
is a bangle on a wrist of kelp
waving its arm on St. Phillip’s eastern coast.
The ocean does not hunger
but its mouths gape and hold, like errant flecks
For You Shall Be Called to Account
The ancestors of everyone I’ve let into my body
are gathered in a small room with one window,
no lights. Yes, the room is crowded. Yes, there
are no chairs. Yes, they are talking. Why are we
here, says the Nazi resister. Where are the chairs,
says the Viking (no horns). Where is...
Our mother gave us a sack of weed killer
the size of a toddler, and told us
to spread it on the front lawn.
My sister and I lugged it there.
A light cloud of white powder
drifted up to our nostrils
and down to our tongues, blooming sour
wherever it touched membrane.
We scooped the stuff out with teenaged zeal...
My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears
My grandmother puts her feet in the sink
of the bathroom at Sears
to wash them in the ritual washing for prayer,
because she has to pray in the store or miss
the mandatory prayer time for Muslims
She does it with great poise, balancing
herself with one plump matronly arm
Mariah according to my yt mama
when I try to talk to my mom about what it was like
to grow up surrounded by yt people in the prairies
in the 80s though it seemed like the 50s
she tells me in a so-there tone
that Mariah is a mixee and that people love her
I tell my mom that Mariah has talked publicly
about feeling some type of way about
My sister cries the sea
My sister is crying and crying
her tears grow to salt stormy showers
to rain and to rapids and rivers
they run to the sea to the sea.
My sister sobs softly she knows
she listens at shells and the shoals
she hears from fish sleeping at nightfall
she gathers from mushrooms and moulds.
Ideas of Home
Winter has landed; my boot bucks on a stone
surrounded by snow; I swear, I murmur
Oracabessa. “The rock” is what I call home,
all islanders do, and I’m in blessed Ann Arbour,
mainland, where I found safe harbour under
green sea of trees now becalmed, frosted.
Ideas of Oracabessa propel me forward...
diaspora babies, we
are born of pregnant pauses/spilled
from unwanted wombs/squalling invisible-ink poems/written in the margins
of a map of a place
called No Homeland
old gong gong honoured uncle is the man i won't become/
BBQ pork-scented sorrow and red
bean paste buns he sold on street corners in Chinatown/...
April 30, 2014
Weeds are flattened beneath last year’s tire tracks
others lay burden by the winter’s heavy snow.
The crocuses labor through this thick blanket.
I am sun drained from the bleakness
of the weeks before. Now a tick
I've carried in my hair runs up my neck,
festers on my chin.
I show it no mercy.
The lake-ice is...
Rejected Text for a Tourist Brochure
“I saw my land in the morning
and O but she was fair”
- M.G. Smith, “Jamaica” (1938)
Come see my land
Come see my land
before the particles of busy fires ascend;
before the rivers descend underground;
before coffee plantations
grind the mountains into...
An Online Friend Dies Somewhere Outside the Internet
Freezes, goes blue screen, shuts down. Dead pixel, dark.
Ghost echoes, lossy in the source code. Time zones away,
people who have actually shaken hands with my online friend
stand around a box of his remains. I'm left to click through data,
two-dimensional and without decay, in multiple windows.
Close all until I'm left by the one that...
You sit in the forgotten bone-dry hills
surrounded by sand and sagebrush
above Buffalo Pound Lake.
A day and a night, and then
three more days and nights.
Do not mark the hours. Just sit
until the prickly pear raises its bloom.
A pale thing, translucent moon, sea anemone,
the first thin veil of a...
My father liked them separate, one there,
one here (allá y aquí), as if aware
that words might cut in two his daughter’s heart
(el corazón) and lock the alien part
to what he was—his memory, his name
(su nombre)—with a key he could not claim.
“English outside this door, Spanish inside,”
he said, “...
“The link with poverty is there is there in the man's hat, too, for money has got to be brought in, got to be brought in somehow,” M.D., The Lover.
Poverty is in the language, it is in her gaze back. It seeps and oozes into every poverty-stricken word.
Each word is used sparingly as if each word were currency.
It is everywhere. It...
