This Lasts Longer …

In The Dream of My Grandmother’s Tree

In the dream of my grandmother’s tree
Little chasms of wind caught my glance
Runnelling small eye-roads of leaves
High up there leading into the transparent
Heart of things, and I remembered how
Strange I used to feel looking up
Knowing I would be old sometime and have
No special plans. But then in the dream
A smell of lilac descended
From the tree onto everything and
Watchful, unhurried children began to
Emerge along the branches, most of them
I had known, especially one who died
Young falling from a railing
And was always patient and smiling when
I was never, although it is perhaps he who
More than anyone since keeps death
Open for me, and a tension or pressure
Began to be felt, or a tumult as if
Just now a very old idea
Was being broken into, and mothers and
Also some fathers came beside me with
Eyes looking upwards and calling up
Saying
This is the way you
Really always were, isn’t it,
Not the later way when you were
Big, we knew you would be like this
Because there is nothing in the world
We have cared for nearly as much
Since!
And now one called up
To a child sitting with his legs
Dangling, saying
How could these leaves
Ever have allowed you to pass so
Unnoticeably into the angry, darkening
Distance?
But another said
Never mind, or said
Relax, this is why we are here,
This lasts longer than anything.

Don Coles

OMEGA

 

Trains rust on the tracks.

For years, the parks

have been closed to civilians. Books

may be accessed

at airports and bus stations only.

 

Once, we believed it was possible

to understand what went on

around us: Dawn. Rain

in the streets. Then

shop became a verb: the universe

opened and wouldn’t stop rushing

away. We discovered that God

was money and vice

versa. Now we’re obsessed

by clothing. If a child

runs naked into the street

it will be taken in by agencies,

given new fingerprints,

and raised by humanoids on the moon.

 

Persiflage

sells more albums

than all other bands combined.

 

There is one newspaper

published locally

under thousands of different names.

 

Even casual sleep

is monitored by satellite.

Those who forget their dreams

can buy them back

on video for a nominal fee.

 

Last year the birds left early.

Now the sky is clear

as a bell jar. Leaves

turn black and blue but never

fall. Snowflakes

burn unrepeatable designs

into our hands and faces.

Puddles glow in the dark.

 

South of Toronto

a forty-foot yawl

leaves a lime-green ghost on the lake

as it fades (for a fee)

into some less stressful dimension.

 

We’re crazy for gasoline.

Those who can still afford it

dab it under their arms and behind their ears

spray it onto their faces after a shave.

 

The future trembles like a mirage

in a bowl full of colourless jello.

Those who have bought it

polish their silver spoons.

George Amabile

from Rumours of Paradise/ Rumours of War, 1995

Sparrows Fall

From Prairie Fire:

In reading Don Domanski’s All Our Wonder Unavenged, the words ‘carpentry of the soul’ came to mind. “I put two final drops of oil in the mechanism / which is placing a word on either side of time,” he writes in “Disposing of a Broken Clock” (67) And so, with such precision of image, does Domanski create metaphor for the workings of time and the deliberate acts of the poet that effaces it–“I anoint . . ., I wipe . . . I remove . . .,” (67)

It is this precisely calibrated image from years of honed seeing that is rewarding to read in Domanski’s poems. He has somehow managed to make the art of seeing or making observations almost entirely anagogic–‘anagogic’ being ‘a mystical interpretation of a word, passage, or text, that detects allusions to heaven or the afterlife.’ And yet, in spite of that, the state of mind Domanski aspires to in his seeing is the one of a ‘wonder unavenged.’ Why must we seek in pure wonder some aspect of the divine? What is it in us that compels us from wonder into religion? Why can we not simply have ‘wonder unavenged.?’ That is the question Domanski is asking in his book and the poem of the same title.
my mother believed God moved the sparrows around day after day
as a teenager I believed the sparrows moved God around
all the inexhaustible crutches He leaned upon
all the underweights of silence to find His way
now the only god I believe in are the sparrows themselves
                                                                      unaltered by my belief (81)
Perhaps that is all there is after all, only the consciousness we can experience now in moments of meditative observation. And yet there is that fundamental yearning that Domanski expresses in “Slayer in a Told World” as loneliness “for whatever abides / in the calluses of ice on bark / and among roots thrown carelessly beneath trees’ (25). In the ‘told world’ we live in, he speaks of our longing for ‘falling snow’ and its ‘iconography’ where each flake “stand[s] for the myriad things / that live well beyond our language / silence of the animal mind descending” (25-26). Silence is not just golden in Domanski’s world–it is when the ‘animal mind’ descends and enters (or slays) our consciousness from its ‘wordful’ orientation, so to speak.

