Some of these poems were previously published in Around You, CV/II, Event, Fiddlehead, Gaillardia, Gasoline Rainbow, Gauntlet, Grain, IS, NeWest ReView, Poetic Licence, Poetry Australia, Quarry, Repository, Salt, Waves.
Other books by Colin Morton:
My forebears were well acquainted with these distances grew close to the prairie knew the wind tide in its grasses the cry of wildfowl deserting the frozen ponds. On the run from another land's quarrels to the periphery of power they arrived on this unpromising plain and began the search for water and a name. The land lay flat in ambush made no response to the advances of the plough until it grew fertile with their blood. Their time was their own here time to grow old and die time aplenty to die without growing old to smother in grain dust as a child or to fall from heat exhaustion into the machinery. They held to the earth like a wife. Today the road spins out beneath the wheels at ninety fenceposts hiss by dry streambeds wind through the fields on either side of the highway embankment until it is swallowed in a tangle of city streets. At home near the outskirts I recall only their horizons rolling back under steel how when the land picked up and blew away they were rescued by their creditors and put to work for wages how they built the road back themselves to the country they fled lined up at the ticket office to enlist in its wars as now we tune in by satellite and the distances dissolve.
When the lead cold moon darkens and dwindles and the feeble sun slips under the mountains heading south dark flocks settle on the shadow groves This night of earth sleep I am pulled by the moon gathering shadows in secret swallowing stars
Less fiercely than river carves banks more subtly than glacier hollows lake you fit my body to yours even now as you turn in sleep this stone to breathing soil
Why whisper? never mind what the girls say at coffee let the boss wait but talk to me now tell me what's wrong with this poem with all my love poems where ice turns rock into soil but you remain hidden in the core a shadow cast by arrogant metaphor never the real person I love. It looks like there's no way out for my poem it simply won't say what I mean you won't enter it any more than you fade into me when you get married and start signing my name. You talk a while longer at your far end of the line then hand up (to hear your voice was all I wanted) and return to your files but gradually as the afternoon wears thin and I sit finishing these lines you remember a little and a little more of the person behind my words and when you start talking about me everybody gets bored _a married woman_ they say oh yes! and by the time you get home you will probably call this a love poem.
Blindly knowing flowers bloom for any passing eye while roots only crush tear take soil longs for the fruit of all this giving. The dead only return black and brittle on the stem leaves sodden trodden to mulch rent of all but the longing of soil. And deeper dry and unwashed what of the jealousy of stone?
She's not crying now warming plates for our dinner and mashing potatoes with milk for her fiance Gerry, my young bride and me Once more she has everything in hand though not long ago she did let go her tears at some thoughtless word of mine and I left her in the kitchen with a hurt I couldn't understand I left her in the kitchen for a decade of lonely family evenings, desolate Saturday mornings with no work to get away to the pent up silences of this house of blame falling in on her a night. She has put all that behind her now Dessert is sweetened with laughter and we do the dishes together enjoying each other's company though Gerry and I are too loud solving all the world's problems. No more crying she tells herself and half believes it thinking Gerry is really on the wagon this time and I go back to my old ways taking her for granted smiling with her not caring to look so close I see into her eyes thinking as usual of myself but twenty-five years from now.
The morning sun clarifies everything and I stand with my thumb out reading the _Gita_ between cars transCanada east My mind is untroubled by sorrows for pleasures I have no longings Sun growing hotter more kids come and stand thumb out at the side of the road so i back up still reading _All beings follow nature_ By noon I have backed up five miles and the highway has turned fluid steel semi orange winnibago blue _Of what use is restraint?_ At last I cross the road stand with my thumb out facing east In a minute Uncle Wally pulls over in his farm truck laughing to see it's me he has stopped for and his son Lyle laughs out loud now his dad has someone else to talk to _Even a wise man follows nature_
Like a broken leg roughly set bound to a branch then walked on as far as water rested then walked on again over the Superior north shore this car dying on every two mile hill backfires shocking bikers off the road. Ready heave. Hand on the wheel getting up speed jump in swing the door shut throw it in gear we're off again. Finally it's finished wants to just sit pistons steaming points black on the shoulder of the road near a town that boasts it's the coldest place on earth. Nothing to do but thumb to the Sault for parts. It must have been simpler once when your horse broke a leg you shot it.