My dad taught me to never give out my real name, age,
address, or photos. This seemed obvious to me. My fake
birthday entry was always my crush's birthday plus a
random year from the early 1900s. I spent hours making
my avatars look like everything, anything but myself. It
didn’t matter how people (mis)pronounced my name, how
young I was...
C Wing 1
Your mother is missing,
the nurse hovers at the door .
Your mother is missing, a bit louder this time.
As if this was natural, a daily game of let's find the Italian,
the one who doesn't speak English anymore.
In the C wing,
there are 24 rooms, a narrow hallway,
a kitchen, a solarium and a locked entrance....
Departing from Kingston, Jamaica, the British ship Empire Windrush
brought one of the first large groups of postwar Caribbean immigrants to
London in 1948
Dem did sey she pregnance
Cum a sea full a mi
Weighing har down eena har shoe dem
Dresses, coco, mangoes an baggy an arl
Dear Diaspora Child
it's okay if you only learned about your culture from Google
it's okay if you only read your language at the public library
it's okay if you need books to know your ancestral recipes
it's okay if you've never even set foot on the soil of your people
it's okay if your...
It has to be spread out, the skin of this planet,
has to be ironed, the sea in its whiteness;
and the hands keep on moving,
smoothing the holy surfaces.
‘In Praise of Ironing’, Pablo Neruda
It has to be loved the way a laundress loves her linens,
the way she moves her hands...
Women Do This Every Day
At the park I look for Levita,
because our work is the same—
swaying wide-legged over foraging toddlers,
we avert bruises, discourage the consumption
of found objects, interpret primordial languages,
serve fruit from hastily filled containers,
and trade a few stories and questions, so I know
sam says you can’t name your book good boys without a dog
but sam doesn’t know that i am the dog
i am the ultimate mutt and i am telling him this story
at the bar called college hill tavern which looks like a front
for some operation where all the bar stools appear as if
they were staged in under ten minutes and
the girl with the...
from Cross River . Pick Lotus
How to describe sea
To someone who’s never seen it?
He lives to ninety-nine, he wants it, to see it
To walk on its glass surface, to blow the seven trumpets.
At this joyous moment gigantic angel wings
Write prophecy all over the sky. How can I tell him
About sea storms, the chocking...
Praying Herd: For Safe Journey
Draw a line through our scattered bodies. The pattern of fallen calves in this meadow will mirror
the constellation above. Look up. We whip our tails to a silent song:
We sing to the moon, ask for wings to lift our flock to heaven;
We plead to the moon, since she will take pity;
We beg of the moon since she changes, as our circumstance must also...
Men in the Gut
Scrape the inside of sleep the belly wall
tasting like yoghurt cooked broccoli
its emptiness leaving something
on the tongue. Escaping the body
that wants to quit from the inside.
It unlaces you all the tethers sliced
away. When I dream of this body ending
of opening the germ of the pain
I am on the side of the road. My...
How Not to Spill
Dad has creases on his hands so thick they could split with a
poke. He gestures for me to try so I do. His skin bends on a
hinge and out spills every good and bad thing: cattails from our
driveway in Peace River, oil underground, rocks too smooth to
be useful. It washes out the floor so I watch and wade in.
Mom would never spill her...
When I Become You
I'd like to close the distance between us:
where you end, where I begin,
but your skin stops me,
I can't find my way in.
If I could, I'd press every bit of me
until I've slipped inside,
your skin, our tent.
I want to breathe through your mouth.
If I could just slip...
From The First Water is the Body
The river is my sister—I am its daughter.
It is my hands when I drink from it,
my own eye when I am weeping,
and my desire when I ache like a yucca bell
in the night. The river says, Open your mouth to me,
and I will make you more.
Because even a river can be lonely,
Let me be a ''poet of cripples" not
a patient etherized upon a table,
not a brain floating within a body.
In a moment I must be a body
in the place incision produces in a body,
previously intact. Inert, poor body,
inarticulate. Pain flees from the word "pain."
Between meaning and the unmeaningable
is the trick...
voyage, oh voyage!
voyage, oh voyage!
the final fire that ravages the air
unveils the soil on which
we walk aimlessly
the hypocrisy of the strong protects us
from home. I prefer leaves
yellowed by the rain to false
so I listen to the wind. It's good to live
From the Window of My Home-Town Hotel
On the lee slope of the small coastal mountain
which conceals the sun the first hour after its rising,
in the dry, steep ravines, the live
mist of the heat is seething like dust
left over from an earlier world.
