Clarity is essential now: the cycle of seasons, the willingness to change. What can alter this flow: rain and river, pond and sea, the moon pull of the tide. Each half truth glimpsed through the helmet's slotted visor as we charge in the lists, knee against knee, spear against spear, knight against knight. On the shore at the earth's edge, a new planet mapped in miniature: each grain of sand, a speck of dust, light upon the palm, yet the whole beach, in unison, weighing us up, weighting us down. This world, immanent, renascent, growing more solid through its thinning veil of mist. Freckled the water, as the wild man sculls towards us, over the waves, over the sand, a fisher of what kind of men? The pond's mask, reconfiguring in ever widening circles, laps at an unseen shore. Light bends like a reed; liquid are the letters dancing, distorted, on the white sand undulating under the waves.
For none of us knows when the skeleton in the limelight will peel off her gloves, doff her hat, lay down her white cane and use us a fuels for a different kind of fire. Grief lurks in the bracelet's silver snare of ageing hair. We kick for a while and struggle at dawn's bright edge, we creatures conditioned by time. Possible redemptions unfurl shadowy shapes at the water's limits. A dream angel, this owl singing wide eyed like a moribund swan bordering on that one great leap upwards, to vanish into thin air. Some say a table awaits on an unseen shore; others that a rowing boat is tied to the river bank. Who knows? Yesterday's horoscopes sprinkle butterflies of news as the snow wraps us all in the arcane blanket of each new beginning.
Snow in Granada
He leaves footprints, dark wake to his imagined ships, soft, in the snow; the unusual snow; in the snow they have not seen, here, in the city center for more than forty years. It settles now on roofs and forms dark ridges where the hot sun burns. The Alhambra is a wonderland: stiff, starched buildings standing out against the mountains' mass. Japanese tourists click their cameras not knowing they are part of a miracle for it snowed then as it snows now and Columbus walked these streets like any tourist short of breath, short of cash, and the seams of his boots letting in the cold, wet snow, you know how it is on Main Street, Any Street, Any Town, Any Where in Canada. And then the miracle: he has given up, he is leaving it all behind him when the messenger catches up and says "Go for it! The ships, the dreams, the ocean sea, they're all yours now!" Columbus falls on his back and creates winged shapes, dream angels sailing onwards through a sea of snow.
White Geese at Montmagny
When the bird's wing blots out the stars and the goose quill writes its message on the dull slate of the sky, what are we to believe? There is a honking in the heavens, wing prints track across the sky's giant highway. A flock of geese, shadows of a departing summer, fly south in the night above us. Close to Arcturus, a feathered knife edge slices its path through the icy black and darkness blots out each scattered scat of golden grain. The Big Dipper hangs its secret emblem: a sky hook dangling from night's swart ceiling. Last spring, at Montmagny, the great white geese gathered by the St. Lawrence: achromatic on their arrival, flake after flake, they drifted to the land. Flocons de neige at first, they accumulated into flocks, into snow banks. Snow geese: we watched them grub for food across grain fields, mud flats, ploughed land. Swiftly they descended into fallen angels and daubed themselves with the colors of mud, of the river bank, of the alluvial plain. Guardians of summer's perfection, they spilled from the heavens and took on earthly shape. Leaving, they left us breathless, our hearts borne up on their wings, their secret knowledge carried away on a sacred wind. Without them, in a helpless flutter of butterfly wings, something dies in our hearts at season's end. What will we bury with this year's leaves?
Building on Sand
Everywhere the afternoon gropes steadily to night. Some people have built fires; others read by candlelight. Geese litter the river bank, drifts of snow their whiteness, stained with freshet mud; or is it the black of midnight's swift advance? They walk on thin ice at civilization's edge. Around them, the universe's clock ticks slowly down. Who forced that scream through the needle's eye? Gathering night, the moon on the sea bed magnified by water. Inverted, the Big Dipper, hanging its question mark from the sky's dark eye lid. Ghosts of departed constellations stalk the night. Pale stars scythed by moonlight bob phosphorescent on the flood. The flesh that bonds; the bones that walk; the shoulders and waist on which I hang my clothes. Now they stand alone beneath the moon and listen at the water's edge to the whispering trees. They have caught the words of snowflakes strung at midnight between the stars; moonlight is a liquor running raw within them.
Midnight stretches out a long, thin hand and clasps dream-treasures in its tight-clenched fist. The lone dove of the heart flaps in its trap of barren bone and the world is as small as a pea in a shrunken pod. Or is it a dried and blackened walnut in its wrinkled shell of overheating air? Sunset, last night, was a wet squib failing to fire. Swallows flew their evensong higher and higher, striving for that one last breath lapped from the dying lisp of day. Its last blush rode red on the clouds for no more than a second's lustrous afterglow. When the frail, pale butterfly of its color snared in the camera's net, the photographer ran for chloroform. Color struggled for a moment, then quickly succumbed. The photographer pinned it in his photograph book and it pined away in a lack lustre display of tattered rags and dust. Can night's shadows really weave these illusions from earth's old bones? Rock is like putty, malleable beneath the moonlight. Midnight readjusts her nocturnal robes and pulls bright stars from a top hat of darkness. Winged insects with inhuman faces appear with the planets and clutter the owl's path. Night swallows the swallows and creates more stars. The moon hones its edge like an ice cold blade. A snake wind whistles dead rustling leaves round a tin pan alley dream abandoned in an empty head.
