Sunday, May 27, 2007


21 More Canadian Poems


The women's bodies lying in the sand are curved like shells.
The men can't take their eyes off them.
The seawater spangles like a drink of champagne,
but the fishermen don't see it that way,
they have their clothes on, they don't care about girls.
The only care about fish. They yell to one another down the beach
as if this were their ocean. Meanwhile,
ignorant, the smelts plod into the nets.
Seated on benches, middle-aged women
in magenta travel dresses, going nowhere,
dressed too warmly for the weather,
delve into the sunlight with their eyes closed and pretend
they are dissolving, like a tablet in water.
Only the babies pushed along in carriages
seem to enjoy themselves, twisting their faces
into vast expressions. Their skin
is still translucent. They haven't yet finished
materializing into the world.

--Roo Borson


"Demon Pond"

You step into the crucible,
the philosophical egg, vessel
of the sun and moon. the surface
of this liquid
intersects your thigh
like a bracelet
of exaltation. Matter itself
ringing out a single
clear note.

You step into the water,
indigenous, exquisite.
Your quick grace alive
wire, eerie where I falter
in sweet sickness.
Stirring up the creams
at the bottom of the pond.
Every gesture, the most incidental
of your movements is slender,
candid. You are perfection
doubled back on itself,
standing before me in this
labyrinthine night forest,
a cool autumn mist
over the water.

Our union is a confederacy
outside the common world.
Each other the most remarkable
being we've ever met, adored
by the adored.
The one for whom
we had abandoned hope
years before.

My mind goes anywhere
my hands and mouth travel
weightless and eager
over your radiant flesh.
Snakes aroused by humans coupling
and hallucinations of unearthly paradise
rise like ghostly moths
to the light we burn by.
Hosts of invisible beings
lap at the fiery column
that is us. Flesh a distraction
on our way to a deeper union.

Your love, your body
the knife that cut me
open to my bliss.

--Christopher Dewdney


"Found in a sock Monkey Kit"

Sometimes making is play, only that. I've not been
made yet, but will be, and when willed
into my bean-baggish zen loll
might wish for you nights of no nightmare,
layabouts with or without some other
when words are your mind's lit

carousel, monkey bars, or gravel pit, not the spiral
jetty you like to make of it. We pretended
affection each for the other, then

wrecked the furniture, is what we'll say when
they ask how we spent the duration. single
man and his simian right hand, memento

, minister of the bemused stare. Lean me
against the neck of the reading lamp: sleep,
farts, fucks, illnesses, and idleness, I'm I

through and through, function removed from the feet
and become face with a grin and stillness,
form that gives if you hold it when there's only you.

--Ken Babstock



my son stands in waist-high water
the salt reddens his skin
out of his face spring wiry hairs
thickening to a beard
his arms have become wide and heavy

he splices rope
smells of the tar that blackens his fingers
he has learned to make his living from the sea

(the huge shadow of a bird
darkens the sand around us
I speak, say to you look
at that rare creature
an osprey

further out from the shore
your daughter is a rock
jutting from the waves
she is rounded and hollow
within her is a sea-cave
her face is a pearly shell
a shining operculum
stoppers up her mouth
her singing is muffled, a murmur

the boy smiles
his semen darts out of him
a shoal of swift fishes
entering her secret place
he stretches out his finger
flicks away the shell plug from her mouth
so that she may cry out

you look at me, say
this has all happened far too quickly
we wade out -- I say:
there is just time for us to bless them
but in that glance they have crossed the horizon
are washed away out of our sight

we two return to the beach
the salt water drips from us
making the dull shingles glisten
our wet clothes cling to our legs
behind us the sun is clouded
the sea is cold not splendid
I am a widow I tell you
but we are just strangers you reply

out there where the great bird hovers
mantling preparing to spiral
there is faint wailing

--Anne Szumigalski


"Slicing Oranges in Kim's Kitchen"

Each bright orange disk spins, a slow wheel,
not here in my hand only, but in our one
mind's eye. Just think of that mind's eye.
What colour is it? Blue as our planet? And
how does it see? What agile mechanics
carries sight into the mind, still, after all
our thinking, undefined? I think of you and

how we talked, words slipping between
words, standing slicing oranges in your
kitchen; an easy task. An idea from a magazine,
the simplest salad you had ever seen
now spreading in circles, circle upon circle,
plain and sweet and pleasing. And the
conversation, also circling and returning

to children, love and growing old. Nothing
but the ordinary things somehow made
over into suns and galaxies and all creation
whirling ecstasy as we cut the spitting peel
from diminishing fruit, sink knives into the pale
white orbs, slice, flick out sprouting seeds,
and lay out bright slices in concentric rows.