A crow with a swimmer's shoulders works
the air. And a little bird flies up into a
tree and closes its wings, like a...
Mantra of No Return
my mother occupies the passenger seat. my brother and i
stick in the back.
the radio babbles and sings between us. she is estranged, returning
and we are revenants to a place inside a narration contrived
to read like non-fiction, a continuous telling since one
Garbage Box with Black Loons
My father's speech was slurred most of my childhood — but it's a rite
of passage for many Maritime Canadians
'cause I heard from a friend of a friend that linguists say our accent
is the result of a speech impediment, yet I don't think much
of it. My father comes from people who learned to talk
the potato into growing more potatoes — a trick...
Always that spectral fragment. Filament of line cast back there.
Where open-mouthed fish rise to gulp down shiny lures.
I sang once in an auditorium to almost empty rows.
I looked for my people in the seats, under the seats, behind
the seats, but they weren’t there. I called the three people
who were there to come up and introduce...
My Poem Without Me in It
My poem without me in it—would it be like
my room when I had returned to it
after my mother was done with me.
Under my bed, only the outer
space balls, of dust, only
the asteroids of hair, no bent-legs
spider drawstring purse, no fly, no
I. My poem without me in it, would it
be like her house before I was granted...
waiting. then comes rejection.
anger follows. shame makes
the shadows jostle between
the walls of the scarcely visited cities.
time nips at our heels we are
afraid to arrive last
I love the rain when it
wraps me like a
river. grafts me to the...
The Ringing Bell
I used to liken a poem to praying. Is that right?
Not the woo and gratitude praying served by queer witches.
Childhood praying. As a girl I genuflected to the tabernacle
and insisted on sitting next to the stained glass window.
On the right kind of Sunday sun would send a slice of pink
light through the glass and down to the porcelain tile...
A Story from Easter: He Has Risen
There is a mouse under the sink
Little mouse turds around in the kitchen drawers
It is raining, storming
has gone to the dump
has brought him to bed for several months
He can't move
The war is skidding to an 'end'
Who wants to kill anything.
Buy two mousetraps...
At first there's no lake in the city, at first there are only
elevators, at first there are only constricting office desks;
there are small apartments and hamburger joints and
unpaid telephone bills. Then a few nightclubs appear and
eventually the lake disinters. At times there's a highway
and a car and friends in a snowstorm heading nowhere but...
My fist holds as many coins
as I can carry. All are stamped with the Queen's effigy;
Elizabeth, D.G. Regina, the resident of pockets,
a woman I've never met though I always know
her whereabouts. Each face pressed
into another person's palm before mine.
The stink of sweat and metal. The waste of it.
I wish for a return...
On TV it looked like a high-speed photo of a milk drop
the dying leader of the Pana Wave laboratory cult smack in the
Acres of white cloth streamered his followers, who
circled him like crown jewels.
More and more I'm responding to stark white on black,
letting the morning frost finish for me.
The Negro Speaks of Rivers
I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the...
In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy ... ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking...
The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.
The idea you carry close...
I never thought Michiko would come back
after she died. But if she did, I knew
it would be as a lady in a long white dress.
It is strange that she has returned
as somebody's dalmatian. I meet
the man walking her on a leash
almost every week. He says good morning
and I stoop down to calm her. He said
once that she was...
January 1, Dawn
After the celebrations,
people, TV channels, telephones,
the year’s recently-corrected digit
finally falls asleep.
Between the final night and the first dawn
a jagged piece of sky
as if viewed from the open mouth of a whale.
Inside her belly and inside the belly of time,
there’s no point worrying.
We Lived Happily during the War
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house —
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month...
From Verso 4
I was nine and I stood at the top of the street for no reason except to make the descent of the gentle incline toward my house where I lived with everyone and everything in the world, my sisters and my cousins were with me, we had our bookbags and our four o'clock hunger with us and our grandmother and everything we loved in the world were waiting in the yellow washed house, there was a...