House of Dreams
The clematis unfolds bruised purple on the porch. Thelonius Monk: beneath the black and white hammers of ivory keys, old wounds crack open. A flight of feathered notes: this dead heart sacrificed on the lawn. I wash fresh stains from my fingers with the garden hose. The evening stretches out a shadow hand and I feel my heart squeezed like an orange by long, dark fingers. Somewhere, the whitethroat trills its guillotine of vertical notes. I flap my hands in the air: they float like white butterflies, amputated in sunlight's net. The light fails fast. I hold up shorn stumps of flowers for the night wind to heal as a chickadee chants an afterlife built of spring branches. Pressed between the pages of my dream: a lingering scent; the death of last year's delphiniums; the tall tree toppled in the yard; a crab apple flower; a shard of grass as brittle as a bitter tongue at winter's end. A vixen hunts for my heart. She digs deep at midnight, unearthing the dry teeth you borrowed from my buried head. I hear a whimper at the window, the scratch of a paw. A leaf lies down in a broken corner and fills me with sudden silence.
Old Loyalist Burial Ground, Fredericton
The signs can be easily missed: a half-covered entrance, worn steps, a single handrail. Two hundred years ago, those who did not survive that terrible first winter were buried close at hand. Dandelions, with their royal ruffs, cluster in roi soleil clumps beside deep wheel ruts. Red-shouldered blackbirds flit from branch to budding branch, screeching shrill warnings. Grosbeaks swarm, like bees, in black and yellow flocks. The river still flows fresh and high and fiddleheads thrust their creaking way through untidy debris. Inside the burial-ground, two leaning stones, their inscriptions blurred like yesterday's half erased chalk board, mock the well mown lawn and latest monument. Blackflies drill small holes in our flesh; mosquitoes whine and descend in squadrons; leeches rise, draw blood and, gorged, subside. Late sunlight slowly clots its spring song earthwards. Seeds thrust impatiently to leaf and flower: underground bustle of root and hustling worm.
When the moon is a cutting edge shredding sparse cloud, he walks the night's sharp tight rope blade of dark. Around him, the soft wind scythes its harvest of crested plumes, knights on white horses borne shining on the water. Who carries what home in a wicker basket: these golden nets of sequins, this nocturnal chain mail, these star fish dangling their sidereal hooks from a black velvet sky? The bright moon slices the night in search of the sailor who fell overboard from his silver boat of cloud. Who gifted pearls for his eyes, ivory for his teeth, coral for his lips, seaweed for these damp, dark, tangled locks of hair? Merman or mere man? Drowned man, lost in an unforgiving sea, when animals gain tongues for midnight mass, he enters the seaside church. All music falls silent. Eyes thrust out: black pupils launched like lifeboats from an ivory school of skulls.
There are striations in my heart, so deep, a lizard could lie there, unseen, and wait for tomorrow's sun. Timeless, the worm at the apple's core waiting for its world to end. Seculae seculorum: the centuries rushing headlong. Matins: wide-eyed this owl hooting in the face of day. Somewhere, I remember a table spread for two. Breakfast. An open door. "Where are you going, dear?" Something bright has fled the world. The sun unfurls shadows. The blood whirls stars around the body. "It has gone." she said. "The magic. I no longer tremble at your touch." The silver birch wades at dawn's bright edge. Somewhere, tight lips, a blaze of anger, a challenge spat in the wind's taut face. High-pitched the rabbit's grief in its silver snare. The midnight moon deep in a trance. If only I could kick away this death's head, this sow's bladder, this full moon drifting high in a cloudless sky.
Herons call like whip-poor-wills at dusk and trigger my cell phone. When I call back, a barn owl answers from his post office perch in the popular tree. Am I no more than a budgie in a numbered cage, bouncing on a roster of falsified fame and endlessly repeating my very own name? Here, by the beach, at the end of all things, is the beginning of wisdom. I dial a passing star and ask for my horoscope. But who can check Capricorn's concern when heaven burns and fireflies foretell the umbrella sparks of a forest fire with its fireworks descending? Later in the night, I turn my cup upside down and consult the tea leaves. I lust after enlightenment but light upon a tepid brew of flashback and memory. The wind gets up and wags its tale. Blades of crab grass run the tips of their tongues across a long, loud lip of sand. I am tempted by a crestfallen moon, cowering like a crab apple on a barren branch.