--Diana Brebner


"Flower Bulbs"

Most men give flowers in their full leaves,
But I give you flowers still in seed:
These flowers you see are each one wrapped
In the womb, still concentrated in sap.

Think, what I lay on your fearless palm!
A universe compacted to a seeming chaos,
A wary cell waiting to split its tomb
In birth, when the soon-rampant seed explodes.

Yet we generate such, and once were seeds:
Have blossomed once like flowers inside a girl;
Now sit with hanging hands and open eyes,
Nourished by, not knowing, the objective world.

And this which is closed to younger eyes
Only loving you could have opened to me.
I have walked by many a garden in a room
And passed by many a precipice being blind.

Yet love may tell one who grows a plant
How a miraculous ignorance surrounds
Each living thing -- and it still be
Perfect and wise, when these plant leaves appear
Like days unfolding in the calendar,
Will watch the flowers sent out in shoots
Andlove grow out of his mysterious roots.

--Louis Dudek


"Poor Bird"

. . . looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray,
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.

--"Sandpiper," Elizabeth Bishop

From birth, from the first astonishing moment
when he pecked his way out of the shell, pure fluff,
he was looking for something -- warmth, food, love
or light, or darkness -- we are all the same stuff,
all have the same needs: to be one of the flock
or to stand apart, a singular fledgling.
So the search began -- the endless search
that leads him onward -- a vocation
year in, year out, morning to evening
looking for something, something, something.

Nothing will stop him. although distracted
by nest-building, eggs, high winds, high tides,
and too short a lifespan for him to plan
an intelligent search -- still, on he goes
with his delicate legs and spillikin feet
and the wish to know what he's almost guessed.
Can't leave it alone, that stretch of sand.
Thinks himself Seurat (pointilliste)
or a molecular physicist.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!

And just because he has not yet found
what he doesn't know he is searching for
is not a sign he's off the track.
His track in the sedge, the sand, the suck
of the undertow, the line of shells.
Nor would he have it another way.
And yet -- the nag -- is there something else?
Something more, perhaps, or something less.
And though he examine them, day after day
the millions of grains are black, white, tan and gray.

But occasionally, when he least expects it,
in the glass of a wave a painted fish
like a work of art across his sight
reminds him of something he doesn't know
that he has been seeking his whole long life --
some that may not even exist!
Poor bird, indeed! Poor dazed creature!
Yet when his ey is sharp and sideways seeing
oh, then the quotidian unexceptional sand is
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.

--P. K. Page



I come back to praise, the hummingbird in the rain,
that single knot of colour among the dying
blooms of the geranium, another kind of day.
It reminds me of what I saw this morning,
a woman leaning out a window, naked, her breast
no longer young, slack with the loss that come
from a child's suckling. she was staring down
into the flowers she had planted in the window box,
blue lobelia swaying like a kind of sky,
geraniums, the weight of their blooms, like fists
of men who fought with their hands bare,
knuckles rich with blood. She
did not know I was watching, or if she knew,
didn't care. what she wanted was another
kind of praise, the kind where, if she arranged it,
could make the flowers in her mind alive,
like the ones she saw when she was just a girl
and the whole world heat and waiting.
I thought in the thin shade how, if we were lovers,
her breasts might rest upon my palms
or in my mouth, those nipples on my tongue
and feeding there as she leaned and stared
past me at the light in the window and the flowers.
All this, and the hummingbird, the flare
of his feathers vibrating there, his body
bringing back to me her flesh, his tongue
deep in the blossom, that fierce honey
I want to praise, crying out as I do
in the thing I have called memory and trying
to remember, the rain all around me.

--Patrick Lane


"Dear Heart"

Rustbucket, little four-popper.
I've seen more of the surface of Mars

than of you, ultrasound shadow.
How you lay me low! Size of a fist

and the rest of me a fat glass jaw.

I get reports through the wire of veins.
Your rabbit punches, feints and jabs. I log

each personal best and sleep
like a swan with an ear to my chest.

You are the first thing I ever built,

darfty and cold despite blood's small suns.
Your joinery came out wrong.

Sweetmeat, my ugle hero, the fault
is mine. I recline and recline.

Now there is no time but yours.
What leisure you afford, what luxury.

