Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Prayers, Portraits, Post-Its (9)

Lines in March

Clear signs that point beyond signs,
A broom that sweeps itself up last.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Prayers, Portraits, Post-Its (8)

Check, Please

Pleasures today have been trim and complete.
A robin's black back in binocular discs,
a packet of work and a bill–neither big.
Almonds, green grapes, the last two croissants;
a girl in tight jeans getting sleek in the rain.
A voice in the phone: “Are we still on for eight?”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Prayers, Portraits, Post-Its (7)

Orange Light

Propped up on high white pillows
in the bed, he said:

I remember visiting her studio
that first time. Four floors up,
cold water down the hall.
I had to climb up the fire escape
because of another painter.
Dusty beams and ducts
criss-crossed the high brickwork,
and orange light seemed
always to be roaring
through the grimy, fretted windows.
Her fingers were always caked
with pigments–chrome yellows, whites–
and I remember thinking fleetingly,
I'll die of lead poisoning.

But you didn't, I remarked.
One of his daughters had come in
and asked if he needed anything
and when he said no
had kissed him on the forehead.

Well it wasn't for lack of trying,
he said smiling to himself.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Prayers, Portraits, Post-Its (6)

His Surprise*

“It was incredible,” he said.
“As soon as I stopped trying
so hard things started looking up.
A woman I'd given up on
called me one night. Then she
and another woman I'd been chasing
in vain started feuding–over me.
Something straight out of my daydreams.
Business picked up a bit, then boomed.
Friends not only forgave me my lapses
but even seemed to love me for them.
I found a ten-dollar bill,
purple John A. Macdonald eyeing me from asphalt.
All these gifts, things I'd wanted for years,
started drifing down out of the sky
like snowflakes or apple blossoms
–like those elusive blessings we ran
and jumped for as children–but,
just like then, I couldn't grab hold
and catch one. You see, it wasn't
a ploy or pretence. It wasn't a tactic.
I really had stopped trying.”

[*Published in The New Quarterly, Summer 2005]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Prayers, Portraits, Post-Its (5)

The Check-Out King*

He died in his mid-twenties
(typically, nobody seemed to know what of).
Got himself safely underground
before the rest of us had had our first cancer scare.
But he was always slipping past the lens,
way over at the cropped edge of the class picture
or dead in the centre in an egg of glare.
He might be at the vortex of a scrum or rumble
or flopped down in the field beyond the goal posts,
oblivious to calls to return, watching
(perhaps) an ant traverse a blade of grass.
In those days no work meant you failed.
“Have you finished, Earl?” the teacher
asked when his head sank onto his arms.
“No.” “Have you started?” “No.”
Everyone, even she, laughed. Everyone
except Earl. He rode out humour
the way a pine tree rides out rain.
A cipher makes a tricky victim:
he may become a black hole or a mirror.
Our bully picked him out only when
he'd run through everyone else repeatedly.
Earl didn't confront, didn't retreat.
He stood there and one punch knocked him flat.
He lay for a while with his face to the sky
(so long that some of us
looked up too–just blue and fluffy clouds)
and then he got up and walked away
toward wherever he lived, getting
smaller slowly, with every few steps
bringing a hand to his face and
flinging a ribbon of blood down at the dust.

[*Published in The New Quarterly, Spring 2006. It was largely thanks to the interest and encouragement shown my work by TNQ's editors, beginning in 1995, that I believed I could, and then did, publish fiction over the next few years. Kim Jernigan, TNQ's editor, is my and probably most every other writer's dream editor: open to Experiment, Old Reliable and all Points In Between; somehow combining maxima of tact and sensitivity with critical hardheadedness. When Peter Hinchcliffe, now retired, was editing alongside her, you knew you were sending your work to a tag team of acute, relentless readers. They read masses, but they still read by the word. And, miraculously, they reacted, in generous handwritten notes, even to your failures. How they did it, how Kim still does it, I can't imagine. I can only be grateful for so many civilized doors opened so casually.]

Monday, March 16, 2009

Prayers, Portraits, Post-Its (4)


For mosquitoes, repellent. For chest
colds, steam. For anger, time. For robbers, locks.
Against self-pity, strongest of pests?
Nothing for that but the final box.

In Dismay to a Recent Laureate

Chatty and breezy, all right, but gassy makes me swear.
A comfortable poem should be at least a well-made armchair:
Yielding to the bottom while still keeping it in the air.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Brain Blanket Bingo

You know you've been a psych patient too long when...

1. Your former psychiatrist (not your first) dies of old age.

2. Drinking red wine before dinner, you catch yourself saying, “It's not a mood stabilizer so much as a brain blanket.”

3. “How's your libido on the new dosage?” sounds as normal (and as interesting) as “How about those Leafs?”

4. Somebody talking about an 80's band stops and says, “Oh, that's the decade you missed, right?” (You haven't told her yet about the 70's.)

5. Mental states are classed as Friendly, Hostile and Non-aligned.

6. Your hands flutter and your eyelids seize.

7. Your pill-cutter needs a new blade.