December 2011

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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.


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.


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