--Karen Solie


"At Mycenae"

The dandelions
send up their white balloons
as they have since early time
over the high stone ruins
above the famous citadel
Perhaps a ploughman down below
stopped his horse in wonderment
and sighed a little
to watch the kings and queens go by
when the floating ghosts of flowers
scribbled birthmarks in the sky
in the hot still noon
their white balloons

Ploughmen of the dust
kings and queens at noon
who touched these walls
and their shadows too
dark parallels
the walls still exhale them
whose thoughts were stone
in the broken ruins

Below the citadel
a plain falls away
on earth so known to them
it must have seemed sometimes
that they could never leave
Lighter than air their thoughts
like smallwhite balloons
touching stone and earth
and the floating clouds
anchored to this place
moored like the dandelions
to our drifting earth
where we cannot leave
and where we cannot stay
are stone and earth and clouds
and flesh for just a day

--Al Purdy


"The Hunting Knife"

I wash the hunting knife,

scour the rust,
polish off the strange dark

It was a gift from your father
who still thinks
that you will go out one day
for your own meat.

Beautiful knife,
heavy and sharp. The blade
curves in the air
the way you curve
in me.

after arguments like this,
when you have sheathed yourself in silence
and I have withdrawn
against you, there is still a part of me

that wants to be hunted --
wants to be opened, to steam
like guts into a fall day,
hanging from this cavity,
exposed for love.

--Barbara Curry Mulcahy



Oompah Oompah Oompah, fattening
on the stem, tuba girthed, puffing like perorating parliamentarians,
Boompa Boompah Booompah,
earth hogs slurping swill from the sun,
jowls burp fat with photons, bigger, bigger, garden elephants,
mirthed like St. Francis, dancing (thud) dancing (thud,
brumpht, thud, brumpht) with the Buddha-bellied sun
dolphin sweet, theatrical as suburban
children, yahooing a yellow
which wallops air. Pure. They are Socratically
ugly, God's jokes. O jongleurs, O belly laughs
quaking the matted patch, O my blimpish Prussian
generals, O garden sausages, golden zeppelins. How do/ How do? How do?

Doo dee doo dee doooo.
What a rabble, some explode,
or sing, in the panic of September
sun, idiot praise for the sun that burns like a grand hotel,
for the sun, monstrous pulp in a groaning rind, flame seeded.
Popeyes, my dears, muscular fruit,
apoplexies of grunted energy flexed from the forearm vine,
self-hefted on the hill and shot
putted in the half-acre.

Carro-carroo. Are you well,
my sweets, pleasure things, my baubles, my Poohs, well?
I, weeding farmer, I, Caruso
them at dawn crow in the sun
cymballing mornings
and they Brunhilde back, foghorns, bloated alto notes
baroquely happy.
Not hoe teeth, not Rhotenone, but love,
bruited, busied, blessed these being-ward, barn-big,
bibulous on light, rampantly stolid
as Plato's Ideas, Easter Island
flesh lumps of meaning, rolling heads
in my 6-year-old nightmares,
vegetables on a ball and chain, sun anvils
booming with blows of temperature.

Come, phenomena, gourds of light, teach
your joy esperanto, your intense Archimedean aha
of yellow to me, dung-booted serf, whose unhoed brain,
the garden's brightest fruit, ones
communion with the cowfaced cauliflowers,
cucumbers twinkling like toes, and you,
clown prince,
sun dauphin of the rioting plot.

--Tim Lilburn


"Pennies on the Sidewalk"

The dead, for all we know,
wear little German shoes and
leave us frozen crumbs, because
the forest is dark even at midday
and weird shadows sidle fleshed
over the pine-needled floor. and since
the dead aren't coming back to us,
we must look out for them, though
the trail is widely scattered and will
take us all our lives to track, a crumb
here, a crumb there, different cities,
countries, continents, the real-estate
holdings of the dead more vast
than those of the Catholic Church.

Just this morning I found the last
brass button off the greatcoat worn
in the trenches of the Somme
by the sole surviving soldier of that war,
and, wiping off the blood, I saw
his King and heard his oath,
then watched the death of faith
invade his eyes, and understood
the horror in the midwife's stare
as she held the future's irony
in her slippery hands. so much mud,
we might never wash it off.

Yet I also found, three weeks before,
a rusted tear my mother cried
because the red-winged blackbirds
at her feeder sand a soft Italian air
out of her threadbare urban childhood,
and she was briefly sad with happiness
at the lucent window of the world.

We are all followers in the dark wood
and the way is lit only by small tokens --
a few words, a date, the picture of a Queen.