But it is not an easy path to be and see this way. That hankering for that other sure world of faith articulated in language seems always to get in the way. We cannot help but ‘detect allusions to heaven or the afterlife’ in our seeing even as we have only the blood-and-flesh of our perceptions to guide us. In the last poem “In the Dream of the Yellow Birches,” there are two telling turns in the last section, where the poet “frightened to accept” the “dungeon-work” of what I interpret to be as acts of contemplative prayer or meditation or as Domanski puts it “that inner life bound in darkness / by an intense grace” must yet plunge into such a life or such acts (120). Even knowing that there is “not much security in that not much camouflage” (120), the poet states:

yet I find myself in God’s sleep again and again
in the dream of the silver birches
                                        taking root in the soil (120)

This ‘yet’ however is followed quickly by a second ‘yet’: yet I find myself witless and godless constantly testing the air and water for any little absolute anxious on our behalf (120) The two ‘yets’ express that middling, muddling state of being the poet finds himself in. “Insecure and silent are the ways of the self (120)” he states. “I try to follow Meister Eckhart’s advice / Do exactly what you would do if you felt / most secure (121)” but the results are mixed: “sometimes it takes / sometimes it doesn’t.” (121)

Domanski’s poetic journey through consciousness is one part yearning and one part there; the middle ground he charts between “homecoming is an ever-receding will” in “Mere” (33) and the “third dove” the soul is “always seeking” (41) in “Walking Down to Acheron” is where his poetic genius finds its voice. What is inside the mind and outside the eye begin to coalesce into that vision I call anagogic. I see no difference between poetry and spiritual practice, Domanski has said. To read his work is to fully engage the worlds of both. 

 

Sally Ito is a Winnipeg writer.

All Our Wonder Unavenged by Don Domanski

it goes away

 

a garden behind a house

smelling the mint

a bench in a clearing

feeling the sun

 

it goes away

 

a long-legged daughter on the grass

watching her dance

a son swaying in the willow

listening to him laugh

 

it goes away

 

a hand tracing your face

tasting its salt

a body asleep beside you

feeling her breath

 

it goes away

 

a black dog at your door

smelling its heat

a white horse in your dream

listening to the hooves

 

it goes away

 

Patrick Friesen

 

From carrying the shadow

Beach Holme Publishing, Vancouver: 1999

Blue

Meditation on Blue

Irresistible, on this atmospheric planet, where
there’s a blue to carry the heart home and a blue
for virgins and a blue to call
the spider from the drain.
Nobody argues with its
shameless imitation of love, diving
simultaneously into the eye and out of sight: sea,
sky, the absence of convulsions and flags,
our own errata winking at us out of depths or heights.
Knowing that one day we will fall to black
or fade to grey, and blue
has been both places and includes them
as a saxophone includes its drastic
possibilities. It’s with us.
We’ve been gone before.

Don McKay

“Poetics of Arson”

On July 1, 2008 George Elliott Clarke, poet, librettist and teacher was appointed a member of the Order of Canada.

Clarke has been the recipient of many awards, including the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 2001    and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Achievement Award.  Here’s a brief description of one of Clarkes’ books of poetry, Blue:

This incandescent book subscribes to that adage the “Good poems should rage like a fire, burning all things.” Blue is black, profane, surly, damning – and unrelenting in its brilliance. George Elliott Clarke writes: “I craved to draft lyrics that would pour out like pentecostal fire – pell mell, scorching, bright, loud: a poetics of arson.”
       Blue is divided into five parts (Black Eclogues; Red Satires; Gold Sapphics; Blue Elegies; and Ashen Blues) that skillfully turn rage into a violet bruise of love and mourning. From the “Nasty Nofaskoshan Negro” of the Black section to the shocking satires of the Red section, from the fierce tenderness of Gold Sapphics to the haunting lament of Blue Elegies, Clarke has written urgent and necessary poems – poems that burn and illuminate with their fury, truth and beauty.
       George Elliott Clarke was born in Three Mile Plains, Nova Scotia. In the fall 2001, Clarke won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry for his collection Execution Poems, published by the Gaspereau Press.

George Elliott Clarke

From: Execution Poems: The Black Acadian Tragedy of “George and Rue”

by George Elliott Clarke

The Killing

Rue: I ingratiated the grinning hammer
with Silver’s not friendless, not unfriendly skull.
Behind him like a piece of storm, I unleashed a frozen glinting–
a lethal gash of lightning.
His soul leaked from him in a Red Sea, a Dead Sea,
churning his clothes to lava.

Geo: No, it didn’t look like real blood,
but something more like coal, that inched from his mouth.

Rue: It was a cold hit in the head. A hurt unmassageable.
Car seat left stinking of gas and metal and blood.
And reddening violently.
A rhymeless poetry scrawled his obituary.

Geo: It was comin on us for awhile, this here misery.
We’d all split a beer before iron split Silver’s skull.
Silver’s muscles still soft and tender. That liquor killed him.
The blood like shadow on his face, his caved-in face.
Smell of his blook over everything.

Rue: Iron smell of the hammer mingled with iron smell of blood
and chrome smell of snow and moonlight.

Geo: He had two hundred dollars on him; bootleg in him.
We had a hammer on us, a spponful of cold beer in us.