On the bus sleep is the bridge between separate realities dual images run each other through bus windows we rest only while moving at stops everyone wakes _Stay in your seat till a city appears_ always the same city Towns collect against the tracks like papers in a windtrap rusted out car bottoms among ditch flowers At every Greyhound cafe a radio's going berserk hallucinating ears in clouds of cream through tea Before reboarding people string themselves out along the gravel beach to watch fish roll in from the dark horizon washed up on shore: a case of broken bottles
Pocket knife's best but even a fingernail will do Keep the hole small, scrape out the pulp till the cork fits snug then carefully, repeat carefully pour lick any spills off the fat green flank -- go ahead, spill a bit, that's the best part. Once I poured three bottles of rum into one of these babies mind you it was really juiced we were licking booze off each others' arms -- come to think of it that's the best part but one bottle is plenty to sweeten your weekend just cool her overnight while she sucks up the juice and the lake will be brighter than ever tomorrow -- the sun will be red juicy red. Time was we had no fridge at the lake left the melon instead over night in the spring fed stream -- and really that's best but one summer we left one in the shallows fat and pickled next morning she was gone no sign All Saturday we steamed _Did you take her? Then who?_ till we found on the path to the privy a raccoon black eyes glassy crazy grin on its face and stiff.
they may be called, but I have never grown up still sleep in the foetal position would eat less meat if I did the slaughtering (rather not think of it) On the go, as we all are I have no time nor jaw for wisdom My dentist to spare me the trouble takes pliers to this remember I am brother to bear and wolf For leverage he climbs my chair tugging and sweating while my throat fills up with soggy cotton but the jaw is stubborn _Please_ I say _forget it it's only a tooth_ but the jaw remembers it remembers.
Uncle Ezra alone on the farm outlived all his city children finally took sick from going to funerals he was put to bed for the good of his illness they found him dead on his way out the door Now here we all are the youngsters who hardly knew him and don't know each other meeting one time to say goodbye (but I remember Uncle Ezra taught me to chop wood a thing in all my city years I will never forget) Now without his ruddy cheeks in his first new suit since his wedding day a bubble of flowers cartooned over his head Uncle Ezra has already slammed the door on us and we when the service is over hurry away to our cars.
_war_ _knees_ _far_ _cease_ The rhymes don't matter now but I wonder where and who he was the day he took out the _On Active Service_ paper (in York awaiting orders? or a smouldering Dutch village? on one of those long drugged days in a French hospital?) to write what he would never say _Fight for home and you_ Is that what he meant by the wounded look that is all I saw my father give his father while he lived? Weddings _claim_ children as a sniper claims victims and when I read _A Heritage which soldiers bought For every girl and boy_ I break out in a sweat see spots and get the shits In short it's a soldier's life being the son of a soldier I am so glad this was my father's only poem glad he didn't teach me to marry or give birth to war If it left him nothing to teach all right I've learned more from his silence than I could from all the poems he never wrote.
Drops tossed from an oar move mountains on the surface of the lake You too dip lightly through street faces half seen glances adrift in your wake You paddle a succession of beds in bare rooms observing the silence of mountains.
Tea is steeping in the pot As in the early days of radio, chairs huddle round the electric fire magazines make a rainbow on the floor Leaves skitter down the road clouds across the sky Tea is steeping in the pot When you get up to put another coin in the meter the furniture crowds closer to the fire.