Oliver Sacks is going to die,
He tells us blithely in the New York Times.
He’s 81. His liver’s shot.
He’s blind in one eye
Though when both worked fine
He could still get lost in a parking lot.
He’s extremely famous and terribly shy.
He’s lost his leg but it's still attached.
Happy Birthday Moon
Dad reads aloud. I follow his finger across the page.
Sometimes his finger moves past words, tracing white space.
He makes the Moon say something new every night
to his deaf son who slurs his speech.
Sometimes his finger moves past words, tracing white space.
Tonight he gives the Moon my name, but I can’t say it,
his deaf son...
On Seeing a Photograph of My Mother at St. Joseph Residential School for Girls
A black and white picture
The sun is shining through a window behind you
Your hair black short Your small brown hands folded neatly on a tiny wooden desk
Some of the girls in the picture are smiling You are not Your eyes staring into the camera Seem a million miles away
That stare I will see seldom and one day...
from “Road Shoulders”
power lines held by birds
of prey the hostile expanse above
ditches teeming floral invasive
late summer the shoulder sang
holds breeze by
the course of the drive
ravelling winds furl sparse treetops
semi-trailers startle traffic to attention
You wanted to be so hungry, you would break into branches,
and have to choose between the starving month’s
nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-third evenings.
The liturgy begins to echo itself and why does it matter?
If the ground-water is too scarce one can stretch nets
into the air and harvest the fog.
I come from the land of
Where You From?
My people dispossessed of their stories
and who have died again and again
in a minstrelsy of afterlives, wakes,
the dead who walk, waiting and
furrowed, like ivy crawling up
All those museums and mausoleums,
lifting languages from rivers.
But I cannot leave them...
Walking with Walt Whitman Through Calgary's Eastside on a Winter Day
Blue-white afternoon. The Bow river churns and smokes
as the city rumbles, economy chokes and bundled homeless
build cardboard homes in the snow. Yes, Walt, this is the new
world, and how often has your huge, burled form lengthened
beside me as we strode through parking lots, the filth and ice
of streets? Great seer, I listen for your relentless...
it's rank, it cranks you up
it’s rank it cranks you up
crash you’re fracked you suck
shucks you’re wack you be
all you cracked up to be
dead on arrival
overdosed on whatever
excess of hate and love
I sleep alone
if you were there
then please come in
tell me what’s good
think up something
River of Milk
bear with me it wasn’t long ago I was brainless
lazily pulling fireflies into my teeth chewing them
into pure light so much of me then was nothing
I could have fit into a sugar cube my body burned
like a barnful of feathers nothing was on fire
but fire was on everything the wild mustard
grass is unusual
it was invented by the Romans
unlike most people grass stays where it grows
if grass had gone to the moon it would be there today
because grass looks luxurious
people put it wherever they can
a wedge of grass can split a sidewalk
city block, manhattan skyscraper
make a dog sick
step on grass; it...
But I’m No One
for M. Maylor
Dear Anne Carson:
My friend read me the poem where your mom
said that the dead walk backwards.
You thought this myth arose from poor translation.
I can attest to your misapprehension.
My social studies teacher in grade 8, Ms. Rogers,
believed it was customary for the Chinese
Trust Fund Witches
Tape hiss, Value Village, vibraphones. On fixed-gears scrubbed with salt and lemon, like the secret at the centre of a Magic Eye the witches, genderless as light, breathe green and lavender, appear and disappear, chanting your passwords in a round. Voices like dimes dropped in a bowl, blush ultraviolet, glittering auras. Skin so soft they move through walls they press against your window,...
somewhere i have never travelled
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring...
Should Lanterns Shine
Should lanterns shine, the holy face,
Caught in an octagon of unaccustomed light,
Would wither up, and any boy of love
Look twice before he fell from grace.
The features in their private dark
Are formed of flesh, but let the false day come
And from her lips the added pigments fall,
The mummy cloths expose an ancient breast....
Whereas my eyes land on the shoreline of “the arrival of Europeans in North America
opened a new chapter in the history of Native Peoples.” Because in others, I hate the act
of laughing when hurt injured or in cases of danger. That bitter hiding. My daughter picks up
new habits from friends. She’d been running, tripped, slid on knees and palms onto...