The taxi-driver lies red in the alabaster snow.
His skeleton has taken sick and music be placed in the ground.

This murder is 100 per cent dirt of our hands.

Rue: Twitchy, my hand was twitchy, inside my jacket.
The hammer was gravaity: everything else was jumpy.
I wondered if Silver could hear his own blood thundering,
vermilion, in his temples, quickened, twitchy, because of beer;
jumpy molecules infecting his corpuscles, already nervous.

The hammer went in so far that there was no sound–
just the slight mushy squeak of bone.

Silver swooned like the eladen Titanic.
Blook screamed down his petit-bourgeois clothes.

Geo: Can we cover up a murder with snow?
With white, frosty roses?

Rue: Here’s how I justify my error:
The blow that slew Silver came from two centuries back.
It took that much time and agony to turn a white man’s whip
into a black man’s hammer.

Geo: No, we needed money,
so you hit the So-and-So,
only much too hard.
Now what?

Rue: So what?

RIP James Reaney

 Granny Crack

 I was a leather skinned harridan
   I wandered the county’s roads
   Trading and begging and fighting
With the sun for hat and the road for shoes.

   You played a pigsty Venus
   When you were young, old dame,
   In graveyard or behind the tavern.
   The burdock girl was your name.

   She talked vilely it is remembered
   Was a moving and walking dictionary
   Of slang and unconventional language
The detail of her insults was extraordinary.

   We dozen scoundrels laid you
   For a quarter each in the ditch
   To each you game the sensation
   That we were the exploited bitch

   You saw me freckled and spotted
   My face like a killdeer’s egg
   When, berry-picking kids, you ran from me
   Frightened down the lane by the wood.

   They saw her as an incredible crone
   The spirit of neglected fence corners,
   Of curious wisdom of brambles
And weeds, of ruts, of stumps and of things despised.

   I was mother of your sun
   I was the sister of your moon
   My veins are your paths and roads
   On my head I bear steeples and turrets
   I am the darling of your god.

   James Reaney 

From Thursday’s Globe and Mail:

[James] Reaney died Wednesday night in London following a long illness. He was 81.

[…]

He won three Governor-General’s Awards for poetry and drama, poetry, the first in 1949 for a collection of poetry, The Red Heart.

In 1960, he began teaching at Western and started publishing Alphabet, a semi-annual periodical devoted “to the iconography of the imagination.”

In 1966 he founded the Listener’s Workshop and began working with child and adult actors in choral ensemble works. Reaney, whose play Colours in the Dark premiered in Stratford in 1967, received the Order of Canada in 1975.

His best known dramatic work may be a trilogy of plays about the 1880 massacre of the Donnelly family in Lucan, Ont.

 

Woman Poet Series, #19

Before the Wreckers Come

Before the wreckers come,
Uproot the lily
From the hard angle of earth
By the house.
Crouch by the latticed understairs
Rubbish and neglect
(The sudden lightning
Of sun
On your back
Between the opening
And shutting
Of the March-blown clothesline,
Rise and fall of the swift light
Like blows.)
Here a lifetime’s
Slimy soapsuds
Curdle the earth,
In this corner
Under the stairs,
But have not killed
The woodbugs
Nor the moths’ pupae
Which brush your fingers
As you dig
For the round, rich root,
The lily root
Which has somehow, senselessly,
Not been killed either
But has grown every year
An astonished babyhood,
An eye-struck Easter.
Pack it among the photographs,
The silver polish,
And the last laundry
Which will not again
Lift and shutter
For the shattering sun.
Mark its container: X
Two intersecting lines,
A lattice point
Of time
And the years’ seasons.

Before the wreckers come,
Carry away
The lightning-bulb of sun.

Pat Lowther

Woman Poets Series, #17

my granddaughters are combing out their long hair

by Colleen Thibaudeau

my granddaughters are combing out their long hair sitting at night
on the rocks in Venezuela they have watched their babes
falling like white birds from the last of the treetop cradles
they have buried them in their hearts where they will never forget
to keep on singing them the old songsbrought down to earth they use twigs, flint scrapers acadian
their laughter underground makes the thyme flower in darkness

my granddaughters are thin as fishbones & hornfooted but they are
always beautiful under the stars: like little asian paperthings
they seem to open outward into their own waterbowl

mornings they waken to Light’s chink ricocheting
off an old Black’s Harbour sardinecan.

Reduce them the last evangelines make them part of the stars.

my granddaughters are coming out by night combing their burr
coloured hair by the rocks and streamtrickle in Venezuela
they are burnt out as falling stars but they laugh
and keep on singing them the old songs.

 

Colleen Thibaudeau never forgets that she is an Acadian who was fated to live her life in Western Ontario. She is an unusual combination of visionary and activist, writing poems in the tradition of William Blake, and rescuing foodbanks from businessmen policticians. She lives in London, Ontario.

The Parliamentary Poet Laureate