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“The Slave Ship” (1840) by J.M.W. Turner (via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Auntie Ida’s Thanksgiving Blessing

My people are a beautiful
people. We are still here despite

your best efforts. Hear the echo
of our experience.

Our truth grounds us. Our roots
dig deep, searching for magma to

fuel our warmth or to burn those
who expect us to accept their

outdated stance of ignorance.
Guardians of amber, our

ability to accept what
is while creating what will be

proof of our integrity.
My people are a beautiful

people and we know our place
is where we choose it to be.

 

19th-century design for wallpaper and textile, Creative Commons via Smithsonian Design Museum

 

Just a Minute

15 June 2020

Yesterday, I saw the blue line take a knee.
While Kaepernick’s maligned and side-lined like the
redlined. His gesture of dissent, snatched, a forced
publicity stunt run on every station.

Take a minute to breathe.

Out of chaos, a shooting star burns out in
atmospheres of fear. Plummets past chores and chance
and stories—26 stories, fallen—
another broken body on our concrete trail.

Take a minute to breathe.

Social feeds serve bodies, bludgeoned and lynched.
Post pokes, keeps the corpse swaying. Likes swarm like flies,
colonize video-fresh flesh.

Take a moment to breathe.
Take another one.
And another, ad infinitum.

A lady of business caught in a low-stakes
game, rakes the Birder, hoping he’ll draw dead. She
plays a racist card then a victim. Terror’s
trill quivering her voice. Drills instilled by the
lady who lied on Emmett Till never die.

Take a minute to breathe.

 

Model of a slave ship, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture


Author’s note:
The following poem includes an embedded message. The hint for deciphering the message is in the title of the poem, placed after the colon. The solution for deciphering the poem’s message can be found in the endnote.[i] (The messages may reflect linguistic variations.)

  

Olivier LeJeune, First Black Slave in New France:
First of One, Then Second of Two . . .

Some Kirkes snatched a little boy
From the Madagascan shore.
Steeled aboard a naval ship,
Only 7, his past, scorched.

Some Kirkes off-loaded this boy
To the turncoat Le Baillif.
For a mere 50 écus,
Le Baillif’s honour would renew.

Le Baillif now coveted
A rank other than coward.
To prove his worth, he gifted
The boy to Guillaume Couillard.

Guillaume lent the little boy
To Father Le Jeune. The priest
Mocked his innocence, claimed he’d
Groom him into a Christian.

Le Jeune schooled the pint-size boy,
Taught him to read, write, and pray.
Anointed him with water
And the name we know today.

Even at 13 years old
Olivier knew what’s best.
He prayed with one eye on God
And stoked pale, prideful breasts.

Olivier recalled the
Smell of dumplings and fish stew.
Lullabies sung by his mum,
Burnt, lingering residue.

Olivier recounted
In court, notes passed between Nick
Marsolet and Le Baillif.
Nick counter-sued double-quick.

Olivier recanted
His claim. (Nick gerrymandered.)
They threw him in jail: One day
In chains because he’d slandered.

Olivier LeJeune died
In 1654. He
Was thirtyish, just like Christ,
When he slid from human form.

Olivier LeJeune had
A name from his family,
Bristling with ancestral lore, kept
Alive in melodies.

A little boy spent his youth
Shuttled between men. His true
Name marooned on ancestral
Land, like shells the oceans strew.

 

Note: This poem is part of a larger collection about Black individuals who contributed to Canada between 1604 and 1917.

 

Work consulted:

Trudel, Marcel. L’esclavage au Canada français: Histoire et conditions de l’esclavage [Slavery in French Canada: The History and Conditions of Slavery]. Québec : Les Presses Universitaires Laval [Laval UP], 1960. Print.

 

[i] Solution: The poem includes an embedded message or idea. The hint for deciphering the message is placed after the colon of the title of the poem (“Olivier LeJeune, First Black Slave in New France: First of One, Second of Two . . .”).

To decode the message, create a sentence from the first word of Stanza 1, the second word of Stanza 2, the third word of Stanza 3, and so on. Family names in French count as one word.

Message: Some Kirkes coveted little boy Olivier and nick him, like ancestral name.

 

 

Grand Grave, Québec, photo found in an old geography book, photographer unnamed

 

[Editorial note: This issue would not be complete without Ian Ferrier’s live performance of his poem, Emma’s Country, at Montréal Serai’s 32nd anniversary celebration on June 21, 2019. A link to that performance can be found below.]

 

Background to Emma’s Country

Although some of the names and circumstances have changed, a lot of what happens in Emma’s Country did take place. I went out with the daughter of a Gaspé fisherman. Twice we visited her father, who had fought in World War II and been imprisoned in appalling conditions after the fall of Hong Kong.

After the war, he returned to fishing and became one of the founders of the Quebec United Fishermen, a group that represented fishermen in their negotiations with wholesalers and fish packing plants. But his life was about to be upended by two other events beyond his control. First his house, indeed his entire village, was expropriated to create Forillon Park at the tip of the Gaspé peninsula. This was a real tragedy, as the amount of compensation given was not enough for any of the villagers to buy property elsewhere. As the village was dismantled, his daughter remembers sitting in her house, now without electricity, and watching as their neighbour’s now empty house was burned down by park authorities.  She still experiences the events as the destruction of her home and the scattering of everyone she knew. Her dad and his wife ended up living in his mother’s house in Port Daniel on the Baie de Chaleur.

The second shock was the appearance of massive BC factory trawlers that dragged up every single fish. This practice wiped out the huge banks of capelin, a small fish the cod fed on. With no food, there were hardly any cod, and Gaspé fishermen could no longer make a living. When she and I went to visit him, he was still fishing for lobster in season, jigging for cod, and keeping a small mackerel net strung on a nearby inlet.

I only went out fishing with him once. We awoke in darkness and headed out to sea in a small dory with an outboard motor. Jigging for cod meant throwing a line studded with hooks over the side, jerking the hooks up and down, and then dragging the line back up. He was not impressed with my fishing skills, which returned two small cod and a very ugly fish they called a crapaud. But for a city boy whose job at the time was proofreading for a computer company, pulling fish from the sea was a revelation: a livelihood made in the same way it might have been a thousand or even many thousands of years ago.

On February 14, 2011, the House of Commons made a formal apology to the 325 families whose homes were erased by the expropriation. The Parks Canada site, in an ironic sort of gesture, now grants any of the original inhabitants of the village of Grand Grave, and their descendants, free passes to visit Forillon Park and the site of their old village.

 

Ian Ferrier at Espace Knox in Notre Dame de Grace, Montréal – June 21, 2019

 

Emma’s Country

                                (for Elwood Dow and his daughter)

Crickets sound.
The swish and roar of cars
carries up from the coast road.
But cars are few and far between
and things seem simple in Emma’s country.
Breeze blows cool through the window at night,
circling the forest walls of the attic.
Walls that house the visiting daughter
and her lover aged twenty-two,
Emma whispering hush as the bed creaks
and they hold dead still,
laughing,
shy because her mom and dad
and grandma sleep below.

Since they moved in here
the plant beneath the skylight
cascades wildflowers,
filling the air around the narrow bed
as if it were their fault it bloomed.
And nothing softens the noise in the silent dark,
though in the intervals,
between the words in talking,
behind the sound of crickets
and at the bottom of all hills
the ocean is never still….

Her dad’s a fisherman.  Sired three daughters
though even the youngest is six years gone.
Formed the United Fishermen in the ‘50s,
a co-op that still serves this coast
though no fish left, and the cove
a ghost town where his kids were born.

