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 understand you.
I get what you’re trying to say.
What you’re trying to say is you want me to get it.
I get it. You want me
to understand. You want me to know
not the words, but what’s behind them. Got it.
You’re trying to tell me
what you want me to hear. What I
hear is all words, but that’s not...
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...
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...
Good Day Villanelle
You ran naked out the door.
The neighbours laughed; I chased you down.
I hardly see you anymore.
I know you’re busy.
Did I tell you when you were little how
you ran naked out the door?
You got halfway down the street
before I caught you in my arms.
I hardly see you anymore.
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...
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...
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
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:
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...
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...
He totaled his blue truck —
slowly spun out on an icy bridge,
rammed it into a guard rail.
Climbed out unbruised.
Coal Creek. Middle of nowhere.
A passing couple brought him home.
Then three years
with letters from the Motor Vehicle Department
before he relinquished his license.
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...
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...
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
i am graffiti
i am writing to tell you
that yes, indeed,
we have noticed
you have a new big pink eraser
we are well aware
you are trying to use it.
erasing indians is a good idea
the bleeding-heart liberals
can stop feeling bad
for the stealing
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...
Random Link Clicker.
Royal Bath Taker.
Receiver of Foot Rubs and Praise.
Good Samaritan Emeritus.
Undersecretary of Trivial Pursuits.
Chief Executive Napper.
Chancellor of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom of Spring.
Procurer of Unnecessary Hats.
Empress of Ice Cream.
71. Song for a Silent Treatment.
I told her, in plain language, how I felt.
And by that I mean I mumbled a poorly
paraphrased and already cryptic passage
from one of Yeats’s later poems.
When she asked, “What was that?” I said, “Nothing.
Nothing. It doesn't matter.” It mattered,
of course. “Ma vie est usée. Allons, feignons ... ”
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...
Portrait of Alice with Elvis
Queen and King, they rule side by side
in golden thrones above the clouds.
Her giggle and wide eyes remind him
of his first young wife, and his twang
never ceases to thrill her, so different
from the prim accents of men she’s known.
She sings for him, “Hound Dog”
and “Heartbreak Hotel,” and he turns
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,...
Saskatchewan Indians Were Dancing
60s pulled us from starvation into government jobs
antiquated Indians in Saskatchewan danced for rain
Manitoba Indian doings were hidden for a jealous me
all I had was a 50s rock’n’roll step to copy from
not shy you danced for strangers from deep defiance
full regalia hid...
My Idea of the Circus Is My Idea of the Circus Otherwise Known As: My Mother Was a Celebrated Stunt Motorcyclist, Vietnam, 1958 to 1962
Very loud a mad frenzy The wooden
barrel she rode would have roared
(I first wrote “road”)
Left home to join the circus: 15 years old
You enter at the bottom and wind upwards
in spirals the bike climbing the sides
You enter the barrel on a Peugeot
with automatic tied down handles...
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
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.
Sometimes I Find Myself Weeping at the Oddest Moment
sometimes I find myself
at the oddest moment
an unexpected voice
mon oncle André
calling Christmas Day
a Merry Christmas
and I am
that little girl
walking across the lake
with her grandfather
to check on the snares
and traps he...
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
Interesting People of Newfoundland
Newfoundland is, or was, full of interesting people.
Like Larry, who would make a fool of himself on street corners
for a nickel. There was the Russian who called himself
the Grand Duke, and who was said to be a real duke from somewhere,...
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...
When Winter Comes
Rain at Muchalat, rain at Sooke,
And rain, they say, from Yale to Skeena,
And the skid-roads blind, and never a look
Of the Coast Range blue over Malaspina,
And west winds keener
Than jack-knife blades,
And rocks grown greener
With the long drip-drip from the cedar shades
On the drenched deep soil where the footsteps...
This city is beauty
unbreakable and amorous as eyelids,
in the streets, pressed with fierce departures,
I am innocent as thresholds
and smashed night birds, lovesick,
as empty elevators
let me declare doorways,
corners, pursuit, let me say
standing here in eyelashes, in
Breathe dust like you breathe wind so strong in your face little grains of dirt which pock around the cheeks peddling against a dust-storm coming down a street to the edge of town in Swift Current Saskatchewan or the air walked out into the fields across from Granny Erickson’s house with a few pails of water to catch gophers over by the glue factory downwind of...
400: Coming Home
You are still on the highway and the great light of
noon comes over the asphalt, the gravelled
shoulders. You are on the highway, there is a kind of
laughter, the cars pound
south. Over your shoulder the scrub-grass, the fences,
the fields wait patiently as though someone
believed in them. The light has laid it
upon them. One...
It was powdered blood
in heavy brown paper bags
supposed to be strong enough
to prevent the stuff from escaping
We piled it ten feet high
right to the shed roof
working at Arrow Transfer
on Granville Island
The bags weighed 75 pounds
and you had to stand on two
of the bags...
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...
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...
Death of a Young Son by Drowning
He, who navigated with success
the dangerous river of his own birth
once more set forth
on a voyage of discovery
into the land I floated on
but could not touch to claim.
His feet slid on the bank,
the currents took him;
he swirled with ice and trees in the swollen water
The Swimmer’s Moment
The swimmer’s moment at the whirlpool comes,
But many at that moment will not say
‘This is the whirlpool, then.’
By their refusal they are saved
From the black pit, and also from contesting
The deadly rapids, and emerging in
The mysterious, and more ample, further waters.
And so their bland-blank faces turn...
I lift the Lord on high,
Under the murmuring hemlock boughs, and see
The small birds of the forest lingering by
And making melody.
These are mine acolytes and these my choir,
And this mine altar in the cool green shade,
Where the wild soft-eyed does draw nigh
Wondering, as in the byre
Of Bethlehem the oxen heard Thy cry...
The Potato Harvest
A high bare field, brown from the plough, and borne
Aslant from sunset; amber wastes of sky
Washing the ridge; a clamour of crows that fly
In from the wide flats where the spent tides mourn
To yon their rocking roosts in pines wind-torn;
A line of grey snake-fence, that zigzags by...
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...
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...
How great unto the living seem the dead!
How sacred, solemn; how heroic grown;
How vast and vague, as they obscurely tread
The shadowy confines of the dim unknown! —
For they have met the monster that we dread,
Have learned the secret not to mortal shown.
E’en as gigantic shadows on the wall
The spirit of the daunted child amaze...
A thin wet sky, that yellows at the rim,
And meets with sun-lost lip the marsh’s brim.
The pools low lying, dank with moss and mould,
Glint through their mildews like large cups of gold.
Among the wild rice in the still lagoon,
In monotone the lizard shrills his tune.
The wild goose,...
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...
A moment the wild swallows like a flight
Of withered gust-caught leaves, serenely high,
Toss in the windrack up the muttering sky.
The leaves hang still. Above the weird twilight,
The hurrying centres of the storm unite
And spreading with huge trunk and rolling fringe,
Each wheeled upon its own tremendous hinge,
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
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...
Lord of My Heart’s Elation
Lord of my heart’s elation,
Spirit of things unseen,
Be thou my aspiration
Consuming and serene!
Bear up, bear out, bear onward
This mortal soul alone,
To selfhood or oblivion,
Incredibly thine own, —
As the foamheads are loosened
And blown along the sea,
Or sink and...
The Dark Stag
A startled stag, the blue-grey Night,
Leaps down beyond black pines.
Behind — a length of yellow light —
The hunter’s arrow shines:
His moccasins are stained with red,
He bends upon his knee,
From covering peaks his shafts are sped,
The blue mists plume his mighty head, —...