Toronto flora of “high summer”: The Lily

Lilies in Toronto 1_photo by Elisabeth SpringateLilies in Toronto 2_photograph by Elisabeth SpringateLilies in Toronto 3_photograph by Elisabeth Springate

Lily – my childhood flower. I learned to walk

among your stalks. And your ancient sophistication

is part of me now;   your beauty beholds me / I behold you,

and The World is good glimpsed from your point of view.

Of my sad boyhood face there remains a dream-trace,

and your fragrance and form taught me all I should know:

Stand tall and upfront and, well – put on a show.

Elegant, primitive, glowing style…

Lily, you sleep as a bulb under snow,

then you hold your head high in the summer awhile.

.

Alexander Best,  July 31st, 2013

Lilies in Toronto 4_photograph by Elisabeth SpringateLilies in Toronto 5_photograph by Elisabeth Springate

Photographs of Lilies in Toronto gardens by Elisabeth Springate  (July 28th– 30th, 2013)


Toronto flora of “high summer”: The Sunflower

Sunflowers in Toronto 1_July 27th 2013Sunflowers in Toronto 2_July 27th 2013Sunflower – dawn, high noon or dusk hour –
Why, for me, do you have such power?
You: my glad face when I’m
open to joy, not anger’s toy; when I’m
frank with feeling, not secretly reeling.
Go ahead, you nod, do your best, you nod,
And the rest of your pals say: we knew that you could!
You are eager and honest and simple and true
– and guess why I love you so?
’cause my spirit grows
when we’re face to face
– and then I can re-join the human race.

.

Alexander Best,  July 31st, 2013

Sunflowers in Toronto 3_July 27th 2013


Alexander Best: “Notes on Normal”

ZP_Norval Morrisseau, 1932-2007_Conversation, a serigraph from 1978

ZP_Norval Morrisseau, 1932-2007_Conversation, a serigraph from 1978

Alexander Best

“Notes on Normal”

.

The investment advertisement spoke of “smart risk”.

The sign on the bottled-water truck read: “Taste you can trust.”

At the townhouse complex, little notices

skewered the golf-green grass. They gave the date and time of

spraying and when the lawn would be “safe” again.

.

An office worker took two puffs of her cigarette then

tossed it onto the granite slab;  it was back to the salt mines.

Two beggars stood nearby.

It didn’t get ugly over the “Hollywood butt”;

another one would be along in awhile.

 

.     .     .

 

Last night I awoke;  it was slow and easy.

Down the hall, my neighbour picked out chords on his guitar.

The sound wasn’t loud;  the house was unusually quiet.

3 a.m.  Oh, but he hit the right notes!

I lay there and listened.

Then the music stopped.

.

My mind went this way and that.  Those years returned, and

I knew there was no playing with the facts:

how ignorant I’d been — aggressive and stupid.  And hadn’t it

gone on — and on.

Sleep came again, and took me.

 

.     .     .

 

Finally, he died.

Yes, he was old, but he’d been old for two-and-a-half decades,

since the age of forty-five.

The florid beard, silver in the black, had

given him a weight;  and he’d been listened to, the difficult

so-and-so.

.

His Uncle.  The only man left of that small,

snuffed-or-petered-out generation.

And these past five years, the beard gone, his face was

crunched and unintelligible.

.

What a waste.

So much could’ve happened that didn’t.

Yet so much had happened that had to.

And though he felt regret — fibrous and stony — he felt also

the uselessness of regrets.

.

That tightly-wound, far-flung bunch, their story was told.

And the estranged pair of them — Uncle and him —

they were one and complete.

 

.     .     .

 

I told someone off the other day, really laid it on thick.

She’d been burying me in bullshit for quite some time.

Who doesn’t she despise in our society?

.

Now I’m doubtful. I feel guilt. Was I perhaps too…

no, I didn’t go far enough.

 

.     .     .

 

Oh privileged people —

when you extract head from navel, the

muffled hums and haws will become

well-spoken excuses.

.

Shut up and get on with it.

I expect more of thee!

 

.     .     .

 

Smug. It defines him.

Orthodoxy in all the obvious opinions;  a crass certitude;

Hypocrisy. 

And in one so young!

.

Facts. What he does with them is…

terrifying.

.

But now I say to myself:

Fool.  Look around.

This  is the only world he knows.

 

.     .     .

 

He was mistaken.

He’d thought it sensible to share so much — to be ‘modern’ —

with the old dear / battleaxe who’d given him Life.

But he didn’t know when to stop.

And now they are both of them

undignified.

.

How does one repair such damage?

.

Learning to be silent,

this will be hard work.

But the birds, cat and dog;  the piano.

Maybe a ginger beer — she likes that —

in the backyard, when the hot days come.

It can be enough.

 

.     .     .

 

The funeral was a brisk affair;  the woman’s decline had been

gradual, her death no surprise. Still, the hour was a solemn one.

He was the brother of someone who’d known the deceased,

a stranger in a small congregation, all of whom appeared to

be familiars.  But afterward, he observed how

people departed in two distinct groups which had little or

nothing to say to one another.

.

His sister — the “someone who’d known the deceased” — was,

in truth, a very important person — mourner — in the pews.

But only the dead woman had known that.

.

Two square-looking, thirty-something women

— they’d sat in the front row —

attempted to pick him up as he

walked away from the cut-stone chapel.