And when they return to that cove
Emma holds her boyfriend’s arm so tight
it’s as if the ground’s crumbled beneath her feet,
as if she were falling
as if her childhood were falling away.

And the long surge of the ocean
tears past Newfoundland,
choking the gulf with saltwater & life,
and Emma the child who played along these beaches
saying “Daddy will you take me out on the boat tonight?”
And he says “Well grab your jacket then.  And a lifebelt too.
We’ll take the skiff and see what’s biting tonight!”

And her boyfriend, that was me:
paraded before mom and grandma
and dad who did not say ten words
the first days I was there
before opening a flood of stories,
the copper history of his life
engraved on those nights—World War II
and the fall of Hong Kong,
Japanese jailers
and dysentery starving him to half his weight
before the blast.

And the months before he was shipped home….
And the years waking at 3 AM, and by dawn
far out on the water fishing….

One winter night he walked
thirty miles on snowshoes
Because he could not wait to propose to his
girlfriend, Emma’s most beautiful mom.

There’s a photo I saw, in black & white.
He’s standing on the side of a hill
with Valerie and Emma swinging from his legs
colt-like and pretty,
neither more than waist high to him.

And he—their sole guardian & protector— reaches
one great hand down to each of their shoulders,
palms creased from hauling
two hundred feet of line down and up all day.

He holds them safe against the wind.
The hill slopes down to the sea
and now the wind has come up even stronger,
blowing his hair straight back
and his face weathered as if in bronze.

And she says “Daddy will you take me out on the boat tonight?”
And he says “O no, not this time Emma.  It’s too black even now,
and by morning just you watch it blow.”

And isn’t that the night a wave shatters the wheelhouse
and they’re running from the wind
torn from the Gulf,
pitched four hundred miles to the North Atlantic.

Her dad’s gone now.  Died starved for oxygen
in hospital in Montreal.

The daughters all have children of their own,
Emma and Valerie’s both in high school….

What is there in a photograph
that the soul and force of a man’s eyes
burn through it even now?

A girl could fall 40 years through time
feel her dad’s hand
rough against her shoulder….

For a thousand years people have fished this coast.
And when we return to that country
Emma holds my arm so tight
It’s as if the ground had shifted beneath her feet,
as if she were falling
as if her childhood had fallen away.

 

This poem was performed on Ian Ferrier’s CD, What is this Place (Bongobeat Records). It appears in print in his poetry book, Coming & Going (Popolo Press 2014).

 

Ian with Elwood Dow – Photo © Joan Dow

 

 

Goethe’s Colour Wheel via Wikimedia Commons

 

Razzle-Dazzle Ghazal (Goethe on Steroids)

If we pass from a dark place to one illumined
by the sun we are dazzled.

Prisoners long confined in darkness acquire
so great a susceptibility of the retina.

Goethe looked into an open coal shed. The large
red image floated. With snow a total dazzling.

He called on the artist: solve the mystery of imitation
select the example of an open book to present a greater diversity.

The greatest brightness short of dazzling acts
near the greatest darkness. Dazzle. Dazzled. Dazzling.

 

After Theory of Colours by Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1810), translated from the German by Charles Lock Eastlake

 

Ghosts of Mercy

Their stage is the river of cold
collision. Steam rises off ice floes.
Nights, armed and loaded
with my flashlight, I stand
on a shoreline of glistening rocks.
My beacon beams as I pan the waters
to let them know I’m here, careful to disguise
distress, my shivering. The sliver of moon
floats detached. I too hide my fears.
A goading as my breath clouds the frigid air
my tears crystallize until the ghosts of mercy
emerge in pairs. The hustlers flit across the floes
to chase transgression, tussle demons in a private show.

 

 

Quantum Amplifier (Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

 

Photon Loss

Dedicated to states of/that matter

The insistent buzz and dance of smart phone
flashing its signal to the beyond:
Termination in progress. Click to accept.
Flick of switch. The kitchen illuminates.
Cold streaks of yellow spread in the pre-dawn
to flood a table engraved with the names
of those fortunate enough to have leaned
their elbows on its face-reflecting surface:
a palimpsest of entangled DNA.
Until the laser scrubs clean all traces
this cruel arborite morning and instead
spells out … what does it spell out? … the pauses
perhaps dividing stone-carved identities …
the gaps where light struggles to penetrate …
the absence that defines a threshold between
a table enlivened by life’s traumas
and one where the weeping of ghosts sucks in
every particle, every breath.
It is on pre-dawns such as this that we
delay as long as possible the pressing
of the “please respond” button. In the hope
that the message will re-compose itself
with the next passing of subatomic waves.
In the hope it’ll now read: Resurrection
complete. Have ticket in hand for pickup.

 

 That Old Quantum Buzz

For F. whose love of pigeons is known far and wide

In the honesty of the hospital
bed, you can hear if you razor your ear
the buzz on the edges between quantum
particles, double strands helixing skyward,
dead ends, and life’s ever necessary
entanglements. A story encoded
in bodies hacked into place by the rough
stitching of time. The spark dims, flickers, lost
in languages long erased amid
catheters, drips, and the sound of air rushing
to escape—one last time—that worn-out chest.
Forgotten for a moment, in the midst
of non-Venetian masquerades and dances
of the pandemic, the automatic art
of breathing. The unhandled pump of up
and down in the mystery of self-movement.
But, almost on its last gasp, the body
arises once more with embers pulsing
from an elusive subatomic world
that refuses to stand still long enough
to be pinned. Where shining a light just leads
to more darkening. But it’s here you’ll find
the unrepentant energy to make
one more attempt. To take one final stab
at being the young man in a fedora
and double-breasted coat, striding off the ship
with a bounce in his step. To leave footprints
in the snow that point towards the sound
of incessant coos and fluttering wings.
From a shed that basks in the memory
of somnambulant afternoons stretched out
like forever lovers in wheatfields
overlooking that Mezzogiorno village.
It’s here, in the midst of strangers speaking
in symbols you can’t decipher—and you
crying out that idée fixe: When are you
coming home, oh daughter of mine?—that arise,
like random flares held down by neither time
nor place, the embittered words of comfort:
“You’re here wherever you are.” A sunbeam
focused on tinder hay brings out the smile
of unabashed youth. It’s a noonday flame
that wraps itself around the quantum core
and dances through a wizardry of strings
as long as no one dares to sneak a look.

 

 

20/20 © Endre Farkas

 

20/20

The tracks shine
like a pair of polished shoes.

The sun is a perfect mouth
ready to swallow itself whole.

Balconies are lonely.
No Juliet today.

Line-ups, two metres apart
are short-fused.

The air, free from our forms
is more breathable.

People are afraid
they don’t wear masks.

Everybody is making art
out of their unhappy lives.

Except those who are busy
dying.

I see the dark
at the end of the tunnel.

 

 

Wind © Endre Farkas

 

Wind

Sanskrit: va, Greek: aemi, Gothic: waian
Old English: wawan, Old High German: wajan
Old Church Slavonic: vejati 

Avestan: vata, Hittite: huwantis
Lithuanian: vėjas, Old Irish: feth 
Welsh: gwynt, Breton: gwent 

to blow.

The wind whips
through bare branches
empty streets and lanes.

Garbage flies
umbrellas flip inside out
clothes somersault on lines.

The invisible made visible
blows between earth and sky.

In the beginning was the wind.
In the end, the breath.

 

 

Good Friday © Endre Farkas

 

Good Friday

in the heat
in the barrios of Ecuador
the dead rot.

Everywhere
the rich wonder why
the stink is allowed to rise.

 

 

Talking to W.C. Williams & W.H. Auden © Endre Farkas

 

Talking to W.C. Williams & W.H. Auden

So much depends
upon doing nothing.