When we walk over them,
the air trembles a little,
and night falls
when it falls
like dirt off the sides of an open grave.

--Tim Bowling


"Roses Inverted"

The roses that grow in that stony ground
send their roots straight up, and their blossoms down.

Their sun-seeking roots anchor them in the air,
but they find neither water nor nourishment there.

Their leaves stretch toward the planet's hot core.
But the earth's inner engine radiates more

heat than it does light, so that, to their surprise,
they find that they cannot photosynthesize.

They are white as milk. Up among the stones,
the pale roots linger like the half-buried bones

of abandoned camels licked clean by the sands.
Yet the underground flowers that open like hands

are brazen and bright. They unfurl like flags.
Among the miniature caverns and crags

just beneath the surface, these banners gather,
sheltered from the sun, from stars, from weather --

sheltered, too, from admirers; hidden from any
appreciateive eye. and there are so many!

They are thoughts we attempted to utter, but failed.
Or confessions of love: folded, stemped, never mailed.

--Troy Jollimore



Restless, I walk out in the evening
to the old house; to the patio around the back
where the old lilacs bloom.
This is a surprise, for I would have said
I do not like this place, would not
come to it by choice:
the peeling lattice on the south side,
the crumbling cinder blocks that once made
a failed sort of fireplace on the east.
The pad was small, but even so
you have to pick up your feet not to stumble
where the concrete cracked.

The lilacs lean across the south-east corner,
blocking the walk.
If yo asked my sister, she ould say
it never happened, but I remember that
one spring we tamed a bumble-bee
when it came in the afternoons to feed.
She denies this now, of course,
or would; refuses any salvage, claims I'm inventing
if I say there were moments when the sun came out
like her hair in the shadows of the leaves, heavy, like cream, cut
blunt as a spoon, her small teeth
as she laughed up at me, the bee
humming in my palm as she stroked it; and though I
think hope may be a better guide to the past than despair

I now doubt, too -- these lilacs
are probably thick with insects in the afternoons, it's
ridiculous to think we might have sat inside them safe,
you'd have to be careful, merely brushing by,
not to be stung. When you think of it
she must be right, because why else
would she deny it, and I bury my face
as I might imagine leaning into sea-fowm:
cool, explosive; the way her hand
when it touched me could unlock the bone under its skin,
or how the drowned must feel,
rising though themselves from the ocean floor.

--Jan Zwicky


"El Greco: Espolio"

The carpenter is intent on the pressure of his hand

on the awl and the trick of pinpointing his strength
through the awl to the wood which is tough
He has no effort to spare for despoilings
or to worry if he'll be cut in on the dice
His skill is vital to the scene and the safety of the state
Anyone can perform the indignities It's his hard arms
and craft that hold the eyes of the convict's women
There is the problem of getting the holes exact
(in the middle of this elbowing crowd)
and deep enough to hold the spikes
after they've sunk through those bard feet
and inadequate wrist he knows are waiting behind him

He doesn't sense perhaps that one of the hands
is held in a curious gesture over him --
giving or asking forgiveness? --
but he'd scarely take time to be puzzled by poses
Criminals come in all sorts
as anyone knows who makes crosses
are as mad or sand as those who decide on their killings
Our one at least has been quiet so far
though they say he talked himself into this trouble
a carpenter's son who got notions of preaching

Well here's a carpenter's son who'll have carpenter sons
God willing and build what's wanted
temples or tables mangers or crosses
and shape them decently
working alone in that firm and profound abstraction
which blots out the bawling of rag-snatchers
To construct with hands knee-weight braced thigh
keeps the back turned from death

But it's too late now for the other carpenter's boy
to return to this peace before the nails are hammered

--Earle Birney


"Prairie Poem"
For George Grant

To go from white-water rivers' valleys or
from the escarpment to
live on the Saskatchewan prairie is
choosing to find out that
space calls, to a reshaping
of person. This is above and
beyond the going to, the choosing.

Reading in the open world of
this writer's geography of
ideas is to look, staggered and
overwhelmed by the
ideas, almost lost in the
panorama of
the living, long-dead, to him
present as friends, each lifted face
featured for horizons. For
holding close an everywhere of sky.

The land, the books, can never
swallow you, nor even the
fussy spring crocus here -- however
small, at vanishing points.