Love is a Moontime Teaching
love is a moontime teaching
is your kookum’s crooked smile when you pick up the phone
is another word for body
body is another word for campfire smoke
campfire smoke is the smell he leaves behind in your bed sheets
after the breakup
the word for hate sex is forest
forest sometimes means hope or lonely (depends...
Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my...
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...
My Black heroes don’t drop names like Fendi Gucchi Prada
My Black sheroes rock afros like Angela Davis and Assata
But my sheroes are more than a trend and they’re bigger than a hairstyle
For their people they risk death, imprisonment, and exile
They’ll give you an education in gender, race, and class
So for real knowledge you need to honour...
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?
Blousy guitar I don’t want to count the beats Hey Hey
My pen I have bed hair in the best way Daughter
of sunlight and air and I’m glad you were born
on this day or put another way: that you were
born Let’s be superstars Let’s call each other “suckas”
Turn everything into writing Lord of my Love
From World of Made and Unmade
In my dream my mother comes with me.
We are in the meadows we call
The Flats, walking the dogs.
Walk straight past the water trough,
she says, do not engage the moss.
Go back to the top of the page,
the dream says, and leave out the suicides.
In my dream I walk and...
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...
Please read all the instructions carefully before proceeding.
Use only permanent blue or black ink.
If you have special needs that require accommodation,
The information you provide should not be limited
by the space allowed.
If you require more space, append another sheet of paper.
In the blanks below please...
Unspeakable Acts in Cars
It’s the first day of summer and we’re so happy
To see the sun and the satchel of colours it schleps
All those dark kilometres. The sky is so blue
And the sea is blue and the small islands in the sea
Are blue also. How our sun must love blue.
We have beachgrass and bull kelp and lion’s mane
And we love them all because we love the sea...
A History of Houses Built Out of Spite
none of us know Amy personally, but she’s here & she’s singing / rising above our sodden heads bowed in something like prayer / maybe // most of us are trying to move enough to pretend she doesn’t remind us of our mothers & Sunday morning spring cleans / the sharp bleached smell of it, the shrill peak of their voices demanding something far less beautiful // we’re trying not / to...
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
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...
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...
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...
Opus 75, Sestina in B-flat for the Glockenspiel
In the empty classroom, at sunrise, a girl
sits on the floor, staring at a glockenspiel.
She’s shredding the cuticles on her left hand
instead of starting to practise.
She doesn’t want to play —
not yet, if ever. The irritating sound
of her teeth clicking is the only sound
in the band room. The cranky girl
Would I have seen her?
The tide tugging her gently past
the Comfort Inn; houses, tall and gabled,
the bridge and its passersby.
This is not a hidden place.
The graze and drag of her,
clumsy, obstructive in the divided
caress of eelgrass.
No search. Eight days.
This is our welfare half
a duplex with mint green
siding shrugged between
rail yard and main street
logging trucks and trains
shake the foundation so
much I mistake them for god
forever it is winter mom
dissolves into mentholated
smoke and Coffee-Mate at
the kitchen table painting
orcas and nor...
K was supposed to come with the key, I was
K was supposed to come with the key, I was
to wait outside the gate. I arrived on time,
the time we had agreed on and waited, as agreed,
outside the gate. I waited a long time, waited
and waited, waited a very long time. I stood
next to the security guard from Securitas, who also
stood outside the gate. I waited, the security guard...
Praise the Rain
Praise the rain, the seagull dive
The curl of plant, the raven talk—
Praise the hurt, the house slack
The stand of trees, the dignity—
Praise the dark, the moon cradle
The sky fall, the bear sleep—
Praise the mist, the warrior name
The earth eclipse, the fired leap—
Praise the backwards, upward sky
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 have a picture of us when we are seven
but we aren’t in it. At the time it was taken
we thought we were. We posed with our wide
grins and best-friends-forever certainty. I angled
the camera to capture us in front of a Christmas tree.
All the sparkling tinsel and dangling silver balls aren’t there.
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...
You Are Not Going to Come Trillium
But I do come to Trillium. To the Cardiac
Short Stay Unit where you’ve been sent for the second stent,
where free sanitizer prevents the spread of panic.