One called him “distinguished”;  the other, “hot”.

The coffin was carried down the steps, and

dayglo arrows marked the route to the grave.

It was a cold, early-spring afternoon.

 

.     .     .

 

The dream startled me awake.

I had to walk around, move myself here and there.

Downstairs, I put the kettle on.

.

First I was hunched over, then I was on the attack.

A door, off its hinges, was my shield, then my weapon.

There was no ground yet we weren’t falling.

There was no sky yet we kept breathing.

There was no room for us, in fact,

yet we had ample space for a struggle.

And who was we?

 

 

.

(2004)

.     .     .     .     .


Les Tendresses pour Yonge Street ( Tokens of Affection for Yonge Street )

ZP_Corner of Yonge and Dundas, Toronto, 1972, looking south_The buildings on the right side were all demolished to make way for construction of The Eaton Centre which opened in 1977.

ZP_Corner of Yonge and Dundas, Toronto, 1972, looking south_The buildings on the right side were all demolished to make way for construction of The Eaton Centre which opened in 1977.

Alexander Best

LES TENDRESSES POUR YONGE STREET #1

( TOKENS OF AFFECTION FOR YONGE STREET…..)

.

Playoffs had begun; things were looking up for The Leafs…

Ten young guys, walking south to Carlton Street. Jock-ish

In their jerseys, ballcaps, space-age sneakers.

Cases of beer: treasure borne on shoulders and heads.

.

The creature of them halted in front of a shop-window: leopard-bikinis and

Lacey things. Big noise from the boys, sports-monkey-like.

.

Two teenage girls appeared on the sidewalk, slowing down, unsure.

(Awkward experiment: elegant hair, in the style of Marie-Antoinette, combined

with denim ensembles, ‘racing stripes’ down the sides of their pant-legs.)

.

The guys turned from window-display toward the girls, emitting a lusty

Oh Yeah!

One of the girls (shy one) couldn’t help but grin, showing

Microchip-circuitry of railroad-tracks; her mouth was a mess. The boys

Paused — taking in this ruination of her face — glanced among themselves,

Then voiced an even huge-r Oh Yeeaahhh of instinctual approval.

.

Girl’s friend rummaged for an itzy-bitzy disposable camera, held it out, simply

Aimed it at the mass of boys, and clicked.

Females, a-giggle, clumped north in their trendy ‘big-foot’ shoes. The

Manimal continued its way down the street.

.     .     .

 

LES TENDRESSES POUR YONGE STREET  #2

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.”  /  “I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.”

(Publius Terentius Afer  a.k.a. TerenceRoman playwright, 195–159 BCE)

.

I waited for the streetcar, in Monday’s midnight mist.

Cabbie pulled up, East-African guy, insisted I get in.

No money, I told him.  Shift was over, he said.  “You and I, we go in the

Same direction,” he assured me. Small as a boy, he was confident like a man.

.

Inside the car, passing the famous hockey-arena…

Do you know this is a ‘gay area’ where you are standing on the corner?”

Oh, really?” my mild response.

.

Left hand on the steering-wheel, he extended his right and placed the tips of his

Slim fingers on the vulnerable spot where my neck joins my breastbone.

Let me see you” — his tone was oddly reverential.

.

I unbuttoned my shirt. He ran his hand over my chest and stomach.

Ah,” he said gravely, “I am touching you, beautiful forest!”

The car skirted a grove of highrise apartment blocks, swinging onto the bridge that

Leads to a more sky-wide part of the city.

.

He patted my zipper: “Show me this one.”

He held my sex; it changed size. Chain of lights moved north, another south, on the

Riverside-highway below us. He considered me, in the palm of his hand:

Alabaster plus two jewels,” he said. “ — but not so hard!” he added, joy flashing in his

Eyes. Our road lay arrow-straight, and luck – the traffic was serene.

.

I began to touch him, at the navel-gap in his shirt.

No.  This cannot. I am married.” — he spoke in a hush.

Maybe I’m married, too,” I said. “You are wearing no ring,” he observed.

True.” And I touched him again.

.

Please do not,” he said firmly. Then, with a radiant smile showing teeth of

Stained ivory: “You will make us an accident…We must not have such a

Tragic romance!”

He refreshed me with these words. The car smelled of fake pine; radio-voice

Rhapsodized about a computer.

.

He caressed my thigh with his free hand. I told him my name; he, his; the

Bible came into it. When I was let out, he tapped a

Farewell-flourish on the car-horn.

.

A poet wrote: “It is only the sacred things that are worth touching.”

Thank you, stranger of the City, for revealing my body as sacred again.

In touching it you touched my soul.

ZP_Xaviera Hollander, the so-called Happy Hooker_She lived in Toronto during the mid-1970s and her liberated, guilt-free approach to sex was exactly what Toronto the Good needed_The Yonge Street Strip, mainly between Gerrard and Dundas, was the most honest zone in the city - a place of risqué fun and sleaze.  Some of those qualities of random adventure and weird spontaneity still existed on the Yonge Street of the late 1990s - and the poet hopes he has captured a little of that in these three poems...