_a man on whom the sun has gone down E P is dead in Venice at the fall of the year sun gold on the bay at dusk is cold in his eyes (in a snapshot he leans from a window) This November when the palaces are boarded up San Marco's square almost deserted when silence fills the courtyards and arcades from steeple tops the swallows are dispersing while before his eyes the broad sea darkens to a vision of a windowless, closed room _the last American dying the tragedy of Europe_ The last film years old now still shows him drinking wine on a Paris sidewalk black wine that drips down his gnarled scruff of beard his sunken cheek withdraws from the camera's touch the voice scratches like an old record: _I thought I knew something I was wrong_ He sleeps now sleep bitterly awaited as the gold sky after sunset is sleeping light Envoi: Stay the affairs of commerce one day sing once again the soul's wonder though it lies in ruins that old golden dream and the weak song does in his throat _Truth is not untrued by reason of our failing to fix it on paper_
Welcome to Hellas Ancient & modern ruins 1st & 3rd Sundays free So efficient are we we have a special police force to take care of tourists Better than abracadabra say tourist say it in your best Alabama or New England accent Say it in your own accent tourist and the border police quite ransacking your van and turn you over to the tourist police who take care of you Do you need an A B C or D class hotel? The tourist police speak English with English accents most obliging not at all my cousin owns a D hotel In Hermou Street on the closest to the station of the market streets just under the Acropolis where the sun is hard on the marble ruins of earlier market streets hard as bleach on the sea The hotel's rates are fixed by the tourist police cafe menus and prices are printed by the market police you are the first tourists anywhere protected from gougers and swindlers we are the first country in history so honest we don't even need elections except to register who gets passports and licences The tourist police takes care of you all in the narrow Saturday night streets when the Yankee sailors come ashore wandering in a daze counting the days (the rates in the bordellos are fixed by the market police) The regime's official poster -- phoenix with figure of armed soldier -- is pasted like blood on public walls Why don't we open a t-shirt shop and sell caricatures with the soldier holding a cattle prod to the genitals of the phoenix who has the face of mother Athena? The tourist police will really take care of you if you go around talking like that Hellas bon voyage come again soon Thursday and Friday open till nine Don't wake up the immigrant workers till Munich Dortmund Hamburg or Keln Don't mention what you saw at the people's hospital when you had to be taken to a private room Talk up the vale of Megara Parnassus Corfu and Olympia Exit soldiers at Thessaloniki good night good night Hellas good night
Astern harbour gulls wing in / out cross the sun like clouds dip heads into the westerlies wing high with daybreak tide high in the rigging then call back to sea foam that teases the prow wing high over red tile roofs in the village cove ~ white shining through shadow ~ astern. So from Iceland St. Malo from Aleutian coves dreamers pass populating sea and sky a masthead finds its way through these stars to shore. Now as then gulls dive and soar astern cross the sun while the village dwindles then dips in the waves the sun noses deep in the cold sea's darkening reaches where it cools before the dawn.
I walk the embankment evenings when the sky is sun-swollen the forest hushed, take air among flowering weeds and sand overlooking inland the gallows and the execution pits. It's my only out now time to myself between the cliff face and the sea. Guards wave from their posts as I pass, prisoners wait in doorways smoking, shuffling cards their eyes darker than night. But here the sky is calm as memory the sun scrubs white the shimmering cliffs. Across the gulf I see him. He walks the other shore alone dwelling as I do on the space between. We share the intimate start of discovery yet neither shouts or waves. Each walks on as if still alone. Though he is free he awaits me here when I make my evening getaway. The sight of him frightens me I wish he would save me. As I watch he seems to be moving closer, his eyes on me as if they could kill. When I run back to my post he too turns into his dark country but through night watch I know he is there a sleepless appetite prowling in the dark.
The gravestones can no longer be read, even now rain is levelling the names and dates arches that housed a splendour of colour and light fill a rock garden now: red lichen green moss white flower Rain hides the city but for two landmarks for warring centuries: the minster and the smokestack We walk the wall eating Spanish oranges looking out from sentry posts at broken brick and stone lately painted by the local gangs while under us imperceptibly the rain is sliding this wall and two walls beneath it deeper Today behind the kingsofengland choirscreen the pageant of Gichi Manitou revived! Arches of light are dancing the thunderbird is flying over Rome's eternally buried walls in the eternal flame of eternal northsea gas in upraised voices flying
