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
who, passing, saw my heart beating in the grass,
is also going there. Hi, I tell him,
a great squall in the Pacific blew a dead poet
out of the water,
who now hangs from the city’s gates.
Crowds depart daily to see it, and return
with grimaces and incomprehension;
if its limbs twitched in the air
they would sit at its feet
peeling their oranges.
And turning over I embrace like a lover
the trunk of a tree, one of those
for whom the lightning was too much
and grew a brilliant
hunchback with a crown of leaves.
The ailments escaped from the labels
of medicine bottles are all fled to the wind;
I’ve seen myself lately in the eyes
of old women,
spent streams mourning my manhood,
in whose old pupils the sun became
a bloodsmear on broad catalpa leaves
and hanging from ancient twigs,
my murdered selves
sparked the air like the muted collisions
of fruit. A black dog howls down my blood,
a black dog with yellow eyes;
he too by someone’s inadvertence
saw the bloodsmear
on the broad catalpa leaves.
But the furies clear a path for me to the worm
who sang for an hour in the throat of a robin,
and misled by the cries of young boys
I am again
a breathless swimmer in that cold green element.
Irving Layton, “The Cold Green Element” from A Wild Peculiar Joy. Copyright © 1982, 2004 by Irving Layton. Copyright © 2007 by the Estate of Irving Layton. Reprinted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House of Canada Limited.
Source: The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse (Oxford University Press, 1983)