You really have to
work hard at it.

Even not making a list
is doing something.

What does it look, feel, smell
sound or taste like?

Why do I
want to do nothing?

Nothingness
is

what the dead
do

eyes closed
truly at rest

in Sunday best
palms across the chest

not even
breathing.

Now that’s really
doing nothing.

So, I stare
out my window

see
the April snow

and write
this poem

to make nothing
happen.

 

 

 

Blueberries in Eastern Siberia from Wikimedia Commons

 

Wild Blueberries

You’ll ask: And where are the wild blueberries?
and the shrill octave C flute notes?
And the Sunday afternoon lessons
words by these dragonflies: Leave! Get out!

I’ll tell you the story.

It was the beginning of autumn,
a scalpelling of white bone lichen
and bones full of mud the colour of damp irises

all these surrealist collages
glued to canvas, newspaper clippings.
Crizzled azure sea glass.
Then one day fleeing his fists,

these streets, carrying these bags.

One day this was the city of the unspoken
all those stone houses as they watched as I
bore the moon’s night side. And those
who swaddled it in a yellow sickle caul.
Look at all those who dwelled there.

Look at my buried placentas.

And you’ll ask why ekphrasis
speaks as one of fracture.
A stilled world, living in frames?

In the long galleries
etch in aquatint a madder red.

Wild blueberry rhizomes that
resembled old coffins. The barrens.

 

Great Bittern at Minsmere via Wikimedia (flickr user putneymark) 

 

Skin

Sometimes, can you explain to a bittern what war is? Now it gets closer as if it has a secret to tell. Clucks and booms: Huu bwong. Unk-er-lunk. Huu huu huu huu. Sometimes, for a while you feel free. Then you hear teacher’s voice: “Ilka, come and sit back here on this bench!” These bog lands you can’t understand. These watercolour paintings of Pirka Wood. Walled nunnery orchard. Rye fields. Marshes and reed grasses. Heather moorlands. The cotton rag paper, wrinkled from water, as if the surface was the skin. The goat hair brushes. Over the years, you withdraw. You get smaller, you lose fairy tales. Sometimes, can you explain to a bittern what a song is? Why you play marbles. Pig-tailed nine year old. Sometimes, you can’t understand why fourth grade teacher is touching you. Why blue horses come in your dreams. That snort and nicker and goad the rains. Wet poplar leaves in a bomb crater. A waning sickle moon. The creek. Why you are afraid to tell your mother. The thin paper.

 

School photograph of Ilona in Schwabelweiss, Bavaria, 1949,
photographer unknown – Photo from the family archives

 

Edgar Ende’s Cloth With Swallow (1946)

i.

A long-lost myth, half-remembered

animal motif and architectonic fragment
these images of darkroom sketches
these epochs of distortion.
Dream-like visions

fighting it out in the ooze.

You pour gesso and let it fall across.

ii.

Skittering off every canvas

past the dogs, past the boars,
the foxes, the lizards

past giant sculptures

biomorphic shapes
you call yourself a surrealist.
A flat plane devoid of texture

death themes, clumsy, naïve.

The figurative alienated.

iii.

This swallow voice.
Small misshapen swallow.

iv.

This is the barbed wire of the ghetto
all those killed by war
all those tortured
flanked by high brick walls

these painters

their degenerate art.

v.

They say: Burn it!

You say: Auction them!

vi.

There is the rustle of the river reed
there is the evening sun.
There is the village,

your barren fruit trees.

 

 

Prieur et Parthenais, Ahuntsic © Catherine Watson

 

FEBRUARY

Soft air, white sky, and the trees are closer
to the ground:  thin branches stretching upwards
to the cloud.  I’d forgotten how winter feels
when it’s almost done, forgotten how
clenched muscles relax without warning
easing the heart.

I stand in line and the bus comes
without waiting.

In line for a second bus, I hear crows screaming
above my head.  Someone told me once, when
the crows come back, it’s the first sign of spring, so
now I know to welcome them, watch them circling,
crying, fussing over such a simple shift
as a few more degrees
in the temperature of the air.

They’re impatient birds, ill-bred, always wanting
to be heard.  How many of them are there?  Fifty?
A hundred?  They move too fast; I couldn’t count them
if I tried.  They’re in two groups, the leaders moving
out in front, then turning, returning, and the stragglers
frantic, delirious, splitting off behind the buildings
then coming back.

How many here will reach the south?

In an hour, thick flakes of snow blow sideways
across a steamed-up window pane.
Spring in a cold country starts with snow.

February 2, 2021

 

 

Après la neige © Catherine Watson

 

UNHAPPY MUSE

You are there somewhere in the darkness,
silent as the deep night.  Silent as the grave,
we used to say although now the dead speak
or we speak through them.  We know their names
and not much else.

I know the lawyers tried to stop them dying
and couldn’t save them – two black men, young
when they were free, and a woman savagely abused.
I know they died because a president was leaving office
in a day or two, and changed the law and didn’t want
to lose his legacy.  It’s hard to call that downright injustice,
or even pointless cruelty.  It’s more circumstance
and cruel chance.

I wanted them to have a second chance at living out
the years that they had left.  It wasn’t much – a life
in maximum security – but it might have been enough
to make a difference.  I know as well that circumstance
determines many lives, and most of us don’t have to die
to find that out.

Lisa Montgomery, Corey Johnson, Dustin Higgs.
Remember, too, another death from circumstance –
Raphaël André.

January 25, 2021

 

Lisa Montgomery, Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs died by lethal injection in Terre Haute Penitentiary, Indiana, on January 13, 15 and 16, 2021.  Raphaël André died of cold on the streets of Montréal on the night of January 16-17.

 

 

 

© Ajit Ghai

 

Landscape of Abandonment

Trees have abandoned
their hard-working leaves to the cruel
November winds. The winds pluck the leaves off

one by one. And cold nights let frost
descend upon the shore. The wild
flowers that thrived here

are here no more. And a layer of ice newly formed
on the lake shuts tight
the food cupboard’s door

upon the birds. Migrating birds stop
dropping by the lake when it closes
its heart and door.

 

 

 

Honey bee hive via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Youth, imperious

Bring me high-heeled shoes
but with the heels snapped off (as I’m in a hurry)

and furry mittens that I may explore
my animal nature.

For forty is far away and I will never let age
pull down the corners of my mouth.

Bring me flowers and bees.
I have honey to make.

 

 

Dog, waiting outside

for Zef

My owner’s generosity has me thinking
I’m something more than a dog. A butterfly?

Tied to a post, I gaze into the gallery.
Prospective customers brush past.

Two Tibetan monks stop in the street,
say hello to me. When they leave

their disciples bow one by one
as if to consult my map to heaven.

 

 

Poem

The word is moving
is probably beautiful
ends sexual energy utterly

yet a man whispered ‘hello’
in the supermarket
and this was so thrilling
I forgot to whisper ‘hello’ back

went home and dreamed
not of him – somewhat mesomorphic
with bushy grey-black hair
my real-time match –
but of a winsome youth
nuzzling me

and I dreamed someone else alive
appearing infrequently
in a small untidy windowless room
hidden in my imaginary house.

If I’d never learned to read
none of this would be happening.

