Nebula (#2) Is Proud To Present


by Denis Stokes


Carrying Place by Denis Stokes

Half-wild, this road 
has lost its snow. 
Only gravel and wet sand 
feel my feet chained 
to fartlecks, the heart's 
commands of lefts and rights 
through a cool evening blue. 
Birds warn their mates of 
a stranger through 
gray vacancies of leaves. 
A plover.  Its laughter scatters 
the path of air into 
sweeping water. 

I'm soaked in mud 
but can't stop moving 
ankles creaking. 
Yesterday, my car's choke 
faltered over changing air. 
Words run into 
ink the sky keeps 
releasing, new water 
refusing to not move. 
Near the birches and cedars 
there, scuffles 
leave bloodstains on young willows.  Why 
do I hurt so -- 
ankles, knees, head, 
chest heaving lungs into 
hands around a knife, slicing 
the frost as it flowers 
is this hard on me -- 
returning to this running 
over stones locked in shifting 
clay?  Where is this wind my body 
chases?  Some hot, glad animal  
closes in. 

  JEWELS    I can make what I want here, call this place  South Africa, a claustrophobic womb, wait patiently  for justice to suck me out into some glad nothingness  with no colour, no light left -- the bruises gone  or unimportant.  I can make whatever I want of   this sack, hurting my shoulders -- it's too full of jewels.  They stuff my pockets so I can't move.  Rubied wounds,  the hard blue mornings I was unable to handle,  the tiny green islands around my lady's finger ...  It is all travel, rough work, back and forth to  old places until I rock, a child in a rattling cart  mining the ground, deeper, deeper into shifting  dust, day into day into -- damned my swaying back.    An adolescent weakening reaches the knees, my shoulders  slanting badly away from this road.  I keep turning  into myself as the jewels hide, as they cut me, then  shine.  I wear the last light they gave.  I wear  a slow smile, gentle and hardly there but the jewels  mark me.  I sign their cheque book, read 36% --  Modern Poetry.  I touch above my shoulder blade where  Gwen kissed.  I feel the mark, a train's moon  that enlarges as it enters you.  Goddamned the sway,  this little rest after the puppet dance, poor pay, hard  travel from each broken Eden.  The road cuts my feet:  smithereens, scarlet marks of what love can't carry.  Damned these fingers, dull, cumbersome, heavier and busier  about their Braille.  The jewels burn holes because  my fingers hanker so.  My hands -- seamless pockets,  dark and empty.  I can barely hold them open as if I were  Nas-shig-y'alth, that bastard chief mining the darkness  while his tribe ate grubworms, his sack a dead weight  of light he'd taken.  He could have burned their eyes  out with you.  He could have done this.    Raven.  take me up again until I see the jewels that  make me:  my father's eye that night, looking through me  until I couldn't sleep, my mother's mouth.  her tones of voice moving in me like blood,  fingertips of each woman who has touched my hand  with her hand, the amber hands of brothers, friends,  the black moon sliding across winter's glass,  my sister's first twirls in her 3 year old yellow wool  and galoshes -- these are all with me.  Take them,  Raven, into this darkness which is my life.  I wear  your ring, its seal beautiful as the wax sears.  Scatter the jewels, good black bird, wise and generous  trickster.  I want them everywhere:  young blue ones  of each night before, the red glimmerings of age,  the dwarfs I barely remember. Let them cut  through dark glass, this night that weighs down  with hard cold.  Take me far  through this smokehole, closer ... I must melt soon into my own image.   Make me all wings, a sudden falling.     
  WOMEN WEEPING AT KISPIOX    Their faces are the house posts cut from soft wood  of cedar beams.  Some red, some black lines barely hold  the rain back.  There is the beaver clan and the frog clan,  the bear's family, the raven and all are sad.  The Skeena's a mean creek emptied from their veins until  the body becomes all water.  Their time floats away.    I saw the conference at Kispiox.  Chief Dan spoke  of words.  Hunters, of guns while the trappers defended  the conibear.  The dance was glad but sad really  like a last pow wow among clouds, then thunder  and no light.  John Stanley spoke of plumbing in Stoney Creek:  Soon, these houses won't stand.  All we'll have is our own    survival.  "Return, good bear," he prayed, "helping  spirit.  Trees, relieve us, shelter."  The birds wouldn't defend  but there'll be berries, mushrooms.  These women's faces  soften with their own water.  It's hard to know if they're suffering  like demons or angels.  Their daughter walks, manless,  out of town.  Her feet toss sprays of tiny deaths behind her.    The sky balances its hoop dance.  She sees the earth's egg.  She glimpses the raven's shoulders turning into wind.  The clouds shift onto the rockface over Trembleur Lake, sunglint  hurting, near Hazelton -- the mantles of the Seven Sisters.  These totems, these few remains, weep themselves away.  Rose,  what shall we do, old friend? -- Visit Taché, tell of K'san's    ladders for the people, bright fevers reaching back  to health?  We went to Kispiox, hoped for a few moments  while Edgar John got drunk, Darryl Joseph -- stoned at thirteen,  Louis George, stabbed -- misunderstanding beside a cold stove,  late winter.  These women close in like night visions, weeping  wood, faces veiled by faith saving beauty, red coat justice  scouring mountains and Simon, last buck, rages himself away.     