We laugh. Everyone is half-naked in I-See-U.
Behind a grey curtain, a thump and quiet invoke
Code Blue. We uncover your bottom line, the Left Main
of a black-and-white heart, hand-drawn...
Hotel Centrale, Rotterdam
I am awake between stiff
sheets tonight in room thirty
four, listening to the heat
tick through the radiator,
seeing a television
pour out news of the war
the war in the air, the war
in the Gulf. The walls vibrate
with video light. This is
no room for sleep anymore.
There is no room for...
If Stone Dreams
We cannot know this statue, this satyr
with his head propped on a wineskin;
we cannot know if he dreams. In fact,
none can know in spite of aeons
of looking, of examining where his hip
is eaten away, eroded as if by our eyes.
For what has been lost we are to blame,
for what has been kept to be thrown
All About My Grandmother
Wheat daughter, prisoner of sneaky pigweed, mother
to the five corners of the world and your three hectares,
beak-nosed carpenter’s wife and the potter’s lover,
queen of the aroma of grey soap, head covered
with a gold-trimmed kerchief, the glory of birds at dawn,
tired liege of furrowed fields, midwife to our breads,
magic purveyor of...
Kay in Summer
Someone waiting in the lobby of a Hotel Imperial amid
the spaciousness tourists and peeling gold leaf
might see it all as too hesitant for truth
Might think for a moment about the art in scattering
too solidly carved tables crowding too many dreams
before dim Victorian...
We were combatants from the start. Our dad
Bought us boxing gloves when we were ten —
Champions like Euryalus, say, or Epeius
Of wooden-horse fame: ‘I am the greatest!’
‘Nobody’s going to knock me down!’ Listen,
Peter, to the commentary — gruesome teeth-
Grinding, sweat splattering their arms and legs,
Huge fists in ox-hide...
Entirely windless, today’s sea; of these waters’ many names
the best seemed “field-of-pearl-leaves,” for it smelled like the air
in the house he built entirely of doors: pink school door,
gold of the burnt hotel, two old church blues, the abandoned
bank’s steel doors singular and immovably wedged over
the family’s heads though as with everything...
The rain this morning pours from the gutters and
everywhere else it is lost in the trees. You need your
glasses to single out what you know is there because
doubt is inexorable; you put on your glasses. The trees,
their bark, their leaves, even the dead ones, are more
vibrant wet. Yes, and it’s raining. Each moment is like
this — before...
yesterday at the Oakland zoo
I was walking alone for a moment
past the enclosure holding the sun bear
also known as beruang madu
it looked at me without interest
it has powerful jaws and truly loves honey
it sleeps in a high hammock
its claws look made out of wood
and if it dreams at all it is of Malaysia...
creation stories are lullabies for grown-ups
they remind us of all the possible ways & means
that worlds can be born
& humans come to be
tricksters & goddesses
fire & water
the one god, or all of the gods
working as a team
Your father worked Drumheller while you ate and slept at home.
He travelled the badlands, squatted below rocks, read books
you never knew he read. He sat until his eyes strained to know
what the prairie insisted he must see. Once he found a hoodoo,
toppled after centuries of reaching beyond the flattened earth
we all become and remembering that,...
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...
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...
Two Words: A Wedding
There are things you have words for, things you do not have words for. There are words that encompass all your feelings & words that encompass none. There are feelings you have that are like things to you, picked up & placed in the pocket, worn like the cloth the pocket is attached to, like a skin you live...
Late at night in Oklahoma, a very small, an extremely small man ran across the road in front of my friend’s car. He does not doubt this is real, though the rest of us do, and it doesn’t bother him. He continues to paint portraits of astonishing trees each day and take long...
Pale Blue Cover
In the middle of the night Matt would fly to Vancouver so he could take a walk on the sea wall the next day, then go home.
Wouldnt tell anyone, no telephone call, just run a scene through his peculiar Ontario head, no snow on that beach.
No one can imagine Matt teaching religion at...
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings...
I Am the People, the Mob
I am the people — the mob — the crowd — the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and clothes.
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.
I am the seed...
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said — “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert.... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
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?...
