L'assassin menacé

As I hear the sun
rising over a painting of a woman
naked in a garden of cloth and weave
I think of how Magritte once saw
the sky as a rock
suspended over the grey sins
of oceans.  Last night, my father touched
my hand and my bath brimmed over
into fairy tale - I shall not name

which one, for there was a plumber
at the door, and a rift between blood
and what could be.  All gods
are dangerous, especially those
who cannot swim.  Watch me
in my bath, listening
to the story of my years rising
as I swallow the stone.

                   First publication: Vintage Series, 1997
                        Prizewinner in League of Canadian
                        Poets' Competition

Will you sleep with me?

Nothing I compare you to
makes a difference.
What does is like the sky, glorious
and inquiet even after years
of silence spent breathing
your name into the cold
hollows of my hands, imagining
what it would've been like
to have you enter
my body.  You see - had I known passion needed
to be mined, dug out
of the flesh, like some precious ore
made up of a million deaths
complex as snow
glittering from its many jags,
I would have known it wasn't right
or wrong not to fuck
when it surfaced in me that day
in the woods, breaking skin
between the question
that was briefly mine, and your
answer scarred
beyond recognition in that hard
space between face and sun
that, like a tender sky in winter, simply
is and nothing more.

                        first published in Quarry Magazine  (Queen's university, Kingston, ON, Canada,) 1995

Ah! les beaux jours de bonheur indicible

                                                                                                                                                - for Iva V.

There are so many things I don't want to remember:

the toilet cleanser your mother used
that suffused the small rooms
of our youth; your brother whom I believed
for he offered nothing; your step-father
at the kitchen window, his Friuli tongue
working your ears like a knife; the winter of  '80 in Paris
cafés when we riffled our hearts
for the tawny season we wanted most.  And finally
how we fought for each other
with hate till our closeness
crumbled like bread in our mouths.  I
sit here now, drunk
on memories, remembering your blizzard
hair that matched your rabid
coat, the way we mikadoed through
our university days - Sartre
a lovely stench on our minds, and those joint French
seminars about an old woman estranged in sand
hankering for the feel of love, simple
and manageable as a toothbrush, or
a mirror that would tell her nothing had changed
except for the sun that kept
leaving the scene
to return brighter than ever above her broken
face.  And I recall the tales of Argentina,
your uncle's place in Rosario, his
language that you'd kindle
to fairy life with your fine Toronto hands
on October nights; how again and again
we'd end up in Yorkville, standing like foreigners
in front of dusk, slick
with laughter,  practising the art
of bringing men to our mouths

like chilled wine.  Each time
my memory slows, I see
you under my apartment balcony, watchful
as if at a border, evening
swallowing your sleeves.  The first moment perhaps
that you were free of me.  Decades later
I stare at you through
my own skin, eyes like leeches
in the kitchen skin.  Once I walked your life

in a nightdress, my wash
a death in our bathtub, our futures
ancient as tequila.  Listen.  Once
we were young, and pretty
as stones that cannot speak.  I wonder
where you are now - at a window
licking breakfast off your fingers, touching
your frontal bone, the past
a colour in the closet.  At present
there are continents between us, a ballast of animal
moments.  And your soul's
a voice I wouldn't recognize.  But
even so, these words would be
either the end, or the beginning
of everything we choose
to contain, or protect.

                        First publshed in Malahat Review, (University of Victoria, BC, Canada) 1997

Bloomdale, Ohio

                ...When I can make
                Of ten small words a rope to hang the world!
                       - Edna St. Vincent Millay

At the intersection of what was
and is, a siren

cuts through a life.  My sister
leans into this accident
of sound, puts her mouth
to the blade.  She's
always preferred the hard things in life.
Her lover's on her knees in a blue sunset
of fields compelling as summer.
Even from a distance, I can decipher
the direction their words have taken.

I've been tracking this sister for decades.  As
it is, she owns three long acres
of silence, and a dirt road
that swings by like a cervine rope,
headed for something larger
but smaller
than the hand she now brings
to me in greeting, holding this moment
in her eyes
till it skids and shatters.

                        First Publication: Vintage '97,  League of Canadian Poets' prizewinner

Monogatari of a First Language Revisited

My voice has gone back to the house
I knew as a child, and discovered
between the heftiest of planks
verbs disheveled as daisies; the odd adjective
out of context, and meaningless
as a handful of pebbles thrown
against a stone wall.  And beneath the sun
browsing in the garden, nouns
like snakes, thick
as wrists in the heat-shimmer
of things indefinite.  And there - Momotarô,
the youth who leaps naked from a peach
of a myth
whose beginnings can be traced
to islands wrested from the Milky Way and deposited
somewhere off the coast of China

where my mind is still
afloat in an ashlar patch of history:
dragons and tricycles, all the appurtenances
of childhood folded like a purpose
in one corner; parents and teachers
aligned in another, like bricks,
while between us the river of language, three
muscular strokes lined with dusk, courses
like a mother who has lost her hold
but doesn't give up
formulating debris into a kanji
recondite with meaning
until I take the route back
to what I was, or could have been
had I taken it sooner.  For now
I will always be on the hind road, which
is the only way I can move
forward -- past the vocabulary of trees and fire
and the face of a sister splayed
like a bag of provisions against the screen door in the deep of summer.
The only way I can move beyond the scrim
of my voice
spelling out its first house in search of
that crazed thing
it calls its first guttural report.

                                                            monogatari - Japanese for "tale"

                            First publication:  Stand Magazine (UK) 1997


For years I'd wait for you by the station

toilet, between jamb
and fear in which mystery moved like blood.
Use a pin, Mom would say, to prick

the hand that reaches. But
we pictured only sharks smelling out our blood, half-hungry
for those portions that fit nowhere

while en route to Kobe or Osaka, the ocean
placid as a promise, and our voices
offering no hope at all in hell. Diarrhea

was your answer, mine dealt with trains
tight as lies. This was our homeland: the closer
to the track, the better. And Dad

was never told, was he?
Perhaps the language was wrong, a hirple of case
and gender ending in the accusative, peppery

as day - while
the express writhed past, a river, each
window an improvisation

on dying. Women adjusting their hair
in the face of the impossible, a hierarchy
of school children, and

you retreating to the open, eyes
startled as fish
that had learned that terrible grammar of rocks.

                        First publication:  The Malahat Review (Canada), 2001

Vers la flamme*

Forty years after my parents left the Lüneburger Heide
and bought a life on the edge of nowhere
and freedom, their voices still react
to the incommunicable - the morning stutter
of fishing boats off Aomori
so like the bombers' that used to cross miles
just to rouse them, like
parents, from total all-out sleep.  Cold
bread they'd serve at dinner
to remind them they had survived yet another day
abroad; their woolen vestments and
leather they've possessed for decades
they hoard in better places
than they do their memories.  Going
to visit them these days is as capricious
as putting my mouth to fire
and speaking out in their tongue
which, despite the darkness between us,
tells me everything my mind

holds they consider to be rightfully theirs
- the cold words I proffer like bread;
the tiny attacks and counter-
attacks I know are more staccato
and terrible and necessary
than anything else in the world.  It's taken
my mother years to learn how to put food
on the table as with love, and
my father to despise with an honesty
so singular and absolute
it would take more than a god
to understand.

                                *after a sonata by Alexander Scriabin

                    First Publication: Quarry Magazine (Canada), 1995