I Gold the face spun gold the headdress of the grinning lord of death pendant round the neck of the emperor priest gold inlaid in jade the god he prays to II Like Bacchus out of Asia the Spaniard rides the sun in his golden plumage to the city of mirages III Cortes in ancient Darien refound Homeric Illium schooners cruised a sea of gold on a coastline of the sun IV Orozco shows him a mechanical man whose steel sword rapes the flaming body of the goddess America V Thus they perished they were swallowed by the waters they became fish they perished all the mountains perished
1. Midatlantic Prayer Hardships so many we have endured for the Lord the discomfort of the hold we count no hardship the unruly waves no peril that carry our bark far from the shores of persecution to new life beyond this deadly sea. To the end of life and beyond we follow Him though the wind is unceasing and our fetor torments the creaking, weeping night. Though the sea storm devour us our faith will sustain us to the peace that passeth 80 acres of wood and meadow in the land of Tuscarora. 2. Dekaniwidah's Dream Together we dig up the great tree throw into the pit all weapons of war and bury them beneath its trunk which grows from the five roots of the people to reach heaven. 3. The Book of Martyrs Listen to the partridge cry, that's the savage watching waiting. The savage stalks like a fox fights like a lion then disappears into the woods like a bird he will eat your liver before your eyes. Nights locked up in our dark houses we turn the pages of the Book of Martyrs: _the crushing with stones_ _the burning at the stake_ _the rack_
Doors see no arrivals or departures only comings and goings doors are shortsighted always part of a room You enter shutting at your back snowy mountains plunging rivers anything it doesn't matter because you don't look back Before you a vision of doors opens to more rooms more doors you could go on forever door to door hunting a vision of windows left behind
Awhile before dawn the train slows and halts at a clearing in the north shore forest. Evergreen branches sag, heavy with snow. At the side of the embankment is a railway shack. Inside, a kerosene lantern illuminates a mercator world map. Gold stars trace a path across a broad pink emptiness; Europe is a tangle of lines. Two parka'd figures stoop through the snow toward the hut. Their faces cannot be seen, and before they reach shelter the train jerks into motion, plunging into the forest again. The train is part of nothing it passes. Observes its own time. Touches only its dream of steel. A woman in red and white baseball jacket half sleeps in front of the window where the moon skips mutely through the branches. Her baby sleeps across the facing seat. She lifts her hand to her mouth ~ a red glow ~ then returns her hand to the window. Smoke rises, curling slowly. Morning gradually pales the sky.
oases are island jungles where we huddle round fires waiting for shadows to leap out of the trees In this desert oases are avoided We founder through sand storms driven by wind tide swimming with fossils through drifting dunes When we meet in the shadow of a rock we huddle together in talk create with our voices a world regular as hands and faces solid as resisting flesh
Hungry man drinks at stream of light from lowering sun rustle of wings in underbrush as sage wind through grass cloud shadows brush pine hill pheasant's harsh alarm Heaving to nameless distance the prairie tines and glows within cutbank snakes through hills to plain/sun/sea gilding twilight Scanning inarticulate space for echo of buffalo thunder hungry man grieves translucent evening is shattered by silence
is one more idler hanging out for bootleg beer pockets bulging with apples and oranges he looks over your shoulder at the poker table turns up unwanted at the John Wayne movie spoils your aim at horseshoes with his rosy grin keeps you up all hours burning the night away
Week on week I patch and go on patching fabric that no longer holds a thread patch night on day then pick loose ends and go on patching When you arrive you might see me all in one piece but soon I begin picking pulling before your eyes I fray Only later in bed or on the floor I see the cloth I needle is my flesh
(a coalmining ghost town near Banff) I This granite staircase without its proud manor stands alone between snow peaks last witness to these black wounds inflicted on the mountain II Follow this cold stream down till the current slackens and sinks beneath stone found again in a coalpit exposed to the sun filling with mud and flowers III For fear this black earth rots on contact we make love standing then scramble back to the road stopping only at the cenotaph to read the names of the dead
He was always my idea of God himself lines like a calfskin Bible righteously presiding over family Christmas dinners His pious shadow fell across the lives of all his children as they chose their own careers married catholics smoked or in any way transgressed his law. I was there once when he caught my parents drinking at a party and when longhaired and 16 I hitchhiked east alone I learned what people meant who called him North Toronto Wasp. The day he died my father found me working Sunday in a ditch in northern Alberta Hardly a sign of grief passed between us only the look of stern reserve we both inherited from him that despite us outlives him.