The turncoat tide climbed up the beach and betrayed my sand castle's walls. In a fit of pique, I poured Greek fire on the central keep and it became a palace of unscaleable glass. Nocturnal manoeuvres: white waves of crystalline horses running wild, cresting with fear at an approaching storm. What scarecrow ringmaster rips out his savage rhythms with a whip of steel? Sometimes at night my heart pumps rapid blood through restless veins. Marooned in a commercial cul-de-sac, I go round and round in rigid circles. Someone has locked me in a labyrinth of disconnected rooms where sticky cobwebs bind windows, doors, lips and wrists. Are there no survivors? Asleep beneath the pier, like a tramp with his dog, I am wrapped in a coat of many-coloured dreams. Senses deceive and fingers fail to unravel the knots I have tied in my bones to hold myself together. What did I dream as I paraded the promenade, walking the sea wall a stone's throw from shark and killer whale? I cross my fingers and the beggar at the gate rolls up his sleeves, baring witness to shameless wounds. Carnivorous carnival devours the city with flashing white teeth. Beneath the waves, the conga stamps its sudden feet of flame. A sea parrot scrapes its red and yellow beak against a rainbow of crusty, feathered rage. I awake to the dog's sudden tongue in my mouth: an invasion of saliva and biscuit.
Yesterday, I got lost in the mirror. I know how to swim, but I would have drowned, except the light was too shallow and my feet touched bottom when I let the wheels down. I swam on and in looking for a deserted island on which to build idle sand castle dreams. Two people said they saw my reflection swimming like a goldfish in the silver of that secret space. They said I stared back out at them with circles of longing ringing my eyes; but I laughed when they said they had seen me, for when I looked in the mirror this morning to shave, I just wasn't there. My razor dragged itself over an empty space and its sharpened blade scraped white music from the margin of a cd rom that spun on edge like dust rings round a vanished planet. Now there is a black hole where my passport photo used to thrive. Someone plucked me from the circle and cut me out in the dance last night. Now I'm looking for a scrap book into which to stick myself with crazy glue that never, never comes undone.
The janitor said that the shadow had been seen lying down at midnight on the corridor floor. Someone dialed 911 and a police car came with a bucket and a mop to sweep this nonsense under the carpet. But the shadow wasn't there; it must have climbed to its feet and scuttled away like a vagabond crab clicking its pincers over dry moonlight on the sanded floor. It ran to an elevator and the janitor watched as the needle jerked to a stop at every floor. Now there is a fear of shadows in the washrooms. People stare at themselves in mirrors and see the devil looking out with an offer of work for idle hands. He is horned and hoofed and breathes heavily as they clean their teeth and leave the cold tap running. When the water's turned off, long, thin fingers pluck the strings of their hearts and a quaint fibrillation fills the silence of this haunted house.
The house breathes in and out, moving thin membranes of memory. Upstairs, downstairs, a lonely route I tread while the wind at the window scratches tiny notes. Something breaks loose in the confines of my mind and walks beside me. My twin brother stalks through this silvery sliver of splintered glass, this simian mirror wrinkling our troubled suits of skin. I glimpse the old moon's monkey face through a broken window. Jagged and thin, it wanders like an itinerant snail, cobbled with clumsy clouds. Once, I descended the playground slide in a shower of sparks. A vagabond in a paving stone sky, I rumbled across metal cracks, a knapsack of nightmares humped on my old man's back. Tell me: when the snail moves house, who stores the furniture he leaves behind? The hermit crab lurks naked on the beach, seeking new lodgings. Who killed the candle and left us in darkness? Two eyes in limbo watch me roll this snowman's belly of flab across an unknown, clouded room.
Late last night, a fallen star grazed by the lamp post. A bouquet of golden sparks flew from an iron tree and sanctified the gutter. The gas lamps sputtered patiently in uniform rows. A scarecrow stuttered into the limelight and shook my hand. She was wearing my grandmother's Easter bonnet, with all the flowers renewed, but she couldn't keep my heart from last winter's left over crumbs. Suddenly a tulip thrust through the concrete. It became as red as a robin and flew into the lounge bar of a public house. The bronze leaf necklace circling my throat filled with a flow of spring time song. My heart stood upright like a warped piano and my skeleton tarried at the corner to play knuckle bones with the wind. Torn butterflies of news fluttered round and round. Yesterday's horoscope winked its subversive eye and called to the hermit in his lonely cell: "Look out for the stranger with the tin can alley smile. Tie your heart to the tail of the first stray dog that comes whistling down the street and follow it home."
