Small Talk Café, Holland
There is a stillness here only
certain wines can achieve.
Yellow tongues of fields brood
under a skyload of clouds, and the sun's
soft dialect rests on my shoulders.
I fall into my own noisy head. My hand's
a small pear whose core
is a still-life that breathes backwards
like a mirror. Everything's
plausible. I work to bring
into my body the breeze, that
instrument which doesn't grieve
when it lets go of its last note.
first published in Antioch Review, 1994
The Potential in Cutting Hair
I put the scissors to your head.
The globe below my hand turns
its fragile continents.
your naked shins and the iceberg tiles.
All the while you munch
on tunes, your fingers
kneeling on the sink's blemished china
lip the way mine are now
above the mother-of-pearl cutout.
A mirror scene
in which I am just
a slow arm bright with steel
whittling a hole
into your skull. Tonight
I'll slither through it
to recover this I
which could be you
Poem for Marie
In a bevy of rooms eloquent
with ivy, we harvested
all the blonde of summer. Drinking.
On each table was a bust of apples
and bananas in the form
of fingers softening
around prayer, and the hours
fell grey as moths between
the low shoulders of our voices. How
often she would come in from the kitchen
to serve up her former Helsinki
time and again, fill my glass
with ice and wine, her hand
the colour of crushed sage; teeth
sleighting slips of spit
intricate as lace through her English.
Marie. Her real name dropped
like blighted fruit upon entry
two decades ago, a violet
nightgown domed around her knees, breasts too
ample ever to be beautiful in this
country, and in her lap a havoc of spices.
Eyes clear as the raw
blue smell of snow, she pared the filters
off cigarettes with a bread knife, repeating
I was a fool to come, though
I knew she'd go to the corner
pub, later. A fresh beige applied
to that tiny fire of winter
smouldering under her face's crust --
like a light bulb switched on
above the kitchen sink, its chill pooled
long after dark
in the yellow open hearts of lettuce.
first published in Chicago Review, 1995
Somewhere near the Rhine, or anywhere...
This place where, for some, the world begins
and women reach to smell the ghosts
of their men in bars
busy with the kissing of hands;
this place where the faces
of passengers swirl, gentle as fish, on the river
that escapes like a train, slashing
the heart of Europe west
of the last bisons on the Russian-
Polish border, their grasslands
turned sheaf in a jar of vodka
emptied on the way here
and rolling sleep between the aisles
below conductors' voices flexed
like muscles around the consonants
of villages where the young slam
drunk into trees thinking
the straight line of their lives. This
is the place where, on both sides,
machinery meshed in sound
bilks biology by sprouting
concrete - giants dazzled
by their own height. Where some worker
waits now for beer
or his next-door neighbour,
a blonde whose face is a coin
peeling at the edge
as if restless with the warmth of his palms.
There we might meet. On
a platform trembling with rain. Our
possessions thin as magic
in our wallets. A handful of hope
stitched onto plastic, and,
if we're lucky, a ticket
to another place which, days
later, will prove
to be no better.
first published in Poetry Canada Review, 1996
Even as I confess this now, the view
from my old room shudders
across a garden of night. But inside,
I imagine the window's still
a slick lean face
above the wooden desk - wiping
its refulgent frown across the smattering
of books and movie stubs, the lamp's cheap
helmet curved, like a fiction
left from the 60s, over the bed
where you held my legs
open against the bright green sheets
while, in another suburb, a woman
sat chewing away the painted skin
at her mouth, the embers
of a previous patience keeping alive
a pot of tea in case she heard your
car spit dawn over the drive. All this
you'd recount, hands puckered
around my belly, at 2 a.m.
in the hope you would find her
sober, and the children abandoned
amid their pillows. I admit now
I cared for none of that - at twenty
I was frozen into a daily regime of essays
and cafés where the many poses
of love were discussed at length. And you were
something like a bandage
I'd peel off to see the fine white
seam of girlhood closing. The long slender quiet
I so needed then, as I do not today,
logging my version
of you sending carnations to an address
in Europe where I haven't been
for ten years. What
I did not know then was how
my head would take you
in like a dream layered in barbed wire.
