Friday, September 08, 2006


A Baker's Dozen of Canadian Sonnets


The silver herring throbbed thick in my seine,
silver of life, life's silver sheen of glory;
my hands, cut with the cold, hurt with the pain
of hauling the net, pulled the heavy dory,
heavy with life, low in the water, deep
plunged to the gunwale's lips in the stress of rowing,
the pulse of rowing that puts the world to sleep,
world within world endlessly ebbing, flowing.
At length you stood on the landing and you cried,
with quick low cries you timed me stroke on stroke
as I steadily won my way with the fulling tide
and crossed the threadhold where the last wave broke
and coasted over the step of water and threw
straight through the air my mooring line to you.
--Kenneth Leslie



The elm lies prone, its branches cut away:
soon chain saws will begin. I've woken far
from you. And you from me. Each day,
with coffee poured in cups, we leave ajar
the door that opens on a ragged lawn,
ghost irises and yellow daisies bend
and drifting from each other with a yawn,
as memory lifts and falls. Perhaps we meant
to conjure things so neither one could fail
or change. I see you standing in a blaze
of sun, the distant hills a kind of braille
we read in blue. I thought I'd kept each phrase.
But no, let's not give in to that disease
that slowly spreads until it takes down trees.
-- Anne Simpson


"Rural Gothic"

And love as blight or the kind of drought
that kills all green, leaving no work
but to weep and level the scorched stalks
with mortgaged machinery; the weather-beaten
crops that couldn't stand pestilence, frost,
or love turned on itself. As soil erodes
and fronds arrest their growth, the season's lost
and fault is no one's. What's left are debts
that must be borne for another year. I've tried
to touch that man who'd throttle a neck
as he did a cracked drive shaft, his grip belied
by how much he felt each failure, a black
and hardened ruin. Love as negative, in reverse,
but still in terms of violence: a kind of verse.
--Shane Neilson


"The Flier"

Do not arrange your bright flesh in the sun
Or shine your limbs, my love, toward this height
Where basket men and the lame must run, must run
And grasp at at angels in their lovely flight
With stumps and hooks and artificial skin.
O there is nothing in your body's light
To grow us wings or teach the discipline
Which starvers know to calm the appetite.
Understand we might be content to beg
The clinic of your thighs against the night
Were there no scars of braces on his leg
Who sings and wrestles with them in our sight,
Then climbs the sky, a lover in their band.
Tell him your warmth, show him your gleaming hand.
--Leonard Cohen


"For Peter, My Cousin"

The night you died, I heard your cello shift --
a scraping of its corner in the barn.
Alfalfa pillowed it. White breath of pigs
was wreathed around the scroll; the cattle mourned.
For years its neck had rested by your ear.
Your bow across its strings and belly filled
the burlap sacks with apples, dusky tarns
of sound. You listened to that voice until
your marriage. then she didn't let you play.
Her own voice, hoarse from children, saw you lean
in longing to the shovel, hurl the hay.
She felt your fingers press the strings in dream.
Your heart collapsed too soon -- you died asleep.
Beside you she heard wood and horsehair weep.
--Barbara Nickel


"Blank Sonnet"

The air smells of rhubarb, occasional
Roses, or first birth of blossoms, a fresh,
Undulant hurt, so body snaps and curls
Like flower. I step through snow as thin as script
Watch white stars spin dizzy as drunks, and yearn
To sleep beneath a patchwork quilt of rum.
I want the slow, sure collapse of language
Washed out by alcohol. Lovely Shelley,
I have no use for measured, cadenced verse
If you won't read. Icarus-like, I'll fall
Against this page of snow, tumble blackly
Across vision to drown in the white sea
That closes every poem -- the white reverse
That cancels the blackness of each image.
-- George Elliott Clarke


"from Glenn Gould Poems"
6. Glenn Gould's Hands: A Sonnet

If I pull off these woollen mitts of mine
or shake your hand, who knows what harm may follow;
my fingers, knuckles, writs -- the lot -- confined,
compressed or chilled, doomed to be impossible and slow.
Disaster of the fiercest kind if these,
these slender bridges of flesh and bone, these paths
for me to Bach, Beethoven, Bruckner, Strauss
and all the rest should suddenly collapse.