You couldn't see the holes the doctor drilled in my head when he thought he was a woodpecker. You were oblivious to the bland, black splinters sprouting from my fingers and my neck. Unseen and unheard, the ladderback drowsed its feathered siesta as peace descended to the cluttered attic of my mind. When push came to new love, the bluebird couldn't find the old silver ring I borrowed from the curtains. How could you care about its failure to sparkle in the sun? When you ran your fingers through my hair, you cut yourself on a feather's edge and my shirt rose up in the air and flapped with sudden writing, as red as blossoming flowers. You sensed their crimson dampness, but couldn't see the petals turning skywards to a pallid moon. The clockwork mouse ran down the tower. The clock struck the chaos of a universe at sixes instead of sevens and we knew we two would never be one. Before you drove away, you told me to keep my pity for falling leaves, for sparrows in winter, and for the defenseless chickadees who quest at the feeder and leave in fear of the kitchen cat with her dogged stealth: a game of paws and pause, crisp and silent through the green hair of the grass.
Cage of Flame
Now you are a river flowing silver beneath the moon. High tide in the salt marsh: your body fills with shadow and light. I dip my hands in dappled water. Twin gulls, they float down stream, then perch on an ice-floe of half-remembered dreams. Eagle with a broken wing, why am I trapped in this cage of flame? When I turn my feathers to the sun, my back is striped with the black and white of a convict's bars. Awake, I lie anchored by what pale visions fluttering on the horizon? White moths wing their snow storm through the night. A feathered shadow ghosts fingers towards my face. Butterflies stutter against a shuttered window. Hands reach out to grasp me. A candle flickers in the darkness and I am afraid. Who mapped in runes the ruins of this heart? Eye of the peacock, can you touch what I see when my eyelids close for the night? Black rock of the midnight sun, rolled up the sky, when will I be released from my daily bondage? Last night, the planet quivered beneath my body and I felt each footfall of a transient god.
Mist on the River Saint John
Slowly, trees grow downwards, topmost branches solid now, mottled trunks emergent. Sun grows stronger, second by second. Mist flows out like a tide, lingers, melts, weaves itself into clotted knots, then fades away. Trees wade waist deep in filmy fabric, bending slightly in a tranquil sea of soft, moist light. Land and river slip mist's mask from their faces. Now you see them, now soft grey wool rides over each mirage and your eyes are pulled into darkness. Suddenly, ghostly gulls guide an ice floe, fast, down river. Their pinions are trimmed to uniform grey, to this seething sackcloth swishing silently by. Seagulls slice mist with beaks as sharp as morning razor blades, ringed with blood. Long John Gull, perched on one leg, steers heroically through mist, all hope centered on some distant horizon filled with memories of a long lost sun. Now mist renews itself, is born again from some strange, fundamental funnel. It clamps its final, fatal curtain down and down until water flows invisible: an unseen presence sensed and believed in. Each concrete city bridge, a leap of faith, spanning from known to unknown.
It's a long pull of wine, from sunset into sunshine, with the bull roar growing in my ears and light diminishing in the years behind me. The yarn spins quickly over the tongue as the old tale is told. Was my skin so thin when the first thorn scratched, the spear head flashed, the bright blade entered? Salt fluid spills from the tiniest crack, slowly at first, then gathering speed as it shakes hands with blood. All things deceive: their touch, their texture, the warp of them, wrapped in a twisting, liquid light. The gymnasts vault and the bull's black mass is mocked below them. Yet the body is dismantled when the great horns pierce, perforating heart or lungs or femoral artery. The Minotaur exults and bellows his horned head skywards. But there is a beast in all of us buried in the labyrinth of our inner lairs. We are bound together, heart to bestial heart, by our own inexorable laws. We are lashed tight with a Gordian Knot of power: as soft as darning wool, as hard as a knitting needle driven like a matador's sword through a bleeding heart.
Somewhere, a prompter prompts and promptly the impromptu deed is done: how silently, the wondrous gift of flight caught in the searchlights of some speeding car. Goshawk on the wind: the wax still waxes strong as he marks each turning point with a vapor trail of feathers. Strong strings, unbroken, bear him up. Now he is a hand held infant, dangling like a puppet from an infinite sky. Old ghosts wrap their arms around him, promising peace. Wings in the quick wind find no purchase. A million shadows weigh him down. Did you see him when the dark was strongest, its full tide pushing him out to see his own shadow calling across the wall? At the inequitable point of night, there was light in his iniquity: he became the frailest of falling stars. When dusk descended, the leopard could not change his spots. Something floated fearfully from sunshine to shadow and clamped its tearful padlock on heart and lungs. A cloudless sky, a page in blue, sans words, sans lines, sans script, sans margin, and where? and what? and why? and when? are now true mysteries.
Clad only in an abyss of lilies, imperial his reflection, perilously he slides to sleep, merging into his imagined dream. His earth bound ribs form an arch, a vaulted cathedral: immaculate the blood space, as heavy as a stone at Stonehenge this altar spanning downwards through a liquid, tumbling sky. Green footprints, the lily pads; a halo, this drowned man's beard, liquescent, like the gods he dreamed walked dry over water. The executioner stripes evening across the sacrificed horizon. "In blood we were born, my friends, in earth will we rest; our flesh turned to bread, our imperial wine empurpling with day's death this troubled sea." Does something survives in these sepia tints dreaming on and on? Exotic this sudden movement, Carassius auratus flowering. Ruby thoughts flash skywards: gold fish in this long thin line of maple clouds. Le roi soleil threatening to blind us: rey de oros the sun glow braiding itself an aureate palette in a susurration of floating, left over leaves.