--Margaret Avison


"The Peonies"

The peonies hold so much rain, they've collapsed
to the ground. I spent the day tying their stalks
to wooden stakes I hammered into the garden. Still

they're listless, bobbing in my arms exhausted
from blooming so long and so heavy. I leave them bent
and sweep their petals from the walkway. For days

I don't think of them. The poppies need weeding, the squash
should be thinned. and I don't think of them again until my mother
visits. It's while she talks that I'm reminded. she has that look

of peonies, her voice that weight of rain. and between us
is a walkway, cleared of all we've given, of all we've lost,
where each stone is connected in a constellation,

mother, duaghter, gardener. For this moment
we are the same, we are equal. then something
slips from her grasp and gently nestles in my arms.

--Susan Goyette


"Ask a Stupid Question"

"How do I love thee?"

You talking to me, Lady?

"What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? what wild ecstasy?"

Lady, that's just some old pot.

"A child said What is the grass?"

I hope you pointed at the green stuff.

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"

Oh, yeah, that's just what I need. I'm hot and dry and long.

"If you were going to get a pet
what kind of animal would you get?"

Maybe a big dog, to keep strangers away, stranger.

"If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"

I'd guess about three months.

"Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?"

Hey, you can part your bare behind. You can eat a watermelon, for all I care.

"And you, Garcia Lorca, what are you doing down by the watermelons?"

Heh heh heh heh heh.

"What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"

You think that's scary? You should see my bare behind!

"How can we know the dancer from the dance?"

Well, you see, the babe with the tutu on: she's the dancer. That stuff
she's doing? That's the dance. Jesus, Lady, don't you know anything?

--George Bowering


"The Chinese Greengrocers"

They live their days in a fragrance
of white and black grapes
and tomatoes and the fresh
water smell of lettuce.

They know with their hands
and noses the value
of all things grown.
They will make you a bargain price
on overripe cantaloupe.

They wash with clear water
their bunches of carrots
and radishes. They crank out
a canvas awning to shelter them.

Their babies suckle on unsold bananas.
By the age of six
they can all make change
and tell which fruits are ripe.

The grandmothers know only numbers
in English, and the names
of fruits and vegetables.

They open before the supermarkets open,
they are open all day,
they eat with an eye on the door.

They keep sharp eyes
for shoplifting children.
They know every customer's
brand of cigarettes.

After the neighbourhood movies are out
and the drugstores have all closed
they bring in their blueberries
and cabbages and potted flowers.

In the rooms behind the store
they speak in their own language.
Their speech flies around the rooms
like swooping, pecking birds.

Far into the night I believe
they weigh balsa baskets
of plums, count ears of conr
and green peppers.

No matter how they may wash
their fingers, their very pores
are perfumed with green,
and they sleep with parsley and peaches
onions and oranges
and grapes and running water.

--Pat Lowther


"Letter from the Retreat of St. Scholastica"

The aches in my legs have begun again,
the pain so side I feel it in my stomach
and not the source, as if that could be
pinned like a moth to a board, identified --
Antheraea Polyphemus. I told you
I would write when it came back.

A black cat visits every morning
for the little milk I give her,
fur dotted with the eggs of lice.
I could leave a bowl of scraps
but then she'd give up hunting
and the monks won't feed here when I'm gone.
Most of them grew up on farms, believe
an animal should work or be eaten.

Yesterday a finch flew up from the canola,
then another and another like lights coming on.
Such beauty here, my love. I need it
just a little longer.

The sky's blue brings the ocean and you
nearer than you are. Remember Sidney Spit,
the sun hot, both of us one body gleaming,
no one on the beach for miles
till a little girl marched by us with a bucket
then walked past again.
We dind't know if she had seen or not.
Next morning I found sand in our bed
as if left there by a dream.

I stroke the cat anyway and talk to her.
Will I be here when the eggs break open?
Funny what we use to measure time.
The nights so long without you I imagine
death is sleeplessness, not the peace
we've been promised. Soon I'll be ready
to come home.

I want to offer you my breasts, whole
and perfect as St. Agatha's glowing on a platter.
In the paintings they look like peach halves,
round side up and flushed with ripeness.
Others see them differently. Here I've learned
she is the patron saint of artisans who fashion bells
from bronze, hands and faces gold about the vats,
and on her feast day the churches serve
round loaves of bread.

At dusk I remove my glasses as you taught me.
Between the leaden boughs of spruce
the sky breaks into pieces more beautiful
than the glass at Chartres, those ancient
fragments of rare blue,
what the naked eye half-blind can see!
Where I am, every hour, the bells are ringing.

--Lorna Crozier

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