 

 

 

 

 

Sheets to Die For

This sheet must never touch the
ground

This sheet must be folded a special
way

This sheet cannot be rolled up
and thrown into the closet like a regular sheet

You must place your hand up in the air
whenever you see it, I mean
over your heart

People must be beaten
and die for this sheet

shit, I mean shit

 

Relinquere 

What is it you want to tell me
after all this time?
What is it now, here
at 2 o’clock in the morning
Is it that your life is safely away from me
that you’re moving to another town
that you fell and broke your arm
again
that your kids never call you anymore
and that it’s lonely
and that you’re getting married
and moving to Bermuda
to pour what’s left of me in you
into the ocean
that you’re done with all this
destiny crap, this fate
this us bullshit
that the universe misspoke
when it spoke
our names
and all you do is call to tell me this
on your honeymoon, drunk
telling me I am the ocean
and the ocean is being emptied
and it’s still beautiful
and it still has waves
and you cry every time you see it

and you cry
every time
you see it

and I say to you baby don’t cry baby
it’s only the bottle that
was us
and it was sad and it was sweet
and it was beautiful
and like all bottles
it always gets lost to the waves
lost to the moonlight
lost to time
lost to whatever

And you cry baby and pour it out
pour it out
every last drop of me
into the moonlight
sagging above the deep
I drift away from you
and the phone hangs up

 

 

 

Costa Rica Waves, 2012 © Blossom Thom

 

Stardust and Moonlight: A Love Poem

Beaches built of melted
Sun. Iridescent air
Lavender thoughts sprinkle
Yearning on sun-whipped skin
Oceans shout to the shore,
“I will sing to you of love.”
Waves recede with a kiss.

 

Any Afternoon, Early Autumn

Between the sigh and
Her smile lies lit
Space. Full. A growing

Gathering of dust
Bunnies. Tidy
Piles of laundry wait

To be transported
From basket to
Drawer. You have her

Attention. Complete
Solitude, shared
Anticipation.

 

Echoes of History

Dark skies offer favorable omens. Earth grows
Moist to green as luck hopes to live. Sorrows melt in-
To slush, coffee-coloured tinctures to harden your
Response to pain. In time your armour becomes too
Heavy. Not a sign of weakness, but one of faith.
Echoes of history stain our days. We wait,
Gold dust coats our throats, water’s wasted in wine.

 

Karmic Drift

I collect sleep in remnants.
Like an urchin counting each
Grain of rice, I lie in bed,

Wonder how I’ll last the day.
Well-fed and full of unrest,
Minutes tick by in my head.

 

We Read Omens in the Sky

Before the wind shifts
We hear rhetoric
In voices golden

As dried turmeric
Like our parents
We read omens in the sky

We scent blood before
Another mob turns
We carve paths through stone

With voices fresher
Than coriander
We paint omens in the sky

 

The Garden of Dutiful Women

Damsels swallow doubt, dance on the edge of blades.
Angels sew seeds into the hems of our skirts,
Noisemakers, guide us to build futures of ease.

Grudges fall, rot on the Garden’s sterile soil.
Eve plucked and left to spoil, easily bruised like
Ripe fruit. Too heavy for boughs, we fall, skirts rattling
Our secrets rich as port wine, sweeter than spite.

Under the guise of fragility, we wait,
Sabres drawn. Sun glints from blades shiny as thoughts.
Ideas dropped and trod upon take root. Shoots toil,

Draw our minds to harvest feasts. We’ll share wine, dance,
Expose bloodied ankles with each twirl. Angels
Acquiesce, sow seeds under the realm of our
Skirts. Whirling, we step on the edges of blades.

 

“We wait” © Mary Perchanok

 

Note by the author

“The Garden of Dutiful Women” first appeared at Poetic Notions: A Weaving of Poetry and Visual Arts (February 2020) alongside this painting by Mary Perchanok. My thanks to the co-curators Carolyn Boll and Holly Friesen for the opportunity to show my poem and to work with an artist of Mary’s calibre.

 

 

Dhrupad of Destruction

I see Nataraja dancing on a lofty hill, to the sound of crushing ice,
Melting glaciers and rising seas. Primordial forces unleashed.
From the dark corners of the earth, I hear the eternal rumble of Chaos
As humanity is trapped in a dark cave of ignorance, deadly indifference
And lowly greed. The alap goes on slowly, inexorably, towards its end.
The vibrations of the singer’s voice reverberate in my soul as the image
Presaging world destruction comes into my mind.
Carbon emissions, global warmth, floods and drowning cities.
Is it the beginning of the end? Pollution and the dark miasma of clouds,
Dark and deadly covering our beloved earth…
We sing to you! Save us from our folly, and as the alap
Continues, I am lost in a trance of dark powerful music, I pray
For wisdom to preserve our gentle rolling hills, our forests,
Our flowing sacred rivers, and the smiling child that lives within us.
We sing to you! Save us from our folly…

 

+++++++++++

Dhrupad: the oldest vocal style in Indian classical music.

Nataraja: the eternal dancer of creation, conservation and destruction in Hindu mythology.

Alap: the improvised precursor to a raga in Indian classical music.

 

 

Eocene

 

Time of rising temperatures
the dawn horse gallops on primitive hooves
greeting the day’s heat with hunger and teeth
grinding small-brained toward
longer-limbed progeny
expanding onto the first grassy plains
no mountains to snow on but
  coming on slowly
    continents
      creep
        impact
          the planet
            give it a taste for
                carbon dioxide
                  imbibed so gradually
                         life flourishes birthing all manner of beasts
                  even our ancestors rise in the birth-time of the crease-kissed Himalayas
                  youngfold ranges that pique
               our interest
           keep us scrambling
        gear-craving mules
     arriving late
at their feet.

 

Tipping Point

 

Don’t blink or you’ll miss it
the moment we all hit the gas
for the last time on
this side of the brink
the merger of here with
the margin of error
our oops overshot
by the extra 100 watts
more than 100 years of flight,
drive, and fight
for convenience, luxury,
patriotic sport, or fury.
Don’t be caught
wasting time sending out
another ping just to savour
the music of a doomed echo
on the lookout for fan-fares
signal flares, messages
from God or aliens
the billboard’s already up
it’s written by bees, amphibians
and educated simians
pointing to not a place
but a momentous mistake
this way we tip our
world into imbalance.
We will never see it recover.

 

 

 

Dusk On Loukes Lake
(for Kathleen)

thin spirits of mist
rise immobile
on a lake flooded to ice
by the calm

water bugs skate in circles
to a waltz
of their own signature

my canoe glides
on the echoes of a setting bronze sun
mirroring undulations
roll in my wake to the shore

in the shadow of the bay
a loon draws a silver thread through the silhouette of a white pine
nature’s bottom line

dead ahead lies the rock
inverted
on which one morning last month
you sat panting
water running down your waist-length blonde hair
eyes bright with triumph and surprise
a nine year–old
who has conquered her lake

The whip-poor-will from nowhere
calls three times
capsizing the walls of time

I float
downside-up
in a darkening world
drowning in
the reflected beauty of your mother

Hindsight is shifty-fifty
The past a shore too far to swim
The dawn too far to paddle

 

 

 

 

Mitochondrial Eve

A plague of poppies: salmon, tomato,
apricot. Some years I save the seeds,
audible in upright cups, and carry them,
carefully, to make two lemon cakes,
eat all those flowers.

Flowers that are as famous as
the famous dead. As famous as seven
mothers, each buried at the bottom of
her skeleton tree. Perhaps a little
Lucy momma buried at the root of mine.

And famous are the blackbirds in the garden.
Each at the top of its pine,
sings its posterity song –
‘I’m listening, I’m listening’ –
to simple strands, tightly bound.

