all those years after Vimy Ridge
after Amiens and Passchendaele
and all the other hellish places
where by rights he should have
died with his comrades of
the Fighting Twenty-Fifth
L Cpl Harry Lee Blaikie
of Truro, Nova Scotia
sitting in a suit on
long afternoons in our living room
when church was done
legs crossed, tie clip rising and
falling with each shallow breath
of the White Owl cigar that
burned oh so slowly in his right hand
the smoke as low as his voice
talking with my father
of the car and lumber business
of the garage and mill and stock market
and the weather, always the weather
when all else failed, as if that alone
could affirm the bond between them
a code for everything left unspoken
how hot it was, how cold, and
‘minds me of the time in Burnside’
or ‘those winters in the woods’
the two of them turning in unison
to stare at the pale curtain window
and my mother serving tea
and sweets on good china plates
with pleasantries
and never a word of the war
on any occasion in all those years
not even second hand from my father
and thus I knew my uncle not
but the quiet man with the town cigar
and the pale blue eyes
behind thin-rimmed glasses
and the good felt hats and pastel cars
it was not until he was very old
and near death himself that he finally
spoke - to the paper - of the gas
the mud and shells
machine gun bullets
the stench and din of the trenches
horrors that even then he could
scarcely bring himself to mention
you did what you had to do, he said
I shot at people - my uncle
backing out the laneway into the dusk
gone like the wars we never knew

© 2012

They still lament on the Internet
that the guru deluded them,
took their money, faked enlightenment
ate chicken on the side,
fucked vulnerable women while sycophants
stood guard on his porch in Queens
all the while preaching
vegetarianism and celibacy and
posing as the last and greatest avatar
ever to walk on earth
higher than Muhammad
greater than the Buddha
bigger than Christ for christ’s sake.

I too believed for a while
or suspended disbelief
longer than I might have
because the one thing I knew for sure
was that I did not know the ultimate
and could not know whether
this man … so charismatic
in those rapt and silent nights
knew god as he claimed
… or not, or not, or not as the
gospel of the burned so burns online
and that I too accept because
lies and fraud cannot be concealed forever
and no way are all those women lying
even if dead chickens tell no tales.

And yet the loyalists
the last most fervent ones
those women in saris and men in white
still trek to Queens from far flung lands
and tarry there with yearning hearts
and walk up Normal Road
amid the sirens and the garbage
on sauna afternoons and bow
with folded hands and onyx eyes
at Aspiration Ground
and talk in Pondicherry tongues
and eat fast food as holy prasad
and ask no questions
lest they fall to darkness

and I feel for them
these earnest ones who served him so
and shared not in the money
and sang for him and pressed his garments
and believed his flesh would not decay
as he lay unbalmed upon his altar
and stank like any corpse
would stink in the autumn air
that too explained by the
ever-changing mysteries of god,
and the gravity of blind obedience
- for hungry souls are easy prey
and truth no match for faith.

It was not fake what I felt there
in those Jamaica Hills
the peace that swept all else away
on long and longing nights
and let us hold the earth again
and rise and serve in quiet ways
nor was he wholly bogus
there on his high stage.
He brought real gifts from east to west
and shared them for a time
until he loved his realm too much
and snared himself as men will do.

I shudder at the karma of any man
who would equate himself with god
or abuse his flock for private gain
but I hold no grudge against him
nor wish any restitution from those days.
Free will is the grandest trick of all
the genius of the gods
playing no favour on whom it falls.
All men fail to some extent and none can
barter with the grave or what may lie
beyond it. I chose him as my teacher and
he taught me well as teachers always do
that only I can seek the truth
and only I can find it.

© 2012

The vegetarian

After the long run home,
sixteen miles through the
rippling heat of summer,
up through the Brookfield woods
past the darkened shop
in the trees where
the taxidermist plugged
fake eyes into dead bucks
and made them live forever
on the walls of cottages
and hunting camps,
past Brenton Cross and
fields of grazing cattle
knowing not of the
latticed trucks to come,
and on from there to
the place of fishing licenses
and the turkey supper hall
and the house of the man
who paid schoolboys
$2 each for muskrat pelts at
the freeze-up each November,
my mother folds her arms
before pork chops,
hot from the stove,
and stares with
hardening eyes at the
vegetables on my plate.
Her words,
invoking the men she fed
all those years from the mill,
jump like trout from her mouth.
That diet might be
good enough for you, she says,
but what if you had
to do any physical work?

c 2012

Train whistle

train whistle blowing
on new year’s day
through miles of snow
that sift softly
through the maples
a sprinkling sound
faint as cinnamon
as I stand with a
a sugar shovel
in the laneway
the breath in my mouth
a song without words
the geese gone
ice hanging hard
from the eaves,
and this cold
this sweet crisp cold
passing one flake at a time
on its long expedition
to spring,
I think of Guthrie
alone on the plains
Dylan departing
the iron range
Pete Seeger John Prine
rough hands hobo songs
can’t say what it means
nothing probably
just a freight train crossing
the hard white earth
good is good God is god.
happy new year.