  WRITING SOMETHING    At 4:30 I woke up  to drink coffee, eat homemade bread,  listen to Rampal play something while my eardrums  managed crazy arabesques in their dark  rehearsals, and look for a utensil    for ten minutes  beside the lamp Grandma left,  sputtering its message  of wake, wake, wake, so I could  write something.    Now it's 7 A.M.  Rampal's achievements have gone the way  of the school marm in my clock's bell  and something is happening with light beyond  my window.  I've done everything  but something we both might be ashamed of --  those humorous murders in the mirror.  Reader  I see your shadow there.    There's a duck a girl gave me  because I must have taught her something ...  I've tried for half an hour; it's not  quacked back.  Meanwhile, something can be heard  of the Canada's and the grebe's return --  pre echoes of my voice saying to my daughter  "Look at the pond, Honey -- They're here again."  She'll mutter something even wiser than my silence  then we'll both look away at something else.    I heard a wind picking up near my car wheels.  The itchy devils want to go.  I've still  not written something, so I've been reading  how we are kites chasing a wind that gives us  something to chase with unmoved wills.    Now I am afraid:  the sage writes  make no vows, no promise to yourself  such as "Tomorrow, I'll wake at 4, 4:30  and put something down on the empty page."  Also.  God does not love fools,  even his own fools, the scribe contends ...  I look down at my hands, twiddling inkstains  and this page, perfect with that silence, full  of nothing but an effort to blank  the wind out, tugging at a curtain  just a notch, tugging at some womb.  praying that something dreadful won't happen  to my car.  Grandma's lamp, my hockey team.     
  FUDGE AND COFFEE    When we skied today, the hills  would flatten.  Du fond, au Quebec-  when in Rome ... Across the dam, birches  light demonstrations.    Olive and Roland  were finishing breakfast.  Married  forty years. Their cabin on the river  is a place for faces, stories told  of Indians here, the change  in children, of how the clouds  and animals move.  We stumble  through joual our books can't master,  drink coffee and eat fudge, our skis  outside.  Olive give you the recipe.  You outline yours for granola,  avec, Roland comments, "Bonne  ecriture."  I steal some fudge  in a half-secret plastic bag  for Marc, back home, keeping  our precious kid.  No room  in my vest for cardboard boxes.  Olive used a box eight days ago.    Grandma used boxes too, her best fudge -- maple,  Mom could never use  the recipe -- either too soft or hard  or sweet, because of the oven.  After  Grandma died, Mom never tried again.    In Prince George, we bought  our skis on sale, blowing our stipends  like pub money for wedding rings.  I'd come home after 50 tries, 49  unsuccessful, almost dangerous, entirely  comedy -- that hill veering through  Fraser's ravine.  Wrapped in brown  paper around a box, fudge and cookies  waited in my mail for me.    Mitts too, Grandma's design -- two --  toned green.  My mad aunt.  Kaye  sent them with a note.  Can't recall  the words, though I cried  reading her scribbled prayer.  I'd  just heard on the phone the night before  about her breakdown.  How many  til then, I don't know.  When  we buried her in Timmins, what --  the year we married, four hulking  brothers -- we blubbered away ...  John singing above the choir  "How Great Thou Art."  They'd   been married like us -- a couple of years.  Looking at my feet, I see a tear  on leather.  I'm with Kaye -- '72, skipping Chemistry.    She tells me  walk on the outside, learn  to protect a woman.  I sneak toys  out of her basket in the Chainways  store.  She'd treat the whole world  to butterscotch sundaes but no --   now, in that red booth, with her toes  curling up, it's only me.    I think we should wax up our skis  again, those fast candles  full of the blue flame sky lights  on a cold day, visit  Olive and Roland for fudge and coffee,  get our Lara when we return, then  see Uncle John.  The weather's  bad, but it's not that far  to Timmins.  I could play darts  with him, down some beers.  We'd argue about the Maple Leafs.  How could a guy with muscular dystrophy  know a damned thing about hockey,  anyway?  I know, Honey,  you hate the thought of driving.  Since we slid into the ditch  last month, jolted end over end,  the north's no longer innocent for you.  The moon's a pirate's eye, night  a plank the sword winds push us off,   along.    What people were with us  then, what angels, arms of God  that kept our child?  Irish Granny,  my Grandad?  A French Canadian  Grandma who mastered arts of listening  while she'd cook fudge and steep  the tea?  I sensed a man I've never met --  your father, if flesh is the only way  a person's known.  Our trunk.  Full  of gifts for Christmas. that upturned  car containing presents too an aunt  had filled from her anxious winter basket.  prayers I still can't understand.     
