For us it’s fine the forests are empty
And the seas are merely picturesque residue.
We have been taught appearance is everything
And cannot resign our mirrors now.
The train is five minutes away from Oshawa
And on the first Metro of the morning
A man called Raymond ate a sandwich, crumbs
Constellating his overalls.
We are thanked for depositing our garbage
In the bin but have no idea where it goes
And enjoy our beautiful ignorance.
Why not write a Frank O’Hara poem?
Sometimes life is just a series of events
With filaments less than more connecting.
Like now when I am served my soup
In a random Scottish pub and ask for only
A small amount of pepper while it starts
To snow thin as litter and a woman pronounces
Certain as Li Po: “It’s the intelligent people
That are truly dangerous when they’re stupid.”
Good god, your hat is amazing.
Please hold onto it. Please secure
the woollen strings with the baubles
tight beneath your chin. Not too tight.
I know this is a world in which it’s easy
to forget your sneakers at the door
and wander barefoot, maybe naked,
to the corner store to exclaim
that there’s a man inside your neck
licking his one long fingernail, honing
it like a scythe along your spine.
But he won’t barter for a round blue
lollipop, for a two-pack of batteries,
a cigarette, or a small yellow pail.
I know that Wednesday
is as good a day as any to gather
all your underpants and toss them out
the third story window, or the eighth,
the nineteenth, twenty-second, forty-sixth!
What heights these cities will allow.
Please do not hie after them. Please keep
your arms and legs inside the vehicle
so I can seal you in. You and I,
we’re going to take a drive together north
until we’re shadowed by sharp walls
of the glacier-carved valley, until the moon
glows above us like the ancient stone it is.
We will allow the perfect flakes
of snow to asterisk our arms like markings
gesturing to notes we cannot write
or think or say. It is cold. I don’t need
to see your hair to trust that it is there
curling out of you like a sombre animal.
You’ll confess you took your name
for granted, never questioned
the significance of capital letters.
And I will lay upon your shoulder
like a field of emerald grass.
Klara du Plessis
Through my tears
I understand more clearly
isn’t it strange
how the eyes are objects
that one can’t see while seeing through
them, then tears, being another
but supposedly blurring
vision, it’s a lie because right now
tears close off nearsightedness so
I can look into my skull, in reverse
that’s their purpose.
The idea that one eye always
cries shorter than the other
shorter in duration, shorter in the
distance it runs down cheek, shorter
in the gesture of wiping away
with the right hand
in a single swipe from left to right.
Another shooting. Flocks of neighbours turning away.
Plants can grow up without fighting. Listen. Roots of the West Coast rainforest communicate with one another.
Salmon start working a new job after death when grizzlies carry their carcasses into the woods as fertilizer.
My timid father was chased, caught, and hauled in by the U.S Coast Guard for cross-border fishing. Disoriented, he gunned his commercial salmon vessel when ordered to stop.
All the way to the dementia phase of his life. Tangled lines, a torn net. Jailor didn’t care who he was before. He was flight.
Order and precision of fish scales arranged in a pattern. Never caught, never seen. Hundreds of pounds of art rotted in the boat’s hold during the two-week impound. We’d have eaten only the dull inside part anyway, discarded the shining armour. Flash then trash.
Fights can grow long tails.
A memory I carry into the woods to fertilize my prejudice: I never met
the deck hand, but apparently he threw down his gear, jumped off my dad’s shaky wood boat, and made the whirly finger gesture at his temple.
A single act creates your entire character.
Birds move together in unison like schools of fish do. They mime
all the fish we cannot see.
Unity means moving as a single spirit. Knowing when to randomly change direction, a test to keep us in tune. There is no other reason for turning away, again and again.
I ignored my father as much as possible when he was alive. Went out of my way to stay out of his way. Strain to remember his stance, ring of hair around his balding head. Babyish texture, so transitory.
The second childhood, they call it. I say we’re big fat babies in the middle years when we get what we bawl for, if we can pay.
My father shuffled off bewildered into death. When you can’t swallow water, that’s it. Eventually, he dried up in a hospital bed. A fish out of water, invisible under the sheets.
Being thirsty means you want to live on.
Roman soldier held a vinegar-soaked sponge up to Jesus when he said, “I thirst.” After everything he’d been through.
A single act of cruelty becomes history.
Someone made a note of it. Now he’s in the Bible, as an example. The Bible is like social media that way, but social media is not like the Bible.
