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...
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...
Catastrophe That Nearly Brought Down a Plane
After late-night Li Bo,
on a plane to Houston, out of sheer intumescence
I begin unravelling a sickness bag—
starting with the wired throat,
then the pleated sides, then bottom.
My finger trapezing through the waxed paper
feels like a tall-masted skiff – almost Odysseus
slicing Lake Ontario: placid like an eye
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...
I saw a perfect tree today
I saw a perfect tree today
From my cabin bed on a Via Rail train
Through the North of Ontario
I saw a perfect tree today
It was tall and thin and scraggly and prim
Then I saw another just as perfect
Short and sturdy with branches and brambles
And then another with a rugged fat trunk
Older than the rest, but just as...
Packing for the Future: Instructions
Take the thickest socks.
Wherever you're going
you'll have to walk.
There may be water.
There may be stones.
There may be high places
you cannot go without
the hope socks bring you,
the way they hold you
to the earth.
At least one pair must be new,
must be blue as a wish...
If you want to travel run
around the neighbourhood with an empty
suitcase in hand. At least once, full circle.
Wear yellow underwear
for the 31st, lest fortune oversee your cup
as she pours. Yes, thank you. I too wish you excitement
& wealth in the New Year.
Mostly, I hope you get
through tomorrow, and then the day...
people arrived from portugal. people arrived from africa. people arrived from
india. people arrived from england. people arrived from china. people
predated arrival. people fled predation. people were arrayed. people populated.
whips patterned rays into people. people arose. people rayed outward to
toronto, london, boo york. people raided people. people...
Stepping off the plane in Whitehorse
the last thing I expect to feel
not quite alone
but close enough
here in this great black north.
As we drive away from the airport
Chris points out the window
That's Antoinette's, Caribbean food
if you're feeling in need of a pick-me-up.
She's from Tobago....
Turtle Island Poem Number Fourteen
once i left turtle island and i
rejoined la and doubleU and see
to savai‘i on a hunting trip
on the fairy from upolu
la picked up a day trick
blew him during lunch
on the beach under a tree
in front of some australian girls
and an old couple from germany
who politely ignored us
while doubleU and see and...
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
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...
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
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 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...
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...
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...
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...
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 ... ”
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,...
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...
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 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,...
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...
The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter
After Li Po
While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chōkan:...
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,
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,...
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...
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;
Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;