Clos Normand and the Grande Allée closed to him now; folded his flowers, their petals tight at his nightfall; dark their colours, mourning for his mornings of light, fled far from him now. The Lady of the Lake holds out her hand and hands him an apple: l'offrande du coeur. A scarlet heart of flame and world and word regenerate in tulips. Especially when the dying sun spreads molten fire over a crimson lake and the limpid sky brims over into low clouds trapping a slash of colour here, and there a tree, a fountain of gold. If the sun is an apple blushing on a setting branch, the money plant is the silver-white of moonlight between fine-tuned fingers. When it rattles its seeds, coins blunt the moon's sharp edge, and earth is eclipsed by nickels and dimes. The breeze bowls clean dry bones across the sky. Wind of change: that first fast bite too bitter to remember and timeless this tide, this ebb and flow, this great pond-serpent coiled around the foot of the tree, devouring its tale, dictating itself to death, forever.
Dark Warriors, Madison, Wisconsin
"There is a dualism involved. Human beings have two souls, two spirits. There is a higher soul, which at death moves out through what is called the western door on its perpetual journey. But there is another soul, the dangerous, violent warrior soul, which resides in the bones forever. When bones are unearthed, this dangerous half of the duality, unchecked by the kinder social impulses of the higher soul, is set free to wreak havoc."
Elaine Dewar, Bones: Discovering the first Americans. An aboriginal elder, quoted in MacLean's (March 19, 2001) p. 28.
Blind and deaf, the diggers dig. They neither heed nor hear the thunder building its rafters of lightning in the sky's roofed vault. They discover bones, human bones, great mounds of human bones, massed like the buffalo used to mass on forgotten plains when the whole herd was heard as a rumble of thunder and the baked ground shook. As the diggers remove what they have discovered, they shock the land's foundations. Earth around them shudders; buildings crack their meticulous basements. Bees buzz, gnats swarm, and the air fills up with raucous music. When lightning strikes and the first homes blaze, some citizens swear that arrows of fire set their roofs aflame. Dark warriors, arms folded, stand strong beside spirit houses. Their descendants walk in anger, setting legal traps to recapture their bones. Law court light limps discordant through high windows. Pieces reshuffle themselves in logistical puzzles. The world breaks down from sunshine and shadow into varying shades of legislative grey.
View from the Morning After
My dog breaks loose and howls for an hour at the half time orange stationed by the slithering stars. An owl's wing slices the night in two and bats make merry round the chimney. My sister's skeleton dances on a silver chain of incense. When they auction her clothes, they roll fresh dice on a skin tight drum of thunder. I awake to the tap-tap-tap of melting ice hammering headlights into my peccant skull with a papal hammer. Splinters of memory lie buried in my heart: a white horse carved on a limestone hill; the grassy eye of a green glass circle; an empty uniform tramping swiftly away. Green worms crawl from the apple's core, stretch out their hands and beg for more. Late last night an unpaid bill nipped at the postman's heels and a ghost slipped her arm through my letter box to unchain my mail. I stretch my hand out to the morning news but it slips like water through my premature fingers. When the mist grey men return to my parents' house, I pour them a glass of concrete and ask them where they have parked my father. Their only answer: a handful of bitter flowers and a burning candle. I huff and puff like a love-lorn, predatory wolf in an effort to blow it out.
Are we in the presence of something cold, like an iceberg, gliding malignantly by? Or are we the ones who yield, the bat standing still and house and people giving way around it? It seems afraid of every move we make, yet we are the ones showing fear. We open our mouths, point, run fingers through our hair, shiver, cross ourselves: madre mía! Is it a sign of ill omen, telling of someone about to die, a shape from beyond the grave, speechless, voiceless? It surges like a ghost from door to door and we feel our guilt as we chase it with a broom, never coming close to its silence. The bat: not touching, never a sound, the air stretched taut with the tension of its movement. It is a solemn sight, like a perfect child, seen but never heard, caught only by the eyes. The whole world trembles, stunned, as if caught in an earthquake or a shiver from the land as some volcano snorts in its subterranean sleep and suddenly startles. When we open the sliding doors, we breathe again. The bat melts away and the room starts to thaw. As land throws off a glacier, a weight lifts slowly from our shoulders. Outside, the ravaged sky, livid with an eruption's afterglow, devours its ancient heart of yellow ice in purple tranquility. Inside, I strike a match, inspire a candle into life, and burn a hole in the imperial night.
