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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....
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...
The Rights of Woman
Yes, injured Woman! rise, assert thy right!
Woman! too long degraded, scorned, oppressed;
O born to rule in partial Law’s despite,
Resume thy native empire o’er the breast!
Go forth arrayed in panoply divine;
That angel pureness which admits no stain;
Go, bid proud Man his boasted rule resign,
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
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.
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...
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...
A Thousand Martyrs
A thousand martyrs I have made,
All sacrific’d to my desire;
A thousand beauties have betray’d,
That languish in resistless fire.
The untam’d heart to hand I brought,
And fixed the wild and wandering thought.
I never vow’d nor sigh’d in vain
But both, tho’ false...
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
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:
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...
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.
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...
At Thomas Merton’s Grave
We can never be with loss too long.
Behind the warped door that sticks,
the wood thrush calls to the monks,
pausing atop the stone crucifix,
singing: “I am marvelous alone!”
Thrash, thrash goes the hayfield:
rows of marrow and bone undone.
The horizon’s flashing fastens tight,
sealing the blue hills with vermillion....
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...
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...
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
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,...
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...
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...
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
Equinox Ritual with Ravens & Pines
— so we said to the somewhat: Be born —
& the shadow kept arriving in segments,
cold currents pushed minerals
up from the sea floor, up through
coral & labels of Diet Coke blame shame
bottles down there —
it is so much work to appear!
unreadable zeroes drop lamps...
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,...
Dulce et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots...
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...