 

Continue reading “The Problem of Joy”

 

Turbulence

it’s not the breath, in or out
not quite

breath’s only the boundary
sneaks past smooth
ebbs on laminar
silent

it’s where streamlines retch
mouth shot off with plosives, or
trills eddying deep into passionate night

where breath wakes
roils into free
beautiful

speech

 

The Origin of Specious

Imagine your life a Cartesian space
endless grid
unlock its centre, you
can radiate from anywhere
be as graphic as you like
trace curves
your continuities and discontinuities
define the slope of your own
childhood, or not
reverse negative and positive
find yourself in a new sector
touch on tangents at one point, then
run parallel
love your self-vectorization
play on a logarithmic scale
laze about on the ln whenever you wish
it’s natural, irrational, whatever
you choose the basis
spin up, or down
let go of all gravity
ignore it and all its distortions
you can be perfect
you can even
approach the infinite

 

On Coming Late to a Teaching Career 

Her mind has become an odd warehouse
constantly preoccupied
perfecting her French
collecting new slang
sorting pop culture:
    cool, meta, irrelevant, cringe worthy.
Her house, too, holds collections.
Recyclables stacked in groups of 32
    ten students short of the answer to 
    life, the universe, and everything
    (cringe worthy)
she packs each theme in a tub with a label
longs to start lessons with demos, but
knows how feckless they can be.
Students judge.

She’s not doing this to add a frisson to her fifties.
Furthermore, she’s not doing this in her fifties to add a frisson.
Opportunities she’s taken to add a frisson have been ample, abundant, commodious even.
If you think
all she wants to do is settle down
she’ll remind you
in her grandmother’s village she could join the nuns in their coifs.
Instead, she’s preparing.

She is baiting a hook for the future, a lure
for the perfect moment to explain how
    the foam-like structure of the medullary pith of a feather arises 
    during embryogenesis from a process of vacuolisation.
    Here’s why that’s important to flight…
    What do you think is… 
    …the connection to Kevlar?

She knows she’ll pay into a pension and never collect,
knows her peek at a shadowy mammogram is nothing to panic about.
She took that in, like any curiosity, marvelling, just
as she does when the rust gets her tomatoes, just
as she does when the leaves transpire and, voilà! she collects water to drink.

There’ll be time enough for corrections.  Time, perhaps,
to leave an impression.

On the day of his death, she eulogized Stephen Hawking, stirred
A Brief History of Time into an episode of The Big Bang Theory
with a side of Ice Bucket Challenge, repeating
    motor neurons affected, sensory neurons not
She was preparing the class for their exam; the real lesson was:
    he could feel everything. 

Their adolescence will soon condense to adulthood, they
will step from their steamy hot shower of hormones.
Will she be there, the faint roric image on the mirror?
Will they remember what she tried
to teach?

 

The verb, To Release, speaks to the verb, To Ensnare

I hate to see anything trapped.
Even the way a photo captures a moment provokes
a rising gorge, my unease
wicked up incensed incendiary

I’m reminded
you enjoy the way
one pickerel frog poisons
everything else in the bucket

Truth trips over the velour of your tongue
entangles itself with conformity
a balled-up clusterfuck of toxic convictions
fake news ancient prejudice hucksterism alike
twisted and spun
a binding weave cast over those you have ensorcelled

Makes me want to scissor
warp from weft
unleash my fury on your grandiose straitjacket
disentangle the fuck out of that serpentine noose
free every gerrymandered cluster of star-struck acolytes
with the same power I used to tip off the expansion of space-time

But
I’m holding back so as not to cleave
water from wet
on this tiny planet
not to tip its toboggan down a treacherous slope
burdened as it is with potential
to set its atmosphere back even further past     two      point      five      million      years
in the relative blink of a galactic eye.

Who could have foreseen us behaving like this?

Here am I wrestling with Death, Life in its gnathic grip
while there you are shouting at me,
Let it go! Let it go!

 

Photo (c) Paris Elizabeth Sea

 

Red cardinal flower (Wikipedia Commons)

 

Cardinal Flower

Red flash—
a few sprigs

puncture the monotony
of brown-green bog,

never-ending evergreens
and skeletons of cedar.

I know you,
skulking in the wetlands

between bridge and dam,
around the island,

beneath the boulder’s shoulder,
under jack pine.

When I pull you up,
your grace drains fast—

I replant you in a box
outside my window.

Spindly girl, you must need something wild
I cannot provide—

you refuse to root for long. Oh
well. I’ll just sit here, drinking

in your pure, red element
for a few days

while you struggle
to stay alive.

 

Snow © Dinh Le Doan

 

Snow Is Falling

Snow is falling. The earth turns white.
Its new skin is as smooth as silk.
The sun hides behind a veil.

I stay confined inside my shelter
while the cedars run between the houses
and collect snowflakes outside.

Running past my window the cedars see
a bear-like creature inside a cave
immersed in dreams.

None sees me. I am the dreams.

 

Horses in Chernobyl, Ukraine (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Summernote V

Call her goddess of heath and yellow gorse. Tell her you have left the moon unlit. Snuggled into its folds. Swamp-fed forest creeks. Grafted to fen carr, sedge grasses. Dwarf blackberries. See if she believes you. You can neglect wood bluebells, red-purple milkweed, these rimes, flowerings begging for time. Paper birch trees that chafe refrains, disjunctions, oxygen for photosynthesis. How a butterfly pupa fastens its body to a green leaf before eclosing. Tell her it’s the Earth here. Tell her escape won’t work, this far into the scrub habitat. How over there in flattened boxes sits Pirka Ort, clawed wheat fields knotted in dirt. Excavating a nunnery manor. Cherry trees. Plum. Stripping away punctuation. Tell her that you are out here all alone. Tell her. You have summoned the wind. Swallows flying low. Smell of petrichor after rain falls. The blood of the stone. See if she believes you.

  

Chernobyl

miniature gas masks
an empty glass milk bottle
atomic sunflowers

rodents in the ground
live plutonium-packed prey
wind in pine forest

post-apocalyptic
Ferris wheel in Pripyat
radioactive boars

a camera drone
woodland around Chernobyl
song of marsh warbler

thatched roof log houses
carvings around window frames
Rosa’s potato patch

 

Totenwald

I will go now, learn the language of the
woods, and go to the huts, where the flautists
are practising, the sky violet. I will
learn the trees. Gneiss hillocks of mosses.
I shall weave and knot jute ropes around grey
bark and branches. Lime-green wings and
furry white body. Obits for those whose cairns are
missing, those who are numbers. Pupa of the
Luna moth eclosing, I will journey through
the Totenwald, a boggy, stygian fen.
Blueberries and wild roses standing in the sphagnum,
knots and ropes, using ropes as lines, an ode I use
to knot each piece, cocoon wrapped in leaves as home.
I will go now where river birch grows. Hold a
wake among rhodora, red osier dogwood withy.
I hear a small blackwater stream
quarrelling with metaphor. Acid rain in understory.
Wetness the shape of water on skin.
The bodies we speak of inhabiting.

Papery white moonflowers. A bittern calls.

 

 

 

Montréal demonstration against Bill 21, April 2019 – Photo by Jody Freeman

 

I am nobody else’s version
of who I am
You cannot set your mind
based on my looks alone
There is no language
that defines me
Do not box me in

Because I am my own

I choose not to be enslaved
by your presumptions,
your sweeping remarks,
your thoughtlessness,
your disregard
By your anger
By your orientalist stare

Because I am my own

Your language
is not neutral,
steeped in prejudice
Your voice is privileged,
harbours rancour
towards me, my race
my colour and my face

Because NOW I am my own
And I shall remain so
My own

 

 

Photo (c) Rana Bose

 

We are still here Aimé, us the
niggers of the north
An otherness-nothingness imprisoned in our minds
by our colour

 

I have heard
of white writers who claim to be bush niggers
they live outside the high prison
walls
They are loved there
I have heard

 

and in here, they complain about the smell

 

We are still wretched Franz
red is our colour the revolution that was promised
has been broken over our shoulders
despised like heathen refugees
this country does not love us
It loves its idea of us
it gawks
it quakes
With its fuckin TV cameras
it rolls over us with its Hollywood
like scab ravaged lepers
they can’t stand the smell
us, the scum of the earth, our knees
and hands digging into the earth
and the priest scum on our brown asses

 

There was a blue butterfly
that landed on my finger
That told me the history of our mountains long past
how he had escaped the jaws of a wasp
You say I am only part butterfly and part
gravel scratcher
All shudder
a woman’s life is not worth very much
here Róża
They are not the colour of the
blue Madonna but the brown one

 

The dirt road does not die here
Róża
they are drowning us in the rivers
we, the grave diggers

 

I have an idea about you
You are the new Jerusalem and the
old testimony
of a god that died and lived again, returning
from death with nothing
of the sacred  earth in his hands
and the only thing that can fill the holes in his hands are coins
not sacred earth
Not so sacred is it?