It's all a piece. The clothes, the hands, the quiet,
my need to live alone, by night. I do
not weed or dig. No crushing tools. I've quit
all cooking, seek out greasy spoons, to go
where no one knows me, wants to be my fan,
where no one knows me, wants to crush my hands.
-- Kate Braid

"Cathleen Sweeping"

The wind blows, and with a little broom
She sweeps against the cold clumsy sky.
She's three years old. What an enormous room
The world is that she sweeps, making fly
A little busy dust! And here am I
Watching her through the windom in the gloom
Of this disconsolate spring morning, my
Thoughts as small and busy as her broom.

Do I believe in her? I cannot quite.
Beauty is more than my belief will bear.
I've had to borrow what I think is true:
Nothing stays put until I think it through.
Yet, watching her with her broom in the dark air
I give it up. Why should I doubt delight?
-- George Johnston


"from The Golden Lotus"
1. The Golden Lotus

We are always surprised that pears survive
so far north. Driving north, we watch the day

shrink in trees. It's behind us. We arrive.
Will it always be difficult to say:

I love you: caught at the cabin door, latch
unhooked? Yes, there are pears on the tree. and

a dead mouse in the sink. Bright fish to catch,
like kisses, in a lonely heaven. Hand

in hand. First things first. We go down the grass
stairway to the water. this is the blue

I would die for, the colour of tenderness,
and your forgiveness. Fish jump: silver, new.

In blue lakes, the golden lotus appears.
We sink our teeth into the yellow pears.
-- Diana Brebner


"Stress, Shear, and Strain Theories of Failure"

They have never heard of lift
and are -- for no one, over and over, cleft. Riven,
recrystallized. Ruined again. The earth-engine
driving itself through death after death. Strike/slip,
thrust, and the fault called normal, which occurs
when two plates separate.
Do they hearken unto Orpheus, whose song
is said to make them move? Sure.
This sonnet hereby sings that San Fran-
cisco and L. A, shall, thanks to its cthonic shear,
lie cheek by jowl in thirty million
years. Count on it, mortals. Meanwhile,
may stress shear strain attend us. Let us fail
in all the styles established by our lithosphere.
-- Don McKay


"Samantha Clara Layton"

Into the ordinary day you came,
giving your small nose and chin to the air
and blinded by the noise you could not see.
You mother's smile was your benedictiion;
my wonderment will accompany you
all your days. Dear little girl, what blessings
shall I ask for you? strong limbs, a mind firm
that looking on this world without dismay
turns furious lust into love's romance?
These, my child, and more. Grace keep you
queenly and kind, a comfort to the ill and poor,
your presence a bounty of joy to all
that have vision of you, as I have now
who hold your fingers in my trembling hand.
-- Irving Layton


"Butterfly Bones: Sonnet Against Sonnets"

The cyanide jar seals life, as sonnets move
towards final stiffness. Cased in a white glare
these specimens stare for peering boys, to prove
strange certainties. Plane dogsled and safari
assure continuing range. The sweep-net skill,
the patience, learning, leave all living stranger.
Insect -- or poem -- waits for the fix, the frill
precision can effect, brilliant with danger.
What law and wonder the museum spectres
bespeak is cryptic for the shivery wings,
the world cut-diamond-eyed, those eyes' reflectors,
or herbal grass, sunned motes, fierce listening.
Might sheened and rigid trophies strike men blind
like Adam's lexicon locked in the mind?
--Margaret Avison


"So'net 3"

Onset tense: no tone to set,
no sense to note-not one; no, none.
So one soon tosses on to net
tenses, notes, tones. One soon sees one
to ten senses. Soon one's not too tense:
One's not sent to see eons nest
on stone tenets set to sonnet's sense.
One senses sonnets not sent to test,
sees no noose set, no nonsense, no
set one-ness. One senses entente, not
tense tones no sonnet's set to tote. So
tense not, testes, on notes to one's tot.
Noon noses onto settee son's set on,
one not seen to toss stone sonnet net on.
--Paul Dutton

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