I try to picture that face, but it has grown legs and walked out of my mind. What pencil can draw it forth from the depths of this hell I have sketched for myself? I walk away, but turn again to look. She is fading, failing, slipping away downhill, backwards into the shadows. I turn my back on darkness. Ahead lies sunlight where other women sing and dance. Whose is that head, floating downstream, lips drawn back in a silent scream? There are blood red berries at the rowan's foot and the mountain women have covered themselves in ash. Wednesday: the berries' torn flesh is fingernail bright. Thursday: an angry robin stamps on the tousled lawn. Its Maundy mourning song is a shriek of violence, piercing like a nail. Late last fall, when the snapdragon opened the frosted forge of its mouth, it sprinkled the sky with ice-hard shards of shafted fire. Today, on the back porch, in a halo of mud and straw, two blue robin's eggs stare back at me, as accusing as suffering in a baby's face.
He wanted to dance across those unhurried clouds, to paint them pale pastel in a pastoral light, but his untaught fingers were unable to unravel the umbilical cord that tied his soaring spirit to that clay clogged trench. I saw him stagger, eyes clenched like fists, through a silent, no-man's-land of tangled, barbed-wire dreams. He struggled through a nightmare of mud, thrusting at floating debris, as a swimmer parts the waves. When they caught him, they brought him back. They sat him on a chair and tied him down, his hands behind his back. He opened his mouth, as if he were at the dentist, but no sound came. They placed a bandage over his eyes. Water trickled down his face, like rain. "Ready! Aim!!" He was hurled backwards, to the ground, his feet still twitching in that well-remembered swimmer's kick. The foreman pumped a single drum beat through the hollow shell of his secret, tortured mind. What words can I write that will pluck that ancient heart's harp, turning it into birdsong? The great tree of his life still flowers in my mind, enriching me with très belles heures, and the bright red berries of his paint pot blood.
So Real It's Surreal
An elephant with a crane fly's spindly legs stands beside the bedside cabinet. Is the human body a chest of drawers to be opened and closed at will by other people, and things removed? On the operating table, a sewing machine and a bread knife wait inside a black umbrella for their next victim, caught like a hedgehog in the glare of onrushing headlights and curled into a ball. Are my words not more than wasted movements of throat, lips, tongue, bared teeth? Limp kites with nothing to fill their paper sails, they hang like clothing abandoned by the body on an old barbed wire fence of memories lying tangled between us. The metallic star shell in the ceiling gashes harsh light across no man's land. The needles in the arm throw an ever-plunging sea of shadows: bruised sunsets on a purple horizon. When I look at my watch: time flies off my wrist and flaps its hands helplessly. I taste the bitterness of bile, squeezing each moment, between finger and thumb, rolling it about like a breadcrumb or a shred of label stripped from an empty bottle.
Migration, Mary's Point, NB
My lips are still dry from all that movement: flesh against paper, air breathed harshly through a comb. Is the childhood music of angels the melody of bird wings mouthing the feathered joy of flight? My iguana tongue licks out and flicks the dry salt taste of my blood-crusted wounds. A single peregrine blurs its wings and carves its bright wake through the sky. We spot him early, this fledgling star, falling from his celestial nest, tumbling earthwards, an acrobat dropping from the highest wire and trailing his comet's tail of meteoric fire. Beneath him, the great flock scatters, this way, that way, weaving out to sea, reversing the tapestry, each bird a single thread wafted into a carpet of dark and light. Below them, my body burns on this burnt out summer's day. One by one, fine grains of sand fill up my footprints. I look for the sunshine I lost last year when the sundial rusted in the falling rain and a lone bird pecked a hole in my skull as it sought new life in an egg shell sky. The peregrine has vanished and left no answer. My thoughts are as scattered as these birds returning, splattering the beach with their myriad raindrops, one by one.
Pont de la Rivière Hâtée, Bic, PQ
Low tide turns towards high. The river's tongue lisps slow silt mud, seawards through its stony mouth. Brook words stream watery over a pebble beach. In the estuary a hasty voice breaks out fresh bubbles of champagne laughter. Out at sea, two loons, no three, are fishing in the incoming plate of glass that reflects the sun. Beyond the sand-trap beach, there where the stalk-foot dowitcher stilt-walks in mud, each track is an arrow pointing the way to sudden flight. Soft sibling sigh of flocks scattered feeding across sand and rocks; quick, their drawstrings, to be hauled together: in-tighter, in-closer, in huddles there where the river is born and reborn with the silver sun-spoon stuck in its flashing mouth. Soon the world will be entombed deep in the tidal voice of dark.