 

We adore our drunken poets that eat lilacs
and vomit out eulogies to us, the damned
Our darling girls contorted on the sidewalks
like praying mantis
The government hates them for
not paying taxes on the heads they eat
The politicians will tell us that it is public morality
headless, heartless shits

 

This new Jerusalem will have a wall, an idea
about me, a wall built with a tongue wagging
and ideology about reason and peace and yet knowing nothing about them
or me, but prayers to a god that can read, written on paper wrapped around a Brimstone missile sent flying to brown and black people
They will understand god has chosen Rome to speak for him,
they will understand limbs torn off
they will understand the voice of god
they will understand the misery of god
they will understand markets

 

Coil the rising around me, coil your habitual raving madness
coil around me the quenching of your thirsting
A heartbeat stretched over my broken ear
Come with me in the crippled dawn, the sunlight will twist our shadows
and muzzle the darkness
Let me show you what has been destroyed in me
The wounds it has left
the bones it has broken
the beatings I have taken
till I awoke, exhausted
digging up words from the darkness
till my hands were bleeding

 

Here I am, your mongrel moon
your mutt of midnight
your dangerous memories
your rising nigger

 

Come with me now
this blessing is short
and we must hurry
till I must return to the beast that first
brought me to you

 

that cut the soul from the spirit
from the body from the spirit of the earth
What a sharp tongue you have grandmother
splitting and spitting up this fine Indian country

 

The nuns French kissed me and bit off
my tongue
Now with the land, on my side, my tongue
grows back
and I challenge them to do it again

 

What you think is dead is not dead
what you think is empty is not empty

 

Can you hear it
like a rat singing in that garbage heap
called Golgotha
they find our bodies in the river
pull them out and say it’s just Indians
put them there with the rest
and every body pulled out is a failure
of a just society because… because
we were just Indians

 

 

 

My grandmother, Maria Kovacs – Photo by Ilona Martonfi

 

Seven Mountains
For my maternal grandmother

 

That moment when you see spring on your windowsill
you have lost your sister,

ceramic pot yellow daffodils, nodding buds. Wilted petals.
Ruffled trumpet. Shriveled and fading

that moment when news comes from your village Kisjenö
about the death of Katarina,

red clay of the Fehér-Körös River, Kingdom of Hungary
the land beyond the forest. Slate roof

timber hut. Omens of sickness
and misfortune. Evil spirits on full moon nights

that moment you remember the year great-grandfather,
Kovács György, abandoned his family. 1897. The year
you were born, a girl named Mária,

great-grandmother Viktória farmed out

never to live again with her brothers and sister

never to sew an embroidered silk
wedding dress. Never to bless the bread
at your nuptials. Carry a painted chest
with tulips and roses to your home.

That moment you remember the crowing of a black hen,
in the kitchen a pine wood coffin,
keening women singing songs of lament

your sister Katarina who dies in childbirth.
White shroud and veil fastened with silver pins.

 

La Folle

Here it is then, found in the teeth of a chisel
clutter, dried-out clay,

sepia-hued loops
barricaded shut.
Nowhere familiar. “La folle!”

Clutching monochrome negatives.
4e arrondissement of Paris
ma soeur Camille

destroying much of her oeuvre
silence back to silence

tearing all sketches.

In 1892, after an abortion

drawing us into a plum moon
half-remembered fables
set amid a wild overgrown garden

and we become spectral:

“Crasseuse!”

“Filthy!”

wrapped in a long maroon coat
recluse in her studio
at 19 Quai Bourbon
l’île Saint-Louis

committed at Montdevergues Asylum
never touched clay, ever again.

 

Bleaching

You’ve come to the island north on the reef

waking up with the half moon
the air tasting of salt
knotted grass fishing nets

name it wind, or cloud
the sixth extinction

splashed pink by a mad painter

zooxanthellae, symbiotic algae
leaving a bare skeleton

overheated seawater placed
in clam shells you’ve offered

umbilical cord to the ocean.

Take a word such as children
or hunger, take a word such as stars.
Tell a story

some story.

Mud huts painted yellow or blue
created in the Dreamtime

eucalyptus and acacia and mangroves

rephotographing through long exposure,
geckos, skinks, snake.

Factories and cars and deforestation.

 

Terezin

Unstretched cloth canvas. The many weeks I lived in here, in Terezin Ghetto.

A family group here, and another there. Memories trapped in erasure. Scraping through oils and ink. We are not safe, says one character. Scratching, sculpting away with palette knife. Grey ink running with the black ink. The painted people call to us. Shadow us. Possess us. I put down abstract marks. Look at my ancestors. Concerts in cellars and attics. Percussion, a cello, double bass. Lilac hills of Prague.

Sibilant hissing sounds. Windowless cattle wagons. Czech Nazi camp filled with bumblebees.

Such, such yellow sun. When I stood at the gate. Vanished house left unlatched. Not rifles. Not screams. Land of bluebells. Swamp milkweed. Tracing in figures. Until the lost lovers, parents, brother, and sisters, stand upon this wood easel. Children’s fairy tale opera called Brundibár. Kocour, the Cat. A dog and a sparrow.

“Bialystok children” by Otto Ungar

 

 

Man on a Rocking Chair in San Juan

 

In San Juan I found a man

rocking on his balcony,

the floors creaking,

the glaze in the gaze,

a daffodil stem

hanging from his lips.

I asked him

was he truly

an Indépendantiste?

He shot me a glance,

red in the eyes,

stopped his rocking,

spat in a can,

just to say

that for now,

all he wanted

was his libertad,

a free man, with free choice,

that’s it, that’s all!

¿Entendí algo?

 

In an ice-bound heaven,

the dream had been

suspended,

hung from a hook

some years ago,

adjourned, deferred,

a concerto in repose.

An orchestra,

with bows frozen,

icicles hanging.

An epic,

with faces caught,

mouths open

in a moment of despair.

À la prochaine,

with a tilt of the head.

As tears flowed,

it became a still shot,

an interim movement,

an opus for all.

 

But, here, in the Alps,

in a village called D,

where the snow drifts,

where pin-striped bellies

shake, vibrate,

sniggers abound,

decisions count.

GDP per capita goes Y-ways,

fixed.

Growth and debt goes X-ways,

fixed.

Numbered accounts

and interest rates,

Z-ways, fixed.

No balconies,

no rocking chairs

in this castle regal.

No one chews tabac.

Limos drive in and out,

tinted windows and

shadows inside.

Independence, my friend,

is like Capital sans Labour –

a flippant issue, perhaps,

but worth a note –

that sovereignty today,

ça n’existe pas.

The polished floors don’t creak.

The daffodils don’t weep.