  INN    And her, Jake, swollen with a winter child  inside, those hands small, white, rough  with journeying, and his hands, rock stilled    with working, with leading his woman's donkey  home, they said, to David ... But you laughed,  Jake, at his fear and her bigness.  "One key's    left" (you bastard) and you marched them  through December muck, rainshadows, pushed  the gate wide to cattle shit and straw.  I watched them:    they cloaked one opening and made a light  for themselves, a light for seeing, though the dark  seemed hardened by stars heavy as grains of wheat    or desert, promises to old fathers. You made  peace with me -- you'd barely charge them the work  not much compared to this business, this glad    travelling of the rich back to their source.  And the poor.  It wasn't until after.  I saw  a veil on the bed in that last room.  Was it by force    you took her, or was this arranged, like a love   I try to forget and forget.  Remember?  You told them "full" but you crept to Sara's cave    that night with a rage or an emptiness.  And that girl -- "a pretty piece," a tempting hem.  Her  time was closer than we both could guess.    You were returning from that empty room.  It was early.  Light softened the walls.  How  your feet tripped, camel-cleft, devil-cleft, some    of your desire gone out, or fired full, or dry.  The animals had that look of birth or travel,  their eyes glad with worry each time that child would cry.     
  POSTCARDS    Arrangements, unanswered letters?  They hold their place well, in perpetual transit  from open drawers.  Each duck and sunset, unholy flowers  crave a word I might send a friend.    Flying down Highway 11, my daughter flips open  her frozen meatbox of cards with care, explains  to her Granny from Ireland "I like collecting them,"  then presents like a last graduation of dreams  each occasion's place, name.  Later,  I tuck her in with a book, a song on tape,  a prayer for all these people in her cards.    8:45 : Her brother's pink covers, soft wool, the rooster  which wakes him early, the horse which carries him away  or the silo on Grandma's rug, heavy with the harvest of play    These can't handle him.  A strange room.  His grandparents'  bed.  The dark falls to shapes, threatens him,  his usual room with Granny there.  I'm "side" feigning  sleep, my face wet with hot kisses as a truck  wheels over my nose until I'm gone the place of parents  falling to example.  Close calls, bills enlarging into  monsters.  Old friends nagging for cards and letters ...  Sleep's conspiracies make me hide  like the Friar with the same haircut my wife has snipped  onto my son, heroic robbers who've owned these wilds, hid    from death.  First, I try to tuck the news away --  Cambodia, people drifting like ghosts  from their own hunger -- one woman still  beautiful, perhaps quiet, her small son wrapped  with soft hockey tape for his burns, his face  full of angry questions and I cut this card out  like last night.  Ken's paper tuxedo, tuck it away  in my own dark places, carry the boy,  his mother, the stick man hooked up to western luck  and intravenous.  I walk with the postcard until  its grows unkempt.  Heavy, until I must finally cut something  out of me, or write or fly myself into hard travel.     
  THE TABLE    The white table was freezing movement, with nicks from heavy dishes or a  kid's fork, missing.  My son's plate was still half-filled, the macaroni glowing  with orange light, his blood's half hunger.  His voice lifted from the  basement with my daughter's voice, each drawing lines around and between  themselves as furniture dragged skate marks into the carpet.  They were  making a place, playing house and the sharp insistences of who would be  who (how) warmed the stairs with their names, their love, their distance.  To  the left, the fruit leaped at the eye, taking up space, that odd third dimension  (If I reached them, there might be something I could hold or eat until the  apple would be in my brain, and the banana that still wore the sun's mark  from a place Gaugin had visited until he became ... changed -- one wife and  daughter somewhere else -- the banana would reach loins and that soft soil,  that bog, would grow sore with pressure and potassium, the peach might  carve its own poisoned stone from my heart.)  It is to identify them as aflame  and there, like the cloud that last night, hung beneath a full moon in a clear  dark, all late September stars.  Its edge curved, widening in all directions at  once.  It is to say they were planets in some half fated or providential,  serendipitous reunion for my tired eyes.  The dessert bowls were not cupped  hands of angels, but the rice was soft, milky and sweet.  The knives weren't  pirate swords, the forks not pitchforks, but how did they fail there on the  table with that absent magic of having a job done, laying in angles imagined  in the Pythagorus or deaf Beethoven in God's thought?  What was the plant  thinking -- suddenly arrived in a red basket because of a sale?  Its tag said  four dollars; its green leaves seemed dervish mad with reaching for life.   Under the woollen lightshade, the air moved in a jazz dance, in passionate  detachment that must have held dust from my own breathing, my own dying  skin.  Each object located itself precisely with a random joy, entropic  surrender, indifferently aware of the other, sparks flying invisibly yet heard  in my own heart's slow heat -- its blind dog vision, until I became the bowl in  the hand of a desperate grateful beggar, catching a coin from a friend on a  street in Algiers or on that street in Dublin.  Our baby was cooing in her  room a language she'd not yet forgotten, interspersed with calls of Da Da Da  (filling her diaper), while from woods behind us, jays were taking blue  wafers from the sky and bringing them to nests in dwarfed cedars.  Soon  some partridges would fly off the handles  of their own drumming ground,  while echoing, our hearts would catch other distances, a human thunder.     