New River Beach
A day tripper tripping over tree roots, I lie on my back and climb to the heights of the dizzy sky. Is this my inheritance, to lie here sun blind, bleeding in the dust, while the clouds drive by? The sun wields a heavy cudgel and its heat beats understanding into my head. Late last night, the northern lights burnt pin prick holes in blackness. I watched them fade away as daylight encroached. Blood snakes its sticky mesh downwards across my flesh. An old sea dog, encrusted with salt, I comb the beach's hair as flies buzz their patchwork quilt of shanties in wet weed. Half-syllables spurt from my thickening tongue. Speech flaps like a flatfish through the shallows of my buccal flesh. I claw with twisted fingers at words, like fish bones, caught in my throat. New River Beach and the nature walk stretch out before me. Could I launch myself into the mist and live like the thousand loons we once beheld in one long raft of black and white? If I descended into the waves, would my shadow, on the third day, rise again? Suddenly, I am a dolphin over blustering breakers. The seagull's cry reinvents my name.
Cows on PEI
Black and white cud-chewing stubby-horned heads leaning on fences with their forefeet braced against the highway's caravan of traffic local-yokel straw dangling stupidly from thick pale lips white foam balling on chin and slowly dribbling to knot itself daisy-chains of frothy lace-crocheted necklaces chocolate ice cream eyes watching the world pass by taking in show after summertime show newly-washed spotted costumes and cloven high-heeled shoes with spots hung out to drip-drip-dry in a summer's breeze freshness escaped from a bleach-the-unbleachables baking soda box how this brown calf now tugs at a tassle looking-glass conscious of this tee-shirt with its painted cow staring -- how long? -- at what inner worlds of mangers and word magic?
Who has nailed summer to its autumn cross? Sunbeams dazzle in the wind, footsteps follow, or is it a shadow's shadow flickering its year's end dance on a twisting path? Beneath our feet the painted leaves lie still. Bottled sunshine abandoned now in rusted flakes, who will replace them in the tree's discarded puzzle? Footsteps crackle along the trail and, as they draw closer, our cold breath hangs a question mark on the air before us. Yesterday, the salmon danced on their tails. Lettuces went to seed and built tall pyramids up to the sky in a world all yellow with the sun and blue with the sea. Primrose and bleu céleste, this stretch of Fundy, where the islands are large black beads, threaded together by tiny strings of ducks and geese. Today, going home, a bull moose thrust his head through the windshield of a speeding car. For an instant the trees caught their breath, the air stood still and a red fox tore from the trees like a runaway leaf, so quick, so silent, a shadow across the road melting into dark woods to lie silent in the forest. I can still see the occupants of the shattered car standing by the roadside, their cell phones in their hands, punching urgent numbers. Shock had rounded their snow white lips into an O for Operator.
A dog has forged his footpath through the snow. Each visit melts my feet a little more, and turns them yellow. Body and bawdy soul, I am locked up tight in this strange white corpse, in this icy prison, melting haphazardly. Moon's celestial lamplight sparkles crow's feet over my face. A long time ago, a rain shower stole my smile. I threw all my keys down a deep, dark well. Now no one can open my heart's secret door to let in the sun. Earth's satellite flaunts its cat's cradle lantern, like a flash of stringy flesh glimpsed at a night club. A thinner shadow: I dream I can press my frozen face against some lighted window and turn into bone and blood. Who planted these flowers in my skull and tuned those light bulbs in my head? Who gave me this carrot for my nose? Sometimes, at night, I can smell crisp crocus flames as they huddle beneath the snow, licking upwards to this sky-in-waiting. Frost breaks open the earth's bleak, iron womb. Crystal fingers, their fine rings sparking, reach up to pluck this fire plug snap of moonlight falling from a cloudless sky.
Seagulls over the Saint John River
Seagulls write messages on the wind with sudden wings of fire; grey letters, sharp and spiky, speak my fortune across folds in a cerulean parchment. All things deceive: the warp of them twisting in a firmament of cloud. That crow flapping on the right hand side, foretold good fortune as I rode into exile; that black bird on the left was a death chant dragged from the trees as the road bent sinister. Was my skin that thin when the first thorn scratched, when the first nail was driven? I wash my hands in sunshine, and moonlight drives its needle through my heart. What monster in my body's labyrinth drowns in the bull roar of this frozen northern sea? I think forgiveness: but snow crowds cruelly down to freeze the other cheek. Winter's glacial chorus swells in my ears. Late last night, the full moon swooned on a gathered bank of fluffy woollen thoughts. A thin blade of moonbeams sliced my mind from eye to eye.
Shadows and Sand
After heavy rain the house shrinks. Its mandibles close. A crocodile peace descends from the jaws of heaven. I no longer fit my skin. Iguana spots itch. Walls encircle me, hemming me in. Then I lose it, whatever it is, and my fingers pick at seams, hankies, skirts, shirts, jeans, or strip a label from a bottle; or they break bread, or there are so many things I do, personal things. On the table, a vacant cereal bowl, a silver teaspoon in a saucer, an empty teacup returning my round moon stare. My hands terminate in pointless needles. They unravel patterns then try to knit them together again. I toss three coins and the I Ching sloughs my fortune: each lottery ticket, a bullet. None with my number. Late last night I thought I had grasped the mystery: but when I awoke I clasped only shadows and sand.