She read it Sunday afternoons in the light of her dining room window through a magnifying glass that once in the hands of one of her sons burned a spot on the cover, but each night of the week she rested her eyes on her knitting while my grandfather read from the family Bible a full hour before the radio went on, and for long now, most of my life, she has felt her way through this little apartment he moved her to before he died. Now the library sends her cassettes of the Gospels in Modern English _I've no use for books, the TV is all I can see any more._ Though meant for more thunderous voices _APPOINTED TO BE READ IN CHURCHES_ the book's years with her were silent ones, four pages ruled for family history are mute. Only pencilled numbers on a flyleaf trace its progress from guineas to dollars to this rest in her window garden three flights up in Willowdale. One scrawled note bequeaths it to her father -- _For Hiram Connell when Mother is done with it._ Now _Mother_ is done, and the dying man who wrote is nameless in his own book, the granddaughter has become the grandmother and passes the book on the me unmarked, but preserving between its pages a few fragments: a daughter's first needlepoint an _exhortation to obedience_ and, keeping place at Genesis XLIX _Jacob calleth his sons and blesseth them_ two maple leaves all red pressed out of them for two sons in Europe 1945. Grandmother lying in your dark drugged night whose Gospel is that you whisper in sleep? while I at your table hunt these pages for a passage into my past -- one verse of Isaiah underlined in pencil: _in a little wrath I hid my face awhile but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee._
Haiku are snowing gently over cars in the parking lot between the red brick wings of the hospital snowflakes large as scraps of torn paper haiku written on them almost legible on the darkening sky. We are waiting together as you've been waiting nine months now the cat on your lap slowly pushed down from your stomach to your knees by the hidden stranger learning to swim inside you. Tonight our waiting is almost over and outside the window it's snowing haiku that muffle the sound of traffic of the icebound river breaking open.
No family but because you're more family than I'm used to I hunt through two bars hand out till closing time in the one with the shuffleboard missing your wit feeling maybe I don't know you ~ been away a month ~ as I turn up on your doorstep with a sixpack. You've just crashlanded after all night alone in the bar with the juke box playing over and over third-rate romance low rent rendezvous till the manager crabbing "This my bar" unplugged you and sent you home white as ashes. No family brothers anyway we share the last round singing another song sitting face to face where you might have been staring out the night in both chairs.
_Teach the losers,_ the coach says in the staffroom _and pretty soon you're a loser too_ and when the bell rings he goes to make winners out of the kids he calls _ya bunch a yahoos_ while I meet my special ed. class at the front door and we walk down the hill together the two of us to the Sunset Lodge to talk to his gramps. _What was it LIKE gramps when you were kids? What was SCHOOL like?_ Each question the boy makes himself clearer and the teacher has done nothing but listen to the old man's stories of his first threshing crew at 13 and of the day years later when on a railroad crew he was overtaken on the bare prairie by a dirt storm that hailed darkness over him and I watch the sunmotes drift past the window the turning cassette forgotten like the drone of the furnace asking myself why no one else in the staffroom would touch my job Later in the classroom asked to set words on paper the boy takes pencil in hand like a pea-shooter and scrawls _GaMp Qiut sHooL at 10_ and for a moment I too feel the darkness sentenced to pore over the pages of his errors till his sixteenth birthday He grins and tells me he is stupid but I'm not fooled he's smart enough to know if he makes trouble the school will let him quit early I know he's not stupid I've seen his eyes darken when he frightens his friends with the story of the dirt storm
I don't understand why I can't grow plants I'd give my life for my plants why can't I give them life? First the geraniums then the ivy rhododendron and yucca died of too much water or too little I never knew which I'm finally left with one cactus I couldn't kill. Knowing cactus like heat I set it by the stove a year later I notice it's suffocating coated with gas and grease so to clean it I put it with its pot in the dishwasher on the setting for greasy pots That doesn't seem to have worked the cactus looks dead. This is the third time I have phoned the Department of Agriculture but all I get is a recording on the noon market reports.
Frost crackles under foot and my shadow reels in the headlights of a passing car. Circuits snap coldly as photographs burn in my brain enamel peeling from the smile black flakes of chemical paper curl until only the corners are white two greyish spots in the black where eyes were. Another snap shot in a field last year: I am in it by a cairn of rotted posts I pushed together posing while my friend took the picture that burned with him today. In the dark field I look for the smouldering ruins of those posts: a horse in the snow-covered field a white horse is staring at me.
Hypothesis: Education is the only hope Apparati: 2 poinsettia striplings 1 pot of earth 1 ledger 1 stopwatch 1 gallon water cultural miscellany Method: Laid 1st plant across table and taught it the miracle of photosynthesis read it the bill of rights the joy of growing then measured its rate of self-improvement The 2nd poinsettia: threw the dirt on it squashed it underfoot allowed it no exercise fed it only water Observations: The latter's growth (in feet per second) was negligible but it still holds out like an obstinate beggar a large red palm Meanwhile the educated plant turned to the colour of ashes Conclusion: Hypothesis cannot be verified There remain two possibilities: a) there is no hope the schools had better be buried along with the flags at city hall (and whatever has turned the colour of ashes) make a time capsule of it all and shovel it under or b) neglect is the only hope as it was for the Venus who wore a once-fashionable dress painted over the stone from nipples to calf till centuries of dirt stopping her eyes revealed the real grain of stone the beauty the artist spent his craft in covering
Though John was the stoned one I played the fool loping alongside a passing train the shriek of steel at my ear reaching for a high iron rung till on a city curb I tripped and rolled under (the bushes) thinking good thing I didn't die just now John would have really freaked out
She is too young to know how much she knows, he is old enough to know he doesn't. Her arms trace a dome around her heart he calls the house of god, she thinks he's joking. She pays no attention to his advice, and he all things considered does the same.