“And the wind whispers Mary…

After all jacks are in their boxes

And the clowns have all gone to bed,”

Jimi says, so softly.

There is nothing to sweep away,

as everything is already swept.

 

The man from San Juan,

with the daffodil stem

hanging from his lips…

The balcony creaks.

The chair rocks.

No man can be seen.

 

(May 2018)

 

 

 

I Shot a .38

(or Skylight Phobia Version 2)

 

I shot a .38 through the skylight,

a neat hole, no cobweb

left behind.

Just an accident! I said,

No tension, no threat!

 

The cartouche

rose steep, parabolic!

y=x2

Reached its pungent peak

1500 yards up,

climbed down, slowly

passed a cackle

of geese

headed south,

erroneously.

Look, I said,

confused,

taking the cue

from VP Gore,

who I’d just seen,

the day before,

on a group discount

at the Paramount.

 

It hit a neighbour’s clothesline,

flipped clumsily,

resting gently

in the pocket of a kitchen bib

used deftly

by Ms. Turcotte,

who worked in forensics

for a company

she thought

could be basis

for a series, dark,

on BBC,

called CSI Parc!

Yes, Parc!

That rue they called Bourassa

for a week only.

 

She spied the hole in the skylight

with a telescopic sight

made in Italy,

calculated the impact and velocity,

and determined me to be guilty.

She invited me for dinner.

Gracious! I said,

but dubious, mos def’ly.

 

She made carbonara, horribly,

and pastry that was pasty,

crusty and oily.

I shuddered mildly

at her hospi-tality.

The blue neon lights,

the quivering maroon lips,

were brand CSI.

Incredible! I said to her,

feigning total intrigue.

 

I found the errant cartouche

sitting delinquent

in an Akhavan sack.

And when she turned her back,

I lifted it promptly,

holding the .38 to her head.

I’m taking my cartridge back, immediately! I said.

No trace!

 

She agreed politely

and I left quietly,

knowing she would

study my saliva on a plate,

for DNA left behind.

 

Traces of skylight phobia

in the ancestral blood

of my émigré utopia…

My parents arrived

in the dead of night,

in a boat from Sri Lanka.

 

(November 2006/January 2018)

 

 

 

 

 

You will be the midwife

To whatever little I have,

You will be the midwife

To what little miseries I cherish

You will be the mast

To my lost catamaran

You will be the frozen froth of my tiny sea,

To my cries over dumb questions.

You will be the midwife

To my defeats, my flights, my residue of avarice,

For the moments that shall compound my calendar

My plotless existence.

You will be the midwife

To teach me how to love you,

To hate myself

To pull a pure blanket of cheap flowers over my conceited body

To stop the brown rigor of earths consume me,

And my hubris!

To protect the licking violent golden flames from devouring me,

To stop the wind flying me over the moon,

To woo the water desist from floating me away,

Yet you will midwife,

My end

My middle

My beginning:

You will be the midwife to my destruction,

You will eat me like a demon

You will preach me like a gospel

You will worship me as an angel

You will destroy me to

Create,

To shudder at the discovery

There has never been any Me,

There was only You

That you mistook for Me!

 

 

 


Chitragrib the Pigeon & an Exhaust Fan

She was no Eleanor Marx
Nor was I a Him; yet
I hid behind a lonely tree
At Rabindra Sarobar, she searched me with a
Rheumatic heart, unsteady on her tiny feet.

A pigeon meanwhile cooed nesting in an old building’s cranny
And boomed
Interminably.

Her little broken, discolored toys, recyclable
Littered on a pock-marked, red cement floor
You put them away as
‘matter out of place’
She cried: where are my things?

Elders said: Ask the pigeons!

She prayed: Payla , payla, de, de!

Oh, pigeon, return my things…
The pigeon never knew; the pigeon never flew…

Four scorching summers later, the pigeon morphed;
Chitragrib was the name: yet to learn
How to fly.

A martinet with an uterine pride ruled and
Rued: she didn’t learn her school homework right;
And an accomplice for the mischief:
Well, who else? You guessed it,

The pigeon never flew.

One score and seven years later
Early winter chill coveralled the Indira Gandhi airport
In the wee hours; a bunch of lanky, unkempt, frail bipeds
Waved at me
H1-B executed!
Did the pigeon fly?

I wondered.

Crimson granite, bathtub cream-of-yellow, ornate toilet and an
Exhaust duct wrapped in plasticity of humanness
To be fitted; the shopper sang, spreading all
On a lazy-Susan: ‘this doubles up both as a fan & an exhaust, Sir’
‘it sucks in and it sucks out?’ My frowns did a Jacques Derrida,
‘Ye’ was the answer.

Time passed with the only two hands
aeons sank in the cipher like flakes of mica in the sands.
A boom, boom, boom…
And a flutter of feathers…
Lo, it’s a pigeon… it,
Nay, a she, brought in waste
strands of straw and wood and what-have-you.
A nest grew; battling the rotors fiercely like
A Seattle one-room pad
braving a snowstorm, diffident;
The duct closed;
time and again, time and again

Time and again.

The pigeon never flew…
“‘Tirra lira,’ on the toilet seat
‘Sang Sir Lancelot.’”

A housemaid took charge for that was the wish
Of the lady with the Uterus; shoved and poked
Pushed and poked…
The fan worked
Peacefully.

Settled I to this New nothingness
To hear suddenly the
Booms:
Bakam, bakam, bakam… again again
Onomatopoeia ornithological of
Pigeons’ Bengalispeak
Of revolt
Oh! Oh! The pigeon never flew.

The great Virgin took form in the
Greater-Half…
Commanded it be done again, and by the
Man selling indulgences; a holy redemption!
Peeped I and peered, priggish as a primate:

there’s an egg tiny as a blue-white marble pellet
breathlessly, namelessly, defenselessly before
the ‘doctrine of eminent domain’
pushed I this all into the abyss below like a
Nero tutored by Seneca; must I well play the fiddle
Of Eminent Domain;

The pigeon never flew…

I switched off the exhaust! turned on the
Fan;
To suck in, to suck in only in… in… in… in
Penance;
So, the pigeon never knew
And the pigeon never flew.

 

 

 

[These poems were first published on the author’s blog.]

 

American Honey

He calls to me, this memory thief,
as the reality of eating alone unfolds
like a lost history, a diseased blanket,
dirty money, a lease that never ends.

“At least you eat—
so what if alone?” he says.

“Cold comfort,” I say.

“Here,” he says, “let me
present American Honey,
Southern Comfort, if you like.”

“We’ve met,” I say,
“no, thank you”
remembering the worst.


Prayer Warrior

You often end your notes and letters adding I remain in your prayers
daily. Please, I do not want your prayers…even if you think I need them.
Remember, we who believe Buddha’s non-sectarian words are God-free.
Gotama taught meditation, learning by experience, left prayers to prayers.
If funerals are for the living rather than dead, perhaps, prayers are dying
sentences. Harsh, but stay with me. I need something more tangible, since
living; you can have your way with me when I am dead; how could I resist
you then? If you really wish me well, when we eat at your choice T Bone
Diner, after respectfully watching you pray, remember me; forget the bacon.

 

What Third Eye?

Approaching a horse
on the side of the road,
crows on its back,
tearing its flesh out,
pecking its eye out,
I turned my head
to the airport—gray runway
a finger pointing
home
to my apartment,
my bed.
No horses, no crows.

I can’t lie: it’s good
to be home;
yet, not good enough
to hear
The Law of Attraction,
how to
create my own reality
in the blink of an eye,
how the universe is mine
once I learn
the magic formula
from you, Guru.
No horses, no crows.