ZP_Xaviera Hollander, the so-called Happy Hooker_She lived in Toronto during the mid-1970s and her liberated, guilt-free approach to sex was exactly what Toronto the Good needed_The Yonge Street Strip, mainly between Gerrard and Dundas, was the most honest zone in the city – a place of risqué fun and sleaze. Some of those qualities of random adventure and weird spontaneity still existed on the Yonge Street of the late 1990s – and the poet hopes he has captured a little of that in these three poems…

LES TENDRESSES POUR YONGE STREET  #3

.

It was along by the Zanzibar Tavern…

Delivery van struck a man. Soft-hard sound, and he

Flipped through the air as if juggled.

.

Magnificent. People spun ’round.

He wasn’t out-cold; dusted himself off, embarrassed.

He began to walk; straightaway teetered, fell

Crumpled against a newspaper box.

Blood on his neck; humanity gawked.

.

An efficient person called the hospital on his pocket-phone.

The van-driver was sorry, impatient.  

.

An old man and woman — he reedy, she petite — approached the  

Injured one: “What is your name, dear?” said the woman, bending.

What is my name? — What is my name?!?”

Don’t, now…you’ve had a shock,” she said.

.

The man’s accent was distinctive; words in the shape of fear.

He’d’ve hailed from a dozen lands — to be precise.

.

The woman gestured for her mate to lean down with his good ear:

He can stay with us…The children are gone — they needn’t know.”

Her husband’s eyebrows went up; held themselves aloft; settled down.

Yes…I don’t see why not.”

 .

The nameless fellow was arranged into the ambulance by two delicate,

Burly attendants. The couple was helped in next; one guy taking the

Old lady’s patent-leather handbag, the other the

Old gentleman’s cane.

.

(1999 – 2000)

ZP_Yonge Street, Toronto, in the 21st century_Looking south from the corner of Yonge and Gerrard

ZP_Yonge Street, Toronto, in the 21st century_Looking south from the corner of Yonge and Gerrard


Alexander Best: “The Soul in darkness”: 12 poems

Sherbourne Street vacant lot 1Sherbourne Street vacant lot 2Vacant lot, Sherbourne Street vacant lot 3

Alexander Best

“The Soul in darkness”

.

He’s destroyed his health — that much is plain.

A cough that never really leaves,

those hollows under his eyes.

Oh, it wasn’t any one thing he did…

but it all adds up.

.

Many of his habits were simple.

Taking his tea and a smoke by the window

while the sun rose, after a night of prowling.

He’d bring coffee to homeless guys with

winning, tooth-fractured smiles.

He’d talk to cats in the laneways;  crouched down,

scratched them under their chins.

When money was scarce, still he managed

to buy drinks for charming strangers whose charm vanished

once they asked if he could lend them sixty bucks…

.

It was no one thing, true,

yet it all added up.

Life diminished him,

no matter what.

.     .     .

Each day brought some small joy or other.

What people called boredom

he called freedom to roam.

He listened to the water rush along the gutter toward the grate

— it was full of energy and romance.

At night when it rained,

he heard the wet wheels of traffic going this way or that

while he lay in his bed.

The city-hall tower was many blocks away,

but once in a while he heard the bell striking the hour,

and it pleased him.

He thought to himself:

this must be what it’s like to live forever.

.     .     .

They started out as friends.

Nearly always, it was good times.

Each trusted him whom he didn’t know.

By the end, they’d hurt one another a lot.

Accidental hurts? It was hard to tell

— but they hit their mark.

By the time it was really over, they’d become strangers

of the type that make up the faceless throng.

.     .     .

The number of times I’ve looked on people with desire.

Turning a corner. In a streetcar, an elevator.

At the cinema, courthouse.

In a glance, I’ve given myself to hundreds, and

I’ve taken thousands.

.     .     .

A beggar asked for change. I rummaged in my pockets.

He took a good look at me, in my old wool greatcoat;

declared:  A blank cheque’ll do.

I smiled, gave him a two-dollar coin.

Noisily my awful boots squish-squished as I

strode up the street.

We both chuckled.

.     .     .

Nothing is clear to me.

Even the cloudless sky.

Every wall is a mirror.

So many years have passed that

some things are easier — time is thoughtful.

But nothing is clear.

.     .     .

The thought of living without him was unbearable.

And yet, that’s just what they’d been doing, for years.

Out of solitude came a knowledge he felt with his whole body:

their love was for all time.

Everywhere he went, he walked with a light step.

.     .     .

I waited.  On the bench

by the massive oak tree.

Noone came.

I stayed too long,

my feet were like lead going home.

But memory calls.

I must go back.

.     .     .

The one dearest to him was ill.

Said his head throbbed, like it was his heart

— a loud beating,

outside his body.

He knew what that was like.

.     .     .

He went out on a limb — the old oak tree.

He sighed. Looked at the rope held coiled in his hand.

A nighthawk squawked.

That’s the wisdom I needed, he whispered aloud.

He lowered himself to the ground, with care

— didn’t want to sprain an ankle.

.     .     .

In the darkness of his room,

one after another, he strikes wooden matches,

leans each one against the inside of a small copper pot.

They spark, then swell to a crisp.  And he says to himself:

Lovely they are, their whole life long.

.     .     .

Meal done, now’s the hour;  some light in the sky still,

and man-made glows begin to warm each room.

Ahh,

spirit’s gone to my belly

— words don’t come…and that’s that.

.