Your name blistering down my throat, an
endless cold-sore. Breaking
cells, like wrists. Or that
my mouth would keep you
safe in its den
First Published in Antioch Review, 1994
For over a year now, you've gone
without a man
or a cigarette
though the shop windows are packed with dummies
which could be your eyes menstruating
pain into glass.
Behind you, pop music flies by.
Ribbons thrown from cars.
A dog squats like a beggar
in the middle of the road.
If you opened your mouth
would fall in -- or out.
First published in Jacaranda Review (UClA), 1996
How I wish you'd open
your body, let me
of blood spinning like a giant
ferris wheel. I promise
I'd wade in barefoot,
earn my keep my rubbing
the dimes of my fingers
on your bog of scrotum
in return for the passage,
and watch my arms
voyage from red
to black as they prod
the silent junk you carry
with you. Hazard then
my hope of a womb
surfacing from your belly
and closing me in whole. Or see
that final ride:
my head speared
between your loins.
First published in Jacaranda Review, 1996
Extinct girl in the cold
guise of your pose
the floor under your loyal
podium shakes awake
this museumscape aghast
with mirrors. There — another
pair of feet, an eye
searching out its sole.
You have achieved decades
forever older and yet
younger than I who pass
the history you assemble in stone
and instruct in silence.
First published in ARC magazine (Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada) 1993
Here, where no key heckles the lock
our lovers become simple words
like the names of new diseases.
Her pet ferret scrambles
albino over my feet, perusing
the blood under my
skin where the whole street
explodes into smell.
When she speaks, her face
fills like the sunset
behind the spray of basil
loose on her sill. All
afternoon we drink
to Bartók, to Scubi the Ferret
as he hauls
destruction out of my left
shoe, leaving our arms free.
first published in Prairie Schooner (University of Nebraska), 1994
Not the Makioka Sisters*
— for we are three who outgrew
kimonos at an early age
when the West spilled soot
in the shape of a horizon
called home over our milk-minds.
A word that quivered
at the lip of meaning
and loomed shiny and dark, mushrooming
under summers wild with centipedes
and mosquitoes. There
the planet fell black when we tilted
toward light. Luminous as rain
the last of the iron bells
followed us down the mountainside while we
shifted from bamboo to wood, packed
our vagabond sky into boxes.
Oleanders burst tender through our hands
and left us green; parents
ruddy on Gerechtigkeit** told us our blood
started where theirs trailed off.
On that cool karst steppe
of their acid baldness.
first published in Vintage 1992, Canadian League of Poets
*The Makioka Sisters — a novel by Tanizaki Junichirô
**Gerechtigkeit — German for justice
Person Displaced at Yonge & Lawrence (Toronto)
Nights it comes to this: the man from Ljubljana
massive as a log rotting
into my dreams like a story
told once too often. A story in which he
steps from the ship into a cedar morning,
the word Kapuskasing splayed
like a fig-leaf over the blue camp smells of Italy,
and his wife's arms
an accordion around a new crop of men.
Nothing quite as complicated could happen here,
he reckoned. For five years he stood in awe of the North,
its purfled sky, sawdust
wattled like a language on his thick lips.
Till he had enough money for Toronto and a '49 Chevy
that made the hours flexible
for several loves.
Now he's a wraith pinned under my bed, his throat
rumbling like the subways cars three flights down.
The reek of his wars prowling
the dark, dank cloth of these rooms.
First published in Poetry Canada Review, 1996
The House on Humewood Drive
It was easy then, a couple of beers,
some records, and we were off,
our hair flying shadows on the walls.
In front of her fireplace, hours
played out their patterns. Winter
stroked her doorstep, its sheets
of violent breath
greening into summer
when we'd sit on the porch, and watch
girls pumping pedals
envious of the muscles
running like gold through their limbs.
Years I'd write her from Germany
and Holland, bitter blue slivers
of heart tongued shut in dank cafés
that aimed to patch up what those long
legs had scissored open —
nights ambered in Joni
Mitchell's low blend of pine
and fire, our hair
warm as a thought pleated
a thousand ways on
the glint of skin.