 

Watching Their Building Burn to the Ground

A.
Did you expect it
to cave in
like that?
B.
Our world was meant
to shrink
in this universe.

 

A.
What makes you
say that?
B.
You know the assassins
plan and get away.

 

A.
This flaming ruin
has to scare you.
B.
I’ve broken in
my bequeathed paranoia.

 

The landlord’s
smirking adolescent boy
with calculated short hair
& a gallon tin of gasoline
walks by & winks.

 

A.
I want to scream,
but who
will hear us?
Who at all
would want to hear us?
B.
You were never ready
for this, were you?
Not even a change
of underwear.

 

A.
I learned too late.
B.
Why don’t you
put that on your headstone?

 

 

 

 

This issue is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Abby Lippman (1939-2017).

As we were preparing to go on-line with this issue, we were hit with an emotional sledgehammer.  Abby Lippman – a frequent contributor to Serai, a dear friend, comrade and longstanding Montréal scientist, a bio-ethicist, feminist, human rights activist and a constant presence in all weather on the streets of Montréal in protests against racism and discrimination – passed away suddenly on December 26. Our issue of Montréal Serai on Spirit is dedicated to this champion. The last two poems she submitted to us are featured here. She will rest in power, we are sure about that.” (Editorial, Montréal Serai, Volume 30, Issue 4)

This is how Abby introduced her poems in her submission:

Working on writing on other things for other media, but if you want either/both of these poems, my first attempts at this genre, here you go.  Otherwise, am perhaps developing them as the basis for bioethical discussion “cases” as a friend suggested I might do for my UdM bioethics site…

These are my first drafts but no time to refine them as real/only poems.

abby

 

 

A puzzlement,
or is it a conundrum?

When it’s NOT OK to be OK
and also
when it’s OK NOT to be OK.

Not a play on words, tho if so,
it’s the only playfulness the two letters
surrounded here with negative charges allow.

Otherwise, it’s more than their reversal,
the KO felt\when hitting the floor yet again,
and those in your corner know it’s OK not to be OK and
it’s, well, OK that they know.

 

 

LOST

Where are we when LOST in thoughts?
Where are the minds that a person loses:
the lost words and faces not recalled.

Where is our temper when we lose it?

What is lost in translation?

Where do these lost thoughts, feelings; these lost words, go?
Do they live? Do they die?
Surely they are not like the socks and gloves gone missing in a clothes dryer.

And what about the person for whom all this is lost?
What remains of her? And where is she to be found?

 


Editor’s note March 2018 – please find information about a memorial below:

Celebration of the life of Abby Lippman

L’Institut Simone-De Beauvoir de l’Université Concordia a le plaisir de vous confirmer que la célébration commémorative de la vie d’Abby Lippman aura lieu

le 27 avril 2018
de 17h à 19h

au Centre de conférence (pièce MB-9CD)
9ième étage de l’édifice John-Molson de l’Université Concordia
1450, rue Guy (en face de la station de métro Guy-Concordia)

Une description plus détaillée de l’évènement suivra, mais veuillez réserver la date maintenant.

The Simone de Beauvoir Institute of Concordia University is delighted to confirm that the celebration of the life of Abby Lippman will take place

April 27, 2018
from 5pm to 7pm

at the Concordia University Conference Centre (Room MB-9CD)
9th floor of the John Molson Building
1450 Guy street (in front of the Guy/Concordia metro station)

A more detailed description of the event will follow, but we want to let you know the date now so you can reserve it.

 

After Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Red on Red), 1969
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Peace Pavilion

 

Cover picture from Nilanjan Dutta’s original book of translations. The sketch is by the late Debangshu Sengupta.

 

Since human beings are eminently perishable, they seem to have an obsession for permanence. It is normal for people to yearn for what they do not possess or do not have a chance to possess in their lifetimes. But this holds good only for external things. It is another matter when they realize that they are already in possession of something that is indestructible, something that “weapons cannot tear, fire cannot burn” (Bhagavad Gita 2.23). That becomes a source of immense strength – the courage to endure the lows of life, and yet envision unattained heights. The realization of this inner strength is the recognition of the spirit. When the spirit takes over, all bodily pains recede.

The poems of Birendra Chattopadhyay (born in Dhaka, September 2, 1920; died in Calcutta, July 11, July 1985) celebrate this indomitable power of the human spirit. The decades over which his life as a poet spanned were marked by constant turmoil and transition in the society of Bengal. He was no mere observer, but one who identified himself with the forces that were consciously oriented towards bringing about a revolutionary change in society. Driven by this conviction, time and again Chattopadhyay broke the police cordon and suffered imprisonment. He wrote piercing poems and prose pieces that sprang from the pangs of a newly independent but partitioned country in the late 1940s and ’50s, and the tumult of the people’s movements in the 1960s. In the 1970s, his poems decried the massacre of radical youths in the strongest of idiom, and in the same decade, he raised a rare voice of protest against the Indian Emergency among the older intellectuals of Calcutta and campaigned wholeheartedly for the release of political prisoners. His towering presence was a regular feature and a source of assurance for the young protesters in every rally, including the “risky” ones. In the 1980s, his poetry raged against the acts of betrayal of the Left establishment (then ruling the eastern Indian state of West Bengal) but unlike many others, he did not lose faith in the ideology of the Left movement.

No wonder Birendra Chattopadhyay became a rallying point for a host of young poets as well as prosaic “activists” like me. The blend of revolutionary passion and romantic imagination made his poetry sublime. Throughout his literary life, he relentlessly  inspired and encouraged us to keep our spirit awake and unblemished without falling into the trap of spirituality.  “Hold your head high, even in hell,” he told us. Meanwhile, the poet became inflicted with life-threatening cancer and embarked upon a different battle, and it was during this phase that his poems found the most intense expression of death-defying spirit.

Shortly after Chattopadhyay left us, I translated a few of his poems into English at the request of revolutionary Telugu poets K.V. Ramanna Reddy and Varavara Rao. Later I translated some more, which were compiled in a book, Here Lies Your Motherland, in December 1985. Here are revised translations of some of the poems written from his deathbed.

 

 

Young Poets

Words have left me long ago
And yet, I want to say something more

Young poets! Come forward!
The world has not run out of words
By the sound of your footsteps
I would know the road I must tread.

 

Sad People

People who are sad
For human beings or a flower

They know life from hunger
And tell Death: ‘We will never recognize you.
There’s no place for you on our earth.’

If they see a dead bird on the ground
Around it they sing songs of rebirth
There’s sadness in it; but without sorrow
Can one take love to the heart?

 

You, Death

(To Dr. Bhoomen Guharay)

It is not true that Death doesn’t wait for anyone.
Often he has to.
He knows, victory will be his in the end. But
some small defeats, to the indomitable human will
He must suffer. Humans know they are not immortal,
but still they write poems, sing, draw pictures,
And then, Death sitting beside their bed,
begins to lose his patience and courage.

Death, you must learn to be patient and
give us time to get prepared.
Let us feel that the touch of your cold hand
is not a frightening story.
On that day keeping you in front
We shall start our journey not destined.
Then we’ll tell our dear ones frank and clear
‘He is insurmountable, but we haven’t lost the game either.’

 

To the Young Poets

From behind the clouds your faces are becoming clearer
I am happy. I can see some real human faces
and touch them.
Teach us to be fearless, so that we
can cross Death now blocking our way in front.

 

A Few Lines for B.C.

Why does he write his name

On stone
When the sun goes down?

The stone is washed away by the river
The water

Recedes, he knew it

He knows…

 

A Poem for My Daughter

Flowers do not bloom throughout the year
Birds do not sing throughout the year.

Still, dream remains. The people we know
Stay near.

Even if flowers do not, human beings remain.