Poem, shall we lie down, you and I?

And write ourselves tomorrow?

.     .     .

The poet in 2008

The poet in 2008

Editor’s note:

I wrote these poems in 2003 during the years when I went from one temporary job to the next, and was numb from emotional distress in my personal life.  I seemed only to “camp” wherever I was living;  I moved nine times between 1999 to 2010.   Putting furniture out on the street, I would find what I needed for my next room on another curb.  Everyone has crises in his or her life and we respond variously – with adequate action or with the inertia and blah mechanisms of Depression.  I believe that this sequence of poems reflects – in its pensive, wistful, and “world-weary” tone – the influence of Constantine Cavafy (Konstantin Kavafis) whose poems in translation I was discovering at the time.  These poems wrote themselves;  my pen moved across the page of its own accord. The gift of composing Poetry has meant my survival;  I am most grateful for that.

.     .     .     .     .


Poemas y Oración para el Día de Acción de Gracias

.

Dos poemas por Alexander Best

.

“Thanksgiving ‘Getaway’ March”

.

Rrrrum pa pum pa pum-key – that turkey’s on the run.

Rrrrum pa pum pa pum-key – he got away too late.

Dinner’s almost rrread-y – an hour and it’s done.

Our house smells good for comp’ny – a drrrumstick on your plate!

.     .     .

“Poema pavo”

.

Señor Ave distinguido,

¿Porqué eriza las plumas?

Totole, totole, manojo de nervios,

¿Te marchas a las lomas?

Macho gordo – está listo

– no buscamos bronca.

Da tu vida por plato de mole,

¡Hoy día – la gran tertulia!

Guajolote, guajolote,

Pajarote indio.

Comida antigua americana

– y ésta tarde, ¡p’ra todo!

.     .     .

“Oración dulce, sincera – y juguetona”

.

Padre nuestro, Madre nuestra –

que estén en el cielo,

Santificado sean sus nombres,

Venga el reino de ustedes,

Háganse la voluntad en la tierra como en el cielo,

Dennos hoy nuestro pan de cada día,

 (– y hoy día guajolote al horno con chilmole y flan de calabaza también, por favor –)

Perdonen nuestras ofensas,

como también nosotros perdonamos a los que nos ofenden,

No nos dejen caer en tentación y líbrennos del mal.

Amén.

.     .     .     .     .


Poems about Elections / Los poetas hablan de Elecciones: 6 nov. 2012

Poems about Elections / Los poetas hablan de Elecciones:  6 nov. 2012

.

By now many citizens of the USA – and countless people worldwide – are good and tired of news coverage – hasn’t media been droning on for twelve months? – of the Democratic (Obama) and Republican (Romney) campaigns leading up to the USA’s presidential election.  And today – Tuesday, November 6th – is when voters cast their ballots – in hope, in anger, out of a mechanical sense of duty – or even for their very first time…

And so we present a selection of poems – some of them satirical – about election politics.

.     .     .

They’re predicting this one’ll be a nailbiter and a humdinger,

like Kennedy’s election over Nixon back in 1960

– just too close to call.

.

Alexander Best

“Swing-State Boogie”

.

“It’s no exaggeration to say

That the undecideds could

Go either way.”<*>

And gosh, who knew? that

How it goes

Depends on news from

O – HI – O ?

<*>Quotation from George Bush Sr., whose mastery of the backwards witty and bafflingly mundane in political comment was surpassed only by his son, George Bush Jr.

.     .     .

The following poem, “The Poor Voter on Election Day”, was written at a time when Democracy meant only white men voted – and no women.  (And people doubtless did vote with their left hands too, though Whittier seemed to think all power lay in the right…)

But Whittier’s idealistic political sentiment is as American in 2012 – even with contemporary cynicism factored in – as it was in 1852.

.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

“The Poor Voter on Election Day” (1852)

.

The proudest now is but my peer,

The highest not more high;

Today, of all the weary year,

A king of men am I.

Today alike are great and small,

The nameless and the known

My palace is the people’s hall,

The ballot-box my throne!

.

Who serves today upon the list

Beside the served shall stand;

Alike the brown and wrinkled fist,

The gloved and dainty hand!

The rich is level with the poor,

The weak is strong today;

And sleekest broadcloth counts no more

Than homespun frock of gray.

.

Today let pomp and vain pretence

My stubborn right abide;

I set a plain man’s common sense

Against the pedant’s pride.

Today shall simple manhood try

The strength of gold and land

The wide world has not wealth to buy

The power in my right hand!

.

While there’s a grief to seek redress,

Or balance to adjust,

Where weighs our living manhood less

Than Mammon’s vilest dust —

While there’s a right to need my vote

A wrong to sweep away,

Up! clouted knee and raggéd coat!

A man’s a man to-day!

.     .     .

Hoy, en la ocasión de la Elección en los EE.UU., le presentamos poemas de dos poetas que hablaron de la política con pasión y con escepticismo:

.

Guillermo Aguirre y Fierro* 

(1887-1949, San Luis Potosí, México)

“La Elección”

*Poema anónimo publicado en el periódico “El Cronista del Valle” (Brownsville, Texas, mayo de 1926).  Historiador Antonio Saborit ha dicho que –seguramente – el poema fue escrito por Guillermo Aguirre y Fierro.

.

El león falleció ¡triste desgracia!

Y van, con la más pura democracia,

a nombrar nuevo rey los animales.

Las propagandas hubo electorales,

prometieron la mar los oradores,

y aquí tenéis algunos electores:

aunque parézcales a ustedes bobo

las ovejas votaron por el lobo;

como son unos buenos corazones

por el gato votaron los ratones;

a pesar de su fama de ladinas

por la zorra votaron las gallinas;

la paloma inocente,

inocente votó por la serpiente;

las moscas, nada hurañas,

querían que reinaran las arañas;

el sapo ansía, y la rana sueña

con el feliz reinar de la cigüeña;

con un gusano topo

que a votar se encamina por el topo;

el topo no se queja,

más da su voto por la comadreja;

los peces, que sucumben por su boca,

eligieron gustosos a la foca;

el caballo y el perro, no os asombre,

votaron por el hombre,

y con dolor profundo

por no poder encaminarse al trote,

arrastrábase un asno moribundo

a dar su voto por el zopilote.

Caro lector que inconsecuencias notas,

dime: ¿no haces lo mismo cuándo votas?

.     .     .

Jorge Valenzuela (Chile)

“Poema sobre las Elecciones”

.

A prepararse señores

se vienen las municipales

se renovarán los alcaldes

y también los concejales.

Volverán las calles sucias

las paredes muy pintadas

afiches en las casas

y las voces destempladas.

Las campañas en terreno

las visitas puerta a puerta

para cuadrar como sea

las ficticias encuestas.

Los diarios-la televisión

y las radios saturadas

destacando al candidato

ofreciendo todo y nada.

Los operativos sociales

los alimentos en cajas

materiales de todo tipo

para reparar bien las casas.

Al final de la contienda

vencedores y vencidos

si te he visto no me acuerdo

y el voto se ha perdido.

.     .     .

At the age of 27 NDP candidate Ruth Ellen Brosseau won the Québec seat of Berthier-Maskinongé in the May 2011 Canadian federal election.   A French-speaking riding of which she had little knowledge – she has since been on a big learning curve with the French language – and she lived in Kingston at the time, not Trois-Rivières – Brosseau campaigned only barely because she was on vacation in Las Vegas in the days leading up to the vote.  Yet she won – and by a healthy margin.  What’s her secret ?!?  Because Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – who spent over a billion dollars each on their campaigns – would dearly love to know!

.

Adrian deKuyper

“When the Bell Tolls” (A Limerick)

.

With hard work and much dedication

Our MPs do their best for our nation

So we salute Ms. Brosseau

Who it seems did not know

That when the bell tolls – don’t take a vacation.

.     .     .

And a poetical angle on local (Toronto) politics in-the-moment…

.

Alexander Best

“Pass the gravy boat!”

or

“Stop the almost-a-train-wreck!”

(A poem for Rob Ford)

.

He barked:  I’ll stop the gravy train!

Toronto folks, they listened.

But pugfaced Rob, our city’s mayor,

Keeps changing his positions.

.

He drives himself to City Hall

And, ‘texting’, gives ‘the finger’.

When brought to task, shrugs:  Lighten up, o-kay!?

Bad feelings linger.

.

Please hire a driver, Mr. Ford,

And concentrate on business:

The mayoralty and civic tasks – the voters’ god-damn business.

.

Don’t commandeer a rush-hour bus

For your high-school football team

– shenanigans like that just make the People – goofball! – steam.

.

Our previous mayor froze out the Right

– that’s why there’s hothead You.

But calling Leftys pinko-fascists’s

Not the thing to do.

.

People joke about your weight,

Yeah, you’re an easy target.

But being mayor’s a hefty job

So please, won’t you get on it?!

.

You are a big man, 300 pounds plus,

With energy to burn.

So show big spirit for Trawno – Team Us

And focus, listen, learn!

.     .     .     .     .


“A cool, dark place? And dry not too dry?”: “Childhood” by Alexander Best

Alexander Best

CHILDHOOD

I

The  rootcellar  lay  below  my  room;   I’m  behind  that  door

Where  steps  reached  down.   Dark  darkened  there;  cool  was  cooler.

Second  door,  kitchen’s;   always  open,  and  I

Made  hillocks  on  a  saucer,  of  milk  powder  poured  from  a

Very  large  box;   I  licked  my  hand  and  dipped  it.

Third  door  faced  foot  of  the  bed.    It  led  out  to

Great  skies  and  fields  with  feeling-of-cliffs  for  corners.

The  ‘dump’  that  burned  once  also  was  there;   the

Hawk;  and  the  weasel,  who  stole  under  the  mattress.

*

Were  walls  of  loose  stones:  a  ruined  enclosure.

Gasoline  drums;  weird  liquid  spilling  over  many  surfaces.

A  giant  bush / hands-and-knees  tunnel;

Amidst  everything,  hidden  — the  centre.

*

Edible  pebbles,  pepperdirt  pies,  green  blades.   Poison.

Black-silk  dog,  growing  glow-bulb  mushrooms;

Stiffening;   “Lady”,  caught  in  her

Leap  through  shed  window  slamming.

And  wild  onions  blooming…at

Brink  of  the  forest,  the  tumbling  path,  and

Quiet  and  busy,  the  river.

 

 

II

Time’s  grit-polished  the  bone  of  it;  and

Time’s  encrusted  its  core,  like  a  little  ‘geode’  cave.

Skeletalphabet.   Hidden  stratagem.   Both

Are  the  poem.   And  it?   What’s  it?

Memory.

*

I  am  grateful  now,  not  anxious  about  you,  Time.

Not  only  sad,  your  passing.

 

 

III

The  house  (long,  narrow,  one-storey’d)  was  like  segments  of  a  warped

Hickory  train,  boxcars  off  the  rails,  though

Solid  in  some  permanent  aftermath.

Caboose  was  “the  wreck  room”.    We  kids  inscribed  that  name

On  its  door:  the

End  of  the  dim  corridor,  where  light  startled.

Room’s  air  was  bright;  on  warm

Days,  an  excellent  afternoon  place;   magnetic / ignored.

An  atmosphere  also  of

Cold  storage  there;   of  business  interrupted,  left  at  that.

Mechanical  typewriter

( black-and-red  ribbon  spooled  off,  on,  in  raggéd  use);

Onionskin-carbonsheets,  dwindled  paper;  brittle  pencil  leads.   And

Me   up  on  the  shelves:    files,  farm / trade  journals,  and  a

heedless-someone’s  bulletins.

Upright  piano,  painted  bandage colour,  stood  somewhere…

Did  we  carve  the  entire  alphabet  on  its

Ivory-like-an-old-man’s-toe  keys?

We  did.  

And  we  lifted  “the  lid”,  strummed  harp  wires  with

Knives,  and  a  rusty  letter  opener  got

Brandished.  

*

“The  wreck  room”  had  an  outside  door;  its  stone  stoop

Jumping-off  point  for  hundred-acre  adventures  in  world-wide

Solitude.   Society  was:   voices  in  our  heads.

My  sisters,  mute;   my  brother,  whereabouts  uncertain;   my  father?

A  Christmas  tree  that  refused  to  stand  / the  telephone  high

Upon  the  wall  I  couldn’t  grasp  in  time;   my  mother?

*

“The  wreck  room”  contained  a   ‘picture  window’…

Picture  was  jumble  of   trees  obscurrying  on  a  drop-off

Edge  of  the  land.   Once,  an  owl  (size  of  a  man’s  fist  but  fluffier)

Flew  into  the  frame,  stunning  itself  on  the  glass.

And  then…sunned  itself  on  the  grass.   Even  that  night.

 

 

IV

Despairenthood…fairly-young,  fresh-gone

Flowers  in  a  whollywaterless  vase.

Highborn,  persistent,  the  sun  performs  its  task.

Two  flies  frustrate  themselves  (sun’s  a  trap,  between  the  storms);

Resolve  to  keep  still.

Vase / its  clutches  of  straw,  scuncheoned  there.

Dry-dry  vase:   slipped  the  mind’s  ledge.

Boy:  crept  from  his  bed.

 

 

V   ( April 1968 )

A  television  set  has  four  feet,  like  “cattles”  do;  also,

Horns  on  it — sticks  standing  straight  and  bendy.

A  television  set  is  a  radio  you  can  see;

Sounds-box  with  a  ‘picture  window’.

Picture  is  jumble:   something  obscurrying  —  and  no  colours.   A

’merican   minister  got  murdered  by  a  gun  because  he  was

King  of  Memphis.

( Egypt  is  where  we  began,  even  God,  and  all  the  children

Lived  under  triangles.   Facts  are  in  giant  books  Dad  left

That  time  he  came  to  visit. )

Something  happened  with  no  colours:   the  lady  crying,  the

Man  very  tired  and  wet;   black  water  came  out  of  his  body,  like  the

Buried  spring  that growed  in  the  woods.   Other

People  were  running,  in  every  direction.

Department-store  mannequin  had  no  arms,  no  legs.   It  was

Tied  with  ropes,  to  the  lamp-post;   at  the  top  was

No  lamp.

 

 

VI

I  carried  a  small  metal  box:   my  “lunchpail”.

Sugar-butter  sandwich,  and  in  my  sister’s,

Spiders.

By  the  wide  gravel  road

Yellow  schoolbus  noised  over  to  us.

Cedar  swamps:  a

Fairyland  we  passed  through,  where  the

Strangled  girl  was  stored,  with  the  chipmunks;

On  our  way  to  Grade  One.

Winter,  the  snowplough  made  big  banks;

I  stood  upon  them,  waiting;   I  was

Tall.

 

 

VII

‘Acajou’  and  ‘Architek’  were  “cattles”;  had

Their  own  square  of  earth  by  the  shed  where

Heavy  bags  of  nugget-dogfood  were  kept.

Bulls  were  big-boned,  had  more

Grit  than  polish.   And  they  were  important;

Their  liquid-gem  stash  was  to

Purchase  a  future  —  Dad’s  idea  —  and

The  fence  around  them  fell  apart  when  I  played  on  it

—  ‘Acajou’  and  ‘Architek’  were  not  pets.

Mum  and  Us  were  Dad’s  chattels,  but  he  threw  himself  out,

Left  us  lying  around  all  over  his  property.

 

 

VIII

In  meatier  days  there’d  been  livestock  on  the  farm,

hogs and piglets everywhichway.

And  field-armies  of  lilies,  staked-alive,  for  export.

Bulb  Lilies,  ancientest  of  flowers,  are

Really  something  when  their  blooms  open.  And  for

Awhile  after,  too.   The  best  part  is:   when  they  die,

They  still  come  back,  if  you  care  for  their  odd-

Potato-radish  ‘bodies’;   let  them  have  their  quiet  in

A  cool,  dry,  dark  place.

*

Soup  bones  get  jelly,  when  you  put  them  in  the  fridge.

Bones  strike awe,  after  several  seasons  out  on  the  ground.

My  mother  had  a  ring,  in  the  drawer.  A  precious  cold-gem.

She  drove  a  great  distance  in  a  car — to  the  City.   And

Sold  the  ring  to  the  shopkeeper  with  his  telescope  eye.

I  knew  as  well  as  he  what  things  look  like  up  close.

 

 

IX

The  rootcellar  lies  below  my  room;

It’s  been  there  since  God  came,  ideas / shovel  in  tow.

Our  definitions  of  human

Hold  together,  strengthen,  the  more  He  plays  on  us.   Someday,  I  will

Reach  down  the  steps.   Is  it

A  cool,  dark  place?  And  dry  not  too  dry?   I

Believe  so.   Definitely,  there  is

No  lamp.    One  can  live  in  many  places;

Here,  too.

Editor’s note:

I wrote these poems when I was in my 40s, after several days of casting my mind back over my childhood, that is – my childhood up till the age of 8 – the year 1968, which was when the farm property was sold and we moved from the country (Esquesing Township, Halton County) to the city (Toronto).  As children, our isolated world was both perfect and lonely;  we were surrounded by “the great outdoors” yet as an un-socialized child I required much mental strength.  In Toronto there began a new life for us – which included a formal end to my parents’ invisible marriage – and I had to overcome my introverted nature so as to make my first friends ever, those being kids from the  rough-and-tumble world of the city.

Poem V (April 1968)

refers to the arrival of our first television set – black and white, of course – and to my first television memory – that of seeing newsreel footage of rioting in U.S. cities after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis, Tennessee.  That mannequin “lynched” to a utility pole is my first T.V. image.  Others, more light-hearted, would follow – “Felix, the Wonderful Cat”, “Rocky and Bullwinkle”, etc…

Poem VII

“Their liquid-gem stash” is semen from two Charolais bulls, Acajou and Architek.  Dad wished to begin an artificial insemination business since so many cows on farms were injured even crippled when bulls mounted them ‘au naturel’.

.     .     .

The farm was a standard 100-acre Southern Ontario farm and was located on Number 15 SideRoad, between 8th and 9th Lines, in Esquesing Township.  A branch of the Credit River flowed at the north boundary of the property.  Nearby Georgetown has expanded in the past 50 years, its population growing from about 10,000 people in the early 1960s to just over 40,000 people today.  Consequently, the farm has vanished – the whole of it was developed as a residential subdivision during the 1990s.

.     .     .     .     .


Belfast, 1942

 

Alexander Best

“Belfast, 1942″

 

 

“Mrs. Thompson, I’ll take your Aileen to The Camp,

and she’ll play for the P.O.W.s.

Are you agreeable to it?”

“Aye, Mr. Nutt – she can play, so take her.”

 

And the Rev. James Nutt took 11-year-old Aileen

to The Camp – in his little Austin car.

At the barb-wire gate British soldiers let the minister pass

– and the child.

Inside the Nissen hut was a large platform and

an upright piano upon it.

Those foreign fellows had bombed

blitzed – Belfast

but,

shot down,

they were now the luckiest of boys

– would have God’s grace in this far-off place.

 

And the child knew every chord progression for Luther’s hymn:

A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

And the young German prisoners sang strong in their

own tongue:  Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott.

 

After she’d played the hymns Aileen was

borne aloft the shoulders of a Tommy and

off they were to the NAAFI canteen where she got a

Rock Bun and a beaker of cocoa – her first time of

hot chocolate.

 

And, tasting that flavour, she thought to herself:

Those wee Germans know all our same hymns !

_____



Algo Más en esta Vida: El Día de los Muertos / The Day of the Dead: Something Else in this Life

 

La Vida es un Burro

 

 

Sigan cabalgando este Burro tenaz de la Vida,

hasta la meta – El Fin.

Allá nos premiará con guirnaldas de cempasúchiles

La Diosa Coatlicue *.

¡ Todos nosotros ganaremos esta carrera !

* Coatlicue  –  para los Mexicas/Aztecas, la diosa madre de la Vida y la Muerte

 

*   *   *

 

Life is a Donkey

 

 

Keep on riding this tenacious donkey called Life

till our goal:  The  End.

There the goddess Coatlicue will reward us with

a garland of marigolds.

All of us get to win this race !

 

 

* Coatlicue  –  Aztec mother-goddess of Life and Death

**  marigolds  –  Mexican Day of the Dead flower

 

 

Sombrío – con brío

 

 

Dice Alejandro:

¿ Dónde está la sepultura de mi familia ?

No recuerdo…

aúnque yo la buscaba entre un mil de tumbas de piedra

en el camposanto.

La verdad:  Está quebrada, mi familia.  Con nosotros la

tradición es un árbol de ramas bien cortadas.

El panteonero me miraba, apoyando en su pala,

royendo contentamente unos churros tiesos.

Jefe, ¿ está perdido ?

Mi Hombre, no – pero está perdida mi familia.

¡ Claro ! Cada diez años volteamos el suelo y…y…

¿ Y entonces ?

¿ Conoce usted la fábrica de fertilizante…por la carretera

…entre Ciudad-Carrona y Los Cuervos…?

¿¡…..?!

 

*   *   *

 

Gloomy – with spirit !

 

 

Says Alexander:

Where’s my family’s tomb?  I don’t remember…

even though I’ve been searching for it among a thousand

other tombstones in the cemetery.

In truth:  my family’s busticated – with us tradition is

a tree whose branches are hacked off.

A gravedigger was watching me, leaning on his shovel,

gnawing contentedly on some stale, hard crullers.

Boss, are you lost?

No, my Man – but my family is.

Of course!  Every ten years we turn over the soil here and…and…

And ?

Do you know the fertilizer factory…up by the highway…

between Carrion City and  Crow Corners…?

?!…..?!

 

 

En la Voz de la Guacamaya

 

 

“ El TIEMPO es Trácala de la Vida, ”

chacharea la guacamaya.

“ Pásenlo bien – AhoraPues:

Silencio, bobos – n’hay nada más

– nada más

– nada más

– nada más… ”

 

*  *  *

 

The macaw squawks

 

 

“TIME – that swindler of this Life,”

squawks the chatterbox-macaw.

“Party now, yes NOW, and THEN:

It’s silence, fools, ain’t nothing more

– nothing more

– nothing more

– nothing more…”

 

 

A Sincere Tale for The Day of The Dead :

“ Lady Catrina goes for a stroll / Doña Catrina da un paseo ”

 

 

“¡ Santa Mictecacihuatl  !

These Mandible Bone-nix (Manolo Blahniks) weren’t meant for

The Long Haul – certainly not worth the silver I shelled out for ’em ! ”

Thus spoke that elegant skeleton known as La Catrina.

And she clunked herself down at the stone curb, kicking off the

jade-encrusted, ocelot-fur-trimmed high-heel shoes.

“ Well, I haven’t been ‘bone-foot’ like this since I was an escuincle.

She chuckled to herself as she began rummaging through her Juicy handbag.

Extracted a shard of mirror and held it up to her face – a calavera

with teardrop earrings grinned back at her.  ¡Hola, Preciosa!,

she said to herself with quiet pride.  Then adjusted her necklace of

cempasúchil blossoms and smoothed her yellow-white-red-and-black

designer-huipil.

*

Just then a lad and lassie stumbled across her path…

“ Yoo-hoo, Young Man, Young Woman !

Be dears, would you both, and escort an old dame

across La Plaza de la Existencia !  My feet are simply

worn down to the bone ! ”

*

“ Certainly, madam – but we’re new here…

Where is La Plaza de la Existencia ? ”

*

“ We’re just at the edge of it – El Zócalo ! ”

And La Catrina gestured beyond them where an

immense public square stretched far and wide.

She clasped their hands – the Young Man on her left,

the Young Woman on her right – and the trio set out

across a sea of cobbles…

*

By the time they reached the distant side of the Plaza the

Young Man and Young Woman had shared much with the

calaca vivaz – their hopes, fears, their

sadness and joy.

*

The Woman by now had grown a long, luxurious

silver braid and The Man a thick, lush, salt-and-pepper

beard.  Both knew they’d lived full Lives – and were satisfied.

But my – they were tired !

*

In the company of the strange and gregarious Catrina 5 minutes

to cross The Zócalo had taken 50 years…

*

“ Doña Catrina, here we are at your destination – will you be

alright now ? ”

*

“ Never felt better, Kids !  I always enjoy charming company

on a journey ! ”  And she winked at them, even though she had

no eyeballs – just sockets.  “ Join me for a caffè-latte?  Or a café-pulque,

if you’re lactose-intolerant ! ”

*

“Thank you, no,” said the Man and Woman, in unison.

And both laughed heartily, breathed deeply, and sat down

at the curb.

*

When they looked up, Doña Catrina had clattered out of sight.

And before their eyes the vast Zócalo became peopled with

scenes from their Lives.  The Man and Woman smiled, sighing

contentedly.  Side by side, they leaned closer together – and died.

 

 

 

Glossary:

Mictecacihuatl  –  Aztec goddess of the AfterLife, and Keeper of The Bones

La Catrina  –  from La Calavera Catrina (The Elegant Lady-Skull),

a famous zinc etching by Mexican political cartoonist and print-maker

Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913).  Posada’s “calavera” prints depict

society from top to bottom – even the upper-class woman of wealth –

La Catrina – must embrace Death, just like everyone else…

She has since become a “character”,

invented and re-invented, for The Day of The Dead (Nov.2nd).

escuincle  –  little kid or street urchin

calavera  –  skull

¡Hola, Preciosa!  –  Hello, Gorgeous!

cempasúchil  –  marigold  (the Day of The Dead flower)

huipil –  blouse or dress,  Mayan-style

El Zócalo  –  the main public square (plaza mayor) in Mexico City,

largest in The Americas

calaca vivaz  –  lively skeleton

pulque  –  a Mexican drink make from fermented

agave or maguey – looks somewhat like milk

_____