Memory: a flutter of bright plumage feuding at a half full feeder, the cat-bird's mocking call snagging on a nearby branch. Yesterday, a parrot nested in my hair and each greying wisp wove a bar in his silver cage. All day long I heard a voice in tune with the sun: "¡Loro! ¡Loro!" At noon, the cathedral clock struck my name and I tumbled out of a dream. People drifted across the square like bubbles jumping through an iron ring. They rose on the wind's wings, catching their brightness in the trees above me. A balloon without a string, without a hand to guide me, I drifted in the sunshine and filled my mind with clouds. Bells licked me with their liquid tongues. As I faded away, their sound melted slowly into silence. Is pain the answer? Shall I thrust my thumb against the nearest rainbow and bleed new colors through a pacifist sky? I undress a rose: translucent garments stain my wrist and hand. A shadow walks beside my shadow, wearing robes of light. Someone has set a match to the lilies. The altar is ablaze with the purity of their flame.
Big Hand / Small Hand
It's late in my life, with the big hand stuck on the nine, at a quarter to some thing, and the small hand twitching its red-tipped needle of blood. Yesterday, the breakdown van called for my body and towed me to the doctor's. "Cough!" she said. "Say ninety-nine! Now cough again!" All the while, cold hands probed my unprotected body. Bottoms up? Thumbs down? It's hard to see that the wine glass stands a quarter full when seventy five per cent of the wine has gone and the empty bottle lies drained on the operating table. I sit in front of the mirror and examine the palpitating heart they have torn from my chest. Flesh of my flesh, it beats in my hand like an executioner's drum. I hear the tumbril drawing near. My colleagues sharpen their knitting needles. My lungs are twin balls of wool knotted tight in my chest.
Raven, Ste. Luce, PQ
When Raven flies through his trap door in the sky, a light bulb clicks off in my head and I fall into darkness. Is there some safety net before oblivion? Raven's claws scar crow's feet on a fingernail moon; his bleak black beak widens the hole in my head and the Easter egg of my skull shows thin blue cracks. When the surgeon's scalpel pierces the secret wound in my side, I'll be reborn in water and blood. Outside my window, the St. Lawrence River moves backwards and forwards with the tide. Raven shrugs at cancerous belugas, promising nothing. He soars into clear skies in search of his private exit. Now he has extinguished sun, moon and stars, plunging our world into anguished blackness. The light on the point goes round and round. Its single beam picks out a heron, mobbed by a clacking ring of gulls. The sea mist wraps the real world tight in its cloak. Now sea and lighthouse, belugas and gulls, are distant things of memory. Raven, shoulders hunched, stands like a stone, an anthracite block hacked out from the coal seam in my mind, hand carved from feathers and my forefathers' blood.
Crucified Crow, Old Logging Road, NB
Head twisted slightly to one side he watched us enter the woods. His fingers were splayed like feathers. Wide spread wings, he was nailed there, poised for instant flight. For how many revolutions of the sun had he hung in that space watching the world wheel slowly by? Strung between two trees, wind and weather slowly breaking him down into this lump of solidified silence. When we cut his body down, it folded like a pack of cards, all jacks, all black, all value peeled away in fifty two faceless moments. I opened a door in my head to let in sunlight. It filtered through high, leafless branches, until the late spring struck a broken chime. Raven coughed. His voice was a cracked bell, inviting slow fires to burn a mine in my mind.
One day they were there, the next day they were not. We never noticed them slipping through our fingers, like water or sand. We turned our faces away: and when we looked up, they had gone. They had joined the host of photos thronging the airport with their baggage of wrongs. Now they clog the hopeless cartons of milk we place helpless on our breakfast table. Is it true that their whereabouts are spread by the wagging blades of grass, their tongues untied in the springtime winds? The sea breeze says they are not on the beach. They have joined the kids who play beneath the forest's trees. Sharp blades, they slice the wooden silence into shadowy shapes. We think they are there; but at the first sound of our footsteps, they slide through clefts in the trees, hiding in stillness until we too have disappeared. But the land breeze tells us they have sailed to sea in a lustrous, leaf green boat that wanders all summer over wondrous waters. In each grain of sand lies a silent promise that one day they will be given back.
We never saw the other van as it crossed the double yellow line and entered our road space. When the vehicles collided, our car sank down on its side, like a wounded buffalo. My wife hung way above me, suspended by her seatbelt. Spurts of our mingled blood blossomed on my clothes. We stayed there for a second, frozen into a sudden absence. I blinked in amazement. Words walked slowly across the windshield: "It is the tenth anniversary of your father's death."
You cannot hide when the black angel taps you on the shoulder. "Wait a minute!" you say, "While I change my clothes and comb my hair." But he is there before you, in the clothes closet, pulling your arm. You move to the bathroom to brush your teeth. "Now!" says the angel. Your eyes mist over. You know you are there, but you can no longer see your reflection in the mirror.
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