© 2010-12

Thud

it is the sound that
ends things
that does not leave
when the deed is done

worse than the glimpse
I caught that night
of the mother
and the small ones
there
on the Limebank Road

a flash in the headlights
the brakes too late
the cursing

if only the developers
had come the fall before
wrecked the farm
a season earlier
diverted that creek
beneath the maples

they would not have been there
scurrying so, the fur
the terror, those small
bright eyes

the rains washed the stains away
and the skid marks over time
everything but that sound.

c 2011

One

Some things are never true,
like finding god.
Some things become true over time,
like finding god approximately,
and some things are true from
the exact moment they hit the earth,
like Johnny Cash’s voice
in I walk the line. It still
fills my head in the same way
it crackled from the old black radio
in my father’s kitchen
the same hard box that said
JFK was shot and
Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston.
That radio was true
but not as true as Johnny Cash
in I walk the line.
Nothing was ever just that true again.

Two

Alden Nowlan came close
and he’s not finished yet,
though he’s been dead since 1983.
I still hear his post-cancer voice
- like truck bolts falling down
a pipe at night - true in a
hoarse and rattling way.
Poems could have hidden in there
whether he wrote them down or not.
I hardly dared turn when he passed
in the Telegraph-Journal news room,
too shy to ask for autographs
of the books I bought at
the little store on King Street.
If truck drivers ever read poetry, he said,
they would start with his.
I never drove a truck but
that line runs through his poems.

Three

When Alden sat with John Diefenbaker
in the basement of the Hartland Observer
in the 1950s
and listened to the great man
read his own words aloud
from a back issue of the newspaper,
I think he saw what I did
many years later on Parliament Hill,
a vainglorious trembling man
with a handshake like a shark’s mouth
and eyes so blue they drained the sky.
Dief was his own god
and everything else was props -
one Canada, roads to resources,
the buffalo head in his office.
He was riveting - I’d pay to
watch him in the Commons again
but he was a man with no pure line.

© 2011

This morning, early,
as traffic stirred on Bridge Street
and currents slid in darkness
through silent rocks to the sea,
I dreamed of Lawrence Ferlinghetti
in the way that good dreams rise
like syrups up through light
from snows and copper boilers
when winters die and
maples weep with joy at the
break-up of all rivers and
the raging conception of spring,
his voice that lovely
essence of many years,
gilding gathered shadows on
a curtained Manhattan evening,
gracing a continent that
cracks forever beneath itself,
and goes on cracking,
eyes twinkling on the
crest of long applause,
survivor of all Hoovers and
the long dead hand of state,
absinthe in the glass of night,
mysterious and full,
descendent of Rimbaud,
father of Hibbing’s child,
shepherd of Ginsberg
and all the holy city lights
of San Francisco by the sea,
breathlike as the birches
along the Merrimack where
Kerouac weaved at dawn
and was laid inside the earth
by old brick smokestacks
next to farm girls who
fell exhausted into looms
and fed the awful sins of America,
sins recalled at North Beach
and in the flickering clubs
and on all the Coney Islands
where poets climb to high wires
and leap to the arms of jazz club girls
with bad teeth in the morning.
He inhabits haunted turnpikes
that hack at the hearts of men
and bring good women down,
holding pens and brushes high,
exhorting all, forgiving all
but the crime of not bearing witness.
I saw him walking up my street
in the palest hue of morning,
inhaling gentle ethers
and cradling the alphabet.
He threw a paper on my porch,
filled up with his best words,
and walked on through the park
and over the quivering dam,
vanishing in a black beret
by the old stone mill
where waters slide
across the sacred earth
and wheat spills down like honey
and is made to dance upon the chaff.

© 2011

Farmland ghosts

We drive a hundred miles
through fields of corn and
soy beans rich with rust,
mute across a land that
seems to sway and bow
and hold us in its hands.
Windmills white as aliens
bruise clouds that hang
unfinished and know
not what to make
of such intruders.
Hydro towers recede
in graceful strands to
horizons that lay mute
and thin as dimes
along the sky. We pass
as though awakening to
a notion that we knew
this air and soil long ago,
when horses turned at
dusk to tired barns
and women slept with men
exhausted by their labors,
the sense of hymns in
sturdy church pews and
the taste of summer apples
in orchards lost in time.
The highway breathes like
a beast not quite awake,
inhaling space and slumber
from the hills, exhaling
signs and exit ramps
to places out of sight
down sighing roads
where memory ferments,
and currents swirl in
glasses bright with spirits and
blind all who would look back.

© 2011

Why?

Why is it I feel shame
for small things long ago?
Things I have not even done?
I stumbled on a neighbor
in the woods, saw the blood
upon the moss and heard a
strangeness in his voice.
I knew at once he had
shot a deer out of season,
the carcass barely dead
somewhere close
in the under brush.
He sat on his tractor,
gripping the wheel and stared
at the gun in my hands.
“Seen any partridge?” he asked,
and I felt the ice in his eyes.
“Not yet,” I said, and turned
toward the abandoned farm,
almost ran down the path
through the fragrant fir
and birches. And still,
after all this time, the man
long dead in his grave,
those eyes burn after me.

© 2011

The election

It is evening and I have shared
too little in the current of the day.
All I have done is cast my vote
for the party of least greed.
No coins for the desperate ones
at the intersection or the
busy souls at the coffee shop,
for I have not been that way today.
No telephone calls or messages,
not even much thought for friends,
and my prayers of the morning,
so thin I scarcely remember them.
All I have done is read the news
and dry in dross of too many
thoughts of self.
Two blue jays come at dusk
to the feeder and call out to me.
But it is too late. I have shared
too little in the current of the day.
All I have done is cast my vote
for the party of least greed.

© 2011

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