RUNNING 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 Why 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.