A rusty hatchet the shrill harmonica chops at the air but can't split it shavings of memory scatter on the floor that sandpaper voices scratches across a decade's static on the stereo _the times they are achangin_ a spark that voice touched off might have touched off how many lives what world but times are still changing and here lies the lumber cold and petrified no fire only dirt in the eyes and the shoulder of the highway to cry on. They say in Chile one man's songs were so loved he was taken in by police they cut off his hands so he couldn't play they cut out his tongue so he couldn't sing they cut out his heart so no more songs could disgrace them but despite them he still in singing under the breath of millions on the streetcorners of his country. And still the cutting voice whittles away at time singing spare change on the sidewalk outside the labour exchange spare change but there it is there is no blood on the album who told you you'd get what you asked for who told you you wanted nothing more?
for Irina Ginzburg "USA has political prisoners in its thousands but USSR has political prisoners in its tens of thousands" - Andrew Young Irina Ginzburg has only one husband one voice to cry out for him not one chance to defend him. Locked out of the courtroom now for using her one voice refusing his accusers one respect she is discarded like so much refuse. She walks unseeing past the Western reporters opening her umbrella in front of her face unable to hide her dry spectacled hopeless eyes from the camera. One political prisoner in one court one wife one mother in the slow endless rain walking away into the photograph that arrives next day on my doorstep in Edmonton, Alberta drenched with rain.
The pink ladies and couriair cars prowl seventh avenue between open pits and cable spools THE CASE OF THE DISAPPEARING SIDEWALK! On this corner frog-throated boys used to sing CALGARY HERALD PAPER LATE CITY EDITION HERALD PAPER and give change from their aprons with sharp-eyed fingers where today an acre of glass encases a twelve-month garden frequented by popcorn bags and exotic birds I can't hear from the street, and drill bits all sizes sexy and primitive: office ornaments paper weights garden fountains drill bits drill bits have balls THIS IS A HARDHAT AREA NO HELP NEEDED Across from this sign I stand a half hour to see how many Ontario dropouts come looking for employment: no one loiters around the jobsite, everyone hurries by carrying briefcases, money sacks, takeout food No one walks by as if they had the day off No one is retired or too young to work Even I can't stand here idle, I take notes I tell myself, must be a working writer must take notes wherever I go, then I'll find out where the sidewalks went.
(after Yeats) Outside she had no patience for what the day brought no so much emptiness she devours sweet numbing healing peace Inside patience is easy when she is not being tortured when the sun even shines unbarred and unwired She sits at her cell window so still a bold gull flies down and stabs her cheek There is little blood and she barely feels it so glad to be left alone one day
line up all the empty bottles the long-necked beer bottles from the antique stores the wine bottles and pop bottles left on beaches steam off the labels and line the bottles up, the green ones with the brown black yellow and clear ones line up the beer bottles whose labels have been torn off by neurotic fingers and the bottles sent back by the breweries because they have cockroaches or dead mice at the bottom line up the bottles afloat on all the seas, those with messages in them and those without any and the bottles with methyl hydrate-soaked cotton in them used by schoolkids for killing insects line up the bottle that killed Malcolm Lowry with the bottle that killed Dylan Thomas and the bottles that killed all the drunken poets nobody's heard of and the poets who spoke all their lines into their bottles and all of Purdy's crocuses that weren't smashed on frozen roadsides when thrown from car windows line up the bottles of dark glass we look through darkly when we want to see the ghosts of our former selves and the bottles Dr. Jekyll drank from, and all the Dr. Jekylls whether on the stage, in movies or on television and the bottles of rubbing alcohol and aftershave and nail polish remover people only drink from in dark alleys line up the embalming fluid bottles someone was saving to build a glass house some day and the bottles of nerve gas saved up for the war nobody wants and the bottles of toxic gas cruising the streets disguised as trucks and the pill bottles, the billions of pill bottles emptied each year, and billions that sit half-empty for years on medicine shelves line up the empty bottles sent back by hospitals for refills line up all the empty bottles the party's over
Out of cracks in the pavement the green comes menacing all smooth surfaces rooting under the cities suckering out all over the suburbs Year by year the green comes with flowers coming and coming all over themselves dying fragrantly into the sulphurous air green then ripe then rotting then green again sprouting out of putty climbing the silent steel towers clinging to petrochemical soils greening with a mould green perhaps but green fibrillating everywhere eating our skeletons inside out turning each one of us green
He's a strange bird who deserts his nest twice in one year. He is happy to be arriving happy soon after to leave. Wherever he is it's not right! and he's off somewhere anywhere away on a ribbon of tail lights in low orbit strung out like radio at the far end of the band.
