4 Poems


lines for qi baishi (1864-1957)

dear qi baishi
your neat little cottages
worry me a lot
are those just vacant places?
aren’t folks sleeping inside
or waiting for a son to get back
with herbs from town?
the geese seem typically content
ducking for snails or just floating
the centuries away
as in so many pictures
the water is calm this evening
but the steep bank under the house
seems ready to crumble
rusty soil too loosely packed
huge gnarled elms
cast bad bad shadows
all black grey and green
ready to tumble in
on the picturesque
thatched roof
you sure no one’s inside?


at kingstown lodge

take some simple words with you
when you visit kingstown lodge
say, drifting or stubborn
wristband catheter and intravenous–
watch what odd tricks they play
it’s alphabet soup today
for breakfast for lunch
and dinner
ken and kim take them
through kandee break,
phil and phoebe
(phun from the philippines)
do physio fun;
see them nod and sing with stan
at sensory stimulation
sunday mornings,
the soothing voices–oh so soothing
miles and molly mixing up music medley
oh such joy to jiggle jello
can you spell words
like sedative (shh, sleeptime)
or perhaps
merely morphine?


jyväskylä, finland

for alvar aalto (1898-1976)

i have met you now, alvar
in this small northern town
beside linked lakes
and too many aspens
where you returned
after fussy cambridge massachusetts
and haughty paris
having been as big as anyone in such places
here your poems are scattered around
life size and human scale
dizzying glass and steel left behind
i walk amongst your sober chapels
elementary schools senior homes
a first-aid station or student cafeteria
of brick and wattle made
tell me alvar
why we think man is no kin of clay


no crybabies here

they are into
the last things
silence, stare, uneasy shuffle
groans and whimpers
but they seldom cry
that one necessary act
we all performed
at our various beginnings
no matter when or where
here, there’s no weeping
they soil their diapers

shyamal bagchee's fourth collection of poems, 'zero zones' is in its final draft stage; the earlier books are 'gabarding and other poems' (toronto: tsar, 2004), 'a scrupulous meanness' (ottawa: busckek, 2004), and 'nightsoil: or the book of the lotus' (little rock, usa: milestone, in press). he was born in india, studied at tagore's university in santiniketan, and at mcmaster and york. bagchee's creative work--writing as well as photography--has been supported by grants from canada council and alberta arts foundation. he is a professor of english and film studies at university of alberta.