Dark-faced Jesus would be shot today while walking on water carrying loaves and fish for all. Fishing out of bounds. Mistaken as looter, insurgent.
In the end, my father flew away in search of less hostile waters.
I want to leave the house in the clothing I sleep in
& not need to go home again.
But I am not well enough to leave,
not well enough to sleep
& so when I stay home
everything I do is political
because I’ve been reading about the ethics of space
sometimes I lie on the floor
until you text me asking me why I’m not out.
& because sometimes we have to have sex
with most of our clothes on.
Sometimes we lie
on the floor naked & text everybody who is out asking:
……………“why aren’t you home
…………… .being political?”
because sometimes we have to stay in,
keep our bodies ethical
so to speak. If we go out,
we will have to dress for the street.
The dead wear bracelets; their wrists want some weight
now that everything is weightless and watches don’t make sense.
It’s no surprise they’ve learned to walk soundlessly, without
jangling, the way a cat graces his muscles
so the bell around his neck won’t ring.
My father drives his first car, a Model T, into the sky,
black clouds thick with gumbo. People, stuck, hitch a ride,
thumbs out, faces blurred, valises gaping open.
The four directions here are only up and down. My father knows
where to take them, and though he’s never heard of Charon and his coins,
he demands a price. Sixteen years till my mother arrives but even she
has to pay from the tips she smuggled in her pocket.
Nothing meant by it, he’s just that way.
I won’t be long, she says, when she dons her teacher’s clothes
and enters what is over, what she calls a second chance.
She rehearses the words she’ll say to the problem student who liked
to tell his fellows he’d camped at night in Shakespeare & Company’s
in Paris beside the shelf that held Rimbaud, his Illuminations,
his Une Saison d’Enfer, as if merely sleeping there had made him
bad and brilliant. The floor of the classroom gleams
with hard new wax, the blackboard’s clean. Hours merely pass.
She puts check marks by all the blanks on the attendance sheet,
then stands at the front of an emptiness she can’t see past.
It’s never what you think it’s going to be.
The girls who work in the factories in The History of Time
lick the ends of their brushes, paint the watches’ hands and numbers
so they can be read in the dark. The paint laced with uranium.
That place where lost words gather—the tip of the tongue—
turns radiant. Even after
they stop breathing, their breath
inside the dark caves of their mouths
glows a ghostly green.
By the side of the gravel road
the dust’s so fine
though the frog is light as a leaf
you can see his tracks.
That’s what’s missing in heaven.
Don’t play dead until you die.
Where is he when his son’s dog hangs?
Not close enough to hear the scratches
echo from the tunnel slide, see the leash
tied up at the top of the jungle gym,
the dog at the other end, kneading
smooth hard plastic. The cops bag it
like dirty laundry and it takes two men
to haul it and heave it into the cruiser.
The father holds a felt blanket over
his son, smooths the creases down his back,
guides his shoulders with firm hands,
lifts his chin with one finger to the men
in uniform. The boy describes the ones
who did it and it’s then a manhunt. Neighbours
accusing each other’s children. Police
interrogations in the schools. Sympathizers
go in bunches with flowers for his family,
bake them apple rhubarb pies, whisper
in convenience stores and parking lots
about the boy who had to watch
his poor dog die.
…………………..They receive, the father
estimates, one hundred calls and messages.
Steady mail, even a letter from Scandinavia
from a couple that breeds Finnish dogs,
reindeer herders. Lapphunds, they call them.
His family can have one if they’d like.
The story is out and the world has chosen
to stand by. The father wants nothing more
to do with it. But he still keeps that letter close,
thumbs the corners of it, holds it like a prize.
He considers writing the Scandinavians
but hasn’t settled on what to type.
He wants to tell them: We’re coming,
we’re just about to board the plane,
and by the time that you receive this
we will have come and gone already.
He spends a week thinking of how to put it
in exactly the right words, how grateful
he was to receive their letter, how
he has read it over a dozen times. He wants
to tell them how he folds it into quarters,
always along the same creases,
through words like acreage, obedient,
…………………..Then his son admits it
was an accident. Tied the leash himself
and then went down the slide. The dog,
a good one, had gone to follow.
The ones who believed the boy want
to see him punished, put to shame.
But the father thinks that he can feel it,
what his son must have felt right then,
watching his friend put paw over paw,
each step slipping like the last.
He knows, at least, that it’s a lesson
best learned young: to tell a lie and give
it up, before you have to shoulder it
for what will be, with any luck, a long life.