Smells accumulate in corners year by year: of mildew in the cupboards, ash in the woodstove downstairs, dust and cobwebs over all the hoarded jars and hardwood and moulding in the rafters, the cool smell of water dripping on wood. Moving into this house no one has moved out of we hardly possess it, merely add our trunks and boxes to the accumulation in the basement, jam them in around the unused moving crate, between heaps of lumber, on shelves of bottles jars and tins, my tools go onto the workbench and get lost amid curtain rods pipe sections twists of wire tile grout slug bait lawn seed screws and nails, tobacco tins of nails. On the wall where it must have hung since 1954, a _Saturday Evening Post_ cover: the bright-eyed husband works at a bench like this while upstairs in her negligee the young wife sits in her blue bedroom gazing out the window at the moon as _she_ might have watched from her blue bedroom, the widow who haunted this house after the builder's death, the woman who brought sweet smells to the pantry and left handwritten Swedish recipes in the drawers, who saved his long-necked beer bottles and his newspapers from the war, who kept up the garden as he began it: crocus tulip daffodil rhododendron iris raspberry rose, who left her trowel and gardening glove beneath a raspberry cane. And locks accumulated in the years she was alone, one of the last Liberal voters in British Columbia: a lock and two bolts on the back door, two locked doors in front, and more bolts on the basement door, each room can be closed to all others, and here in the short hallway she could sit with closed doors all around her and cry to the ceiling far away.
Sun shines on the kitchen table enervates the rising coffee steam, and lazy man plugs in to the morning news, because the paper isn't news any more. Some days stories break hour to hour so I feel I'm accomplishing something whenever I tune in, I'm there when the spaceship touches down when the murderer chooses death with wet lips. With this knowledge I hope to make a better soup for lunch but before sitting down instead of grace I need to know whether to despair of earthly treasures, or if I may breathe easier awhile, chewing place names in the strait of Hormuz with my zucchini.
At a rate proportional to their distance the stars are moving out, away, apart. From any point it appears the same, apart, away. Every self is the centre. Distant stars are vacating so rapidly their light has stretched and turned red. In fact their distance is measured in redness. This explosion of stars appears only to the spectroscope as memory, long, long past. Only by dropping apples and listening to streetcars pass do we know they have survived their ancient images. The physics hasn't changed. The stars are there but, like memory, millions of light years farther than they seem. The red shift is visible on this planet, though only to the human eye. Faster, fastest, everyone moves apart. Having left you at the airport and driven as far as the bridge, I look back and see only the starless city sky, bathed in red.
(for my son) At last the storm is passing, or pausing to restore itself over the gulf, clouds heave a redolent breath on the rooftops, and behind the closed door your howls have ended, sleep washes anger and fear from your face. I stand over your bed twenty years from an understanding with you, knowing we may not have those years, or if we do, today will be dream time then to both of us, become other people, translated into foreign lives. You won't remember this day, and I might say nothing happened: we made it through the hours at home on the bus and on the hate/love rollercoaster ride of being five, I listened to the news at lunch, dreading to be out of touch another hour, we put together your jigsaw puzzles to show you had all the pieces, you did a lot for yourself, did without even me in the end, as you will have to some day we can't imagine. The sky is impatient, tugged and tossed in a mist of last roses, and above the rain satellites plough silent cameras through what is left of the twentieth century, almost everywhere on earth it is tomorrow. -Vancouver, November 1980