  PLOVER    I love how the spring air  hovers over the woods  after a light rain, brings  me to the plover,    the wind carrying gold there  in its wings.  Its flight,   a silent soundwave, dips  then lifts like  Mary's songs.    I love the plover  its colours of cold,  snow on dark wood,  cut wood, bold  as ground flying.    Last spring,  all down the valley,  I called beside the water  to a new sky  I could not resist  as it listened  or did not listen:    I love the plover.    I love the plover.     
  ANTARCTICA    It's because my colony's finally a nation:  so settled, I get restless with Orion, dancing  his hunt out with high white stars and so  Australia crosses me often.  I avoid  the dry grassless stretches, head for  Fosters in the outback where I control  dogs and crocodiles.  There, lust must be  melodramatic, the ghosts of old steamships  yawning up a Mississippi.  Imagine gazing  at the southern hemisphere forever,  configurations I've never seen, a night  like a kangaroo's dark pocket  mothering us to leaps beyond our kenning.    But then I'd be too close to Antarctica,  continent of stillness, heatless white light.  Imagine a formal on a hockey rink, penguins  like black and white frozen magpies lost  for a green field, caught with jock itch  and hernia, afraid to warm themselves into flight.  Their eggs?  It's a beer commercial running  away -- all ice, water -- those shrunken yuppies,  heads bobbing with obsequies and squash,  a court no God will let you out of ...    It might be romantic, even epic.  Consider  Batman landing in his Bat hovercraftmobile,  complete with gas line anti-freeze, rear  ice defogger for presidents or uncertain members  of Revenue Canada or the Mafia.  Even if  there's no rent there, I've developed   a distaste for the virgin's uncontrolled  frigidity, the holy man's steel blue eye  when there's no bar around, or worse,  no library to distract with ice-fogged mirages  of human wisdom.  It must have like this  for Admiral Scott --  at first, believing  he carried the Word of God or Queen Victoria  to those munchkin birds, straight from  the horse's mouth to carve into eternity  or ice.  But imagine yourself there -  all those men so bored for visions that they  grew fond of each other, then spiteful,  hungry, even worse.  Perhaps a few conjured  a love for Keats or Shakespeare or the imagery  in Kubla Khan ... I'm glad I keep    landing here, that the money for my ticket  lies between my hockey bag and bucksaw  in an empty bottle on my Bible, thesaurus  and varied selections from the bat  words stilled, chilled masters whom I toast   at times with beer and wine.  Bread, flowers.     
  REAR VIEW    It's maddening, to catch these faces  half familiar in darkening twilight    of moving windows, these headlit moons    almost about to arrive  like one last offer of your lost lover's breast    your fever close though distant --    this milky expressway of exits/entrances,  green signs heavy with white names    of travel, each one a step, a kind    of home.  You press the pedal  anxiously, these white eyes of strangers    wearing red traces of quick stops, quick    silver lifts out of this night's cold flow  and you see your brother -- he's winding up --    a knuckleball.  You see your old skates    glinting, your father cleaning the basement  in a rage, that house sold for over two years    and you see your sister as someone else --    she acts that well.  Your mother's at a camp  for poor kids, her stories -- low horns    waking you out of a summer's yawn    and you see the books, Christ, written  by writers, and the lovers, how they typed    glad brief poems all over your skin.    Each face you leave makes your darkness  precise, each round light a Eucharist    melting to the tongue's gratitude.    Now your hand clutches vacant space, hugs  an emptying wheel rich with facts,    figures, this hungry mirror of you you you    moving you across this asphalt park  like a crippled dancer, pressing his song  like heavy time right through the floor. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Denis Stokes teaches English to high school students and recently won first place for poetry in the NU-NOW literary contest. He lives in Callander, a small community in Northern Ontario.