The train has stopped for no apparent reason
In the wilds;
A frozen lake is level and fretted over
With rippled wind lines;
The sun is burning in the South; the season
Is winter trembling at a touch of spring.
A little hill with birches and a ring
Of cedars — all so still, so pure with snow —
It seems a tiny landscape in...
Sonnet VII from ‘Sonnets Written in the Orillia Woods’
Our life is like a forest, where the sun
Glints down upon us through the throbbing leaves;
The full light rarely find us. One by one,
Deep rooted in our souls, there springeth up
Dark groves of human passion, rich in gloom,
At first no bigger than an acorn-cup.
Hope threads the tangled labyrinth, but grieves
Till all our sins...
Sonnet CXVI: Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,...
The Men That Don’t Fit In
There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,...
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 Maldive Shark
About the Shark, phlegmatical one,
Pale sot of the Maldive sea,
The sleek little pilot-fish, azure and slim,
How alert in attendance be.
From his saw-pit of mouth, from his charnel of maw
They have nothing of harm to dread,
But liquidly glide on his ghastly flank
Or before his Gorgonian head;
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...
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’...
When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never...
Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes
’Twas on a lofty vase’s side,
Where China’s gayest art had dyed
The azure flowers that blow;
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima, reclined,
Gazed on the lake below.
Her conscious tail her joy declared;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
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...
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;...
When I consider how my light is spent
When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;...
Boy Remembers in the Field
What if the sun comes out
And the new furrows do not look smeared?
This is April, and the sumach candles
Have guttered long ago.
The crows in the twisted apple limbs
Are as moveless and dark.
Drops on the wires, cold cheeks,
The mist, the long snorts, silence…
The horses will steam when...
Journey of the Magi
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,...
There, Robert, you have kill’d that fly — ,
And should you thousand ages try
The life you’ve taken to supply,
You could not do it.
You surely must have been devoid
Of thought and sense, to have destroy’d
A thing which no way you annoy’d —
You’ll one day rue it.
To an Athlete Dying Young
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Mr. Kessler, you know, was in the army,
And he drew six dollars a month as a pension,
And stood on the corner talking politics,
Or sat at home reading Grant’s Memoirs;
And I supported the family by washing,
Learning the secrets of all the people
From their curtains, counterpanes, shirts and skirts.
For things that are...
Fair tree! for thy delightful shade
’Tis just that some return be made;
Sure some return is due from me
To thy cool shadows, and to thee.
When thou to birds dost shelter give,
Thou music dost from them receive;
If travellers beneath thee stay
Till storms have worn themselves away,
That time in praising thee they spend...
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...
On Shakespeare. 1630
What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones,
The labor of an age in pilèd stones,
Or that his hallowed relics should be hid
Under a star-ypointing pyramid?
Dear son of Memory, great heir of fame,
What need’st thou such weak witness of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thyself a live-long monument....
Shall earth no more inspire thee
Shall earth no more inspire thee,
Thou lonely dreamer now?
Since passion may not fire thee
Shall Nature cease to bow?
Thy mind is ever moving
In regions dark to thee;
Recall its useless roving —
Come back and dwell with me.
I know my mountain breezes
Enchant and soothe thee...
Before the Birth of One of Her Children
All things within this fading world hath end,
Adversity doth still our joyes attend;
No ties so strong, no friends so dear and sweet,
But with death’s parting blow is sure to meet.
The sentence past is most irrevocable,
A common thing, yet oh inevitable.
How soon, my Dear, death may my steps attend,
How soon’t may be thy Lot to...
To My Dear and Loving Husband
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense...
The Chimney Sweeper: When my mother died I was very young
When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry “‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!”
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.
There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved, so I said,
“Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your...
Sonnets from the Portuguese 43: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right;
I love thee purely, as they...
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, and what art,
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England...
To the Ladies
Wife and servant are the same,
But only differ in the name:
For when that fatal knot is tied,
Which nothing, nothing can divide:
When she the word obey has said,
And man by law supreme has made,
Then all that’s kind is laid aside,
And nothing left but state and pride:
Fierce as an Eastern prince he grows,...
I am — yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes —
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live — like vapours tossed
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea...