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
Photographs of Lilies in Toronto gardens by Elisabeth Springate (July 28th– 30th, 2013)
Sunflower – 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
“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
His Uncle. The only man left of that small,
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
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;
And in one so young!
Facts. What he does with them is…
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
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?
. . . . .
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
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. Terence – Roman 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
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.
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)
“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.
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.
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?
. . .
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.
. . . . .
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!
. . .
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!
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.
. . . . .
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.
“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)
*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!
“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…
“Pass the gravy boat!”
“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!
. . . . .
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.
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?
I am grateful now, not anxious about you, Time.
Not only sad, your passing.
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.
( 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
Upright piano, painted bandage colour, stood somewhere…
Did we carve the entire alphabet on its
And we lifted “the lid”, strummed harp wires with
Knives, and a rusty letter opener got
“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.
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
I carried a small metal box: my “lunchpail”.
Sugar-butter sandwich, and in my sister’s,
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
‘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.
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.
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;
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…
“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.
. . . . .
“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
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
And, tasting that flavour, she thought to herself:
Those wee Germans know all our same hymns !
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
¿ Dónde está la sepultura de mi familia ?
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 !
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…
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 – Ahora – Pues:
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
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.
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