scarlet soda

Thirst

 

The sun was hotter.

You can tell.

Look at us squinting against it in photos then.

Everything washed out by the glare,

cheekbones, jawlines,

all detail surrendered.

Dazzled,

we could be anybody.

 

The gardens, look,

they’re parched.

It hurt to walk on the grass.

We lay in scorched backyards

slathering butter on our chests,

chain-smoking, eating fluorescent cheesies,

swilling bright red soda.

Everyone burned raw.

Everyone looked deliriously happy.

 

We knew

nothing could go wrong.

Our lives lay ahead of us.

Men were above us,

landing on the moon.

 

da-vinci revised

Past Master

 

Among da Vinci’s countless notebooks, all written in code,

or backwards, to ward off thieves,

is found a jotting that translates to:

“Tell me if I ever did a thing.”

 

Hardest on himself,

his abandoned projects haunted him,

and those completed offer little solace:

scissors, the parachute, a clock with a minute hand,

the helicopter,

the first contact lens.

 

An upstart, he sketched Mona Lisa, no doubt, just to keep us guessing.

Her lips alone took him 10 years.

Voracious curiosity fuelled him,

climbing a mountain outside of Milan to understand

why the sky was blue.

dissecting human cadavers to perfect his anatomical drawings and,

it is rumored,

lions!

 

When he was commissioned to paint the Last Supper

he reluctantly put aside a joke book he was writing,

and throughout his life was convinced that if only we had wings

we could fly like birds.

 

Imagine this man’s to-do lists:

“Have Avichenna’s work on useful inventions translated.”

“Buy mustard.”

“Get a skull.”

 

 

 

The Trouble with Science

 

If it’s true

as grim neurologists now claim,

that our memory is far from intact,

that the very process by which we retrieve the past

is flawed, random, that it plays fast and loose with

fact, detail, even

colour. Then how exactly do I conjure

what was us.

 

If it’s all up for grabs,

all bets off,

what was true?

The way you looked at me that evening

on the boardwalk,

was it as tender as I picture it now?

And your kiss. As deeply felt?

Did you profess your love in three languages

or was it just two?

Before you round the corner do you actually

turn to look at me

one last time?

Are you in the blue shirt

or the red?

Are those actual tears?

 

But science falls short. It overlooks

the power of the human heart

which has a memory all its own,

where the moments of our lives never alter,

fade

or grow old.

Where a look remains as tender

as when first it was delivered,

a heart quickens just as it once did.

Yearning as fervent,

passion as acute,

and in that special place

the moments worth remembering

lie in wait for us, inviolate,

undefiled by time

or synapse.

OLD SHOES

Coming to Nothing

Coming to Nothing

 

The day-to-day momentum

carries us with it,

making it impossible to imagine

this all shall pass.

 

Too much to think this will end,

carrying us into oblivion alongside

all of our carefully honed plans,

our exquisite attention to detail.

 

Who can contemplate that one day

and not so very far away,

another, perhaps even a stranger,

will be charged to sift through our lives,

tossing into random piles

our old day timers, nail polishes

and favorite sunglasses,

expired library cards.

 

Who can comprehend that one day

Some distant cousin may glance

at a dog-eared photograph

of a laughing, red-haired woman,

and ask with fleeting interest

to no one in particular:

Wasn’t she a writer?”

 

 

book revised

There is a Poet I’m Reading

 
There is a poet I am reading
after coming upon his dog-eared collection
while cleaning a bookcase.
I had forgotten even owning it.
His name won’t mean anything to you, never famous or fashionable.
But it draws me after all these years,
this slim dusty volume so long abandoned.
And how quickly I am reminded of his sublime voice, resurrected now
line by line in the slate gray light of this autumn afternoon. 
 
His father’s nurse says she’s too tall for marriages.
The younger poets are ample in their margins.
The migrating salmon leap like sparks from some windy chimney.
The sound of his son’s bat on a baseball, sweet as any teacake,
the ball’s arc making the field small.
 
It’s gratitude I feel to find him once again,
his particular genius now back in my life.
I won’t be rich or famous, you said, sad on your birthday.
And I don’t have a baby. Now it’s too late.
I pull you close. We have missed nothing. This is our only life.
And just when I think he can give me no more
Comes his closing prayer:
May grace be drawn to our ill-suited hands.  
coca-cola revised

The Spark of Serendipity

 

Fleming left his dirty dishes in the sink and found penicillin.
Modern medicine was never the same.
The inventor of Coca Cola just wanted to cure headaches.
Velcro,
because a dog owner scrutinized
the tenacious burrs
embedded in his retriever’s coat.
The most profound discoveries
are pure accident.
Go looking for one thing and find another,
Maybe better.
On my way to a purebred prize winner
A mongrel butted in.
Best dog ever.
I thought the invitation said Thursday.
And found you.
Leave room for error.
Cast off loosely.
Await the entirely unexpected,
The astonishingly,
The utterly new.

ginger hair 2

Phantom Pain

 
My womb lies intact, unused.
But on afternoons that stretch too long in gloom
I allow myself to imagine her.
Perhaps hair the color of cinnamon and a tendency to
sink into a slough of despond.
A writer, too, I wonder.
Or just as easily a short order cook, a firefighter,
a glassblower.
Her hair would probably have parted to the left,
her second toe longer than the first.
She’d need spectacles from day one,
have a weakness for blackberry jam, the minor chords,
night over day.
Odds on she’d be left handed 
and prone to itchy rashes that would randomly occur
and vanish the same way.
Her name would be Catherine like her grandmother’s.
She would be no one’s fool
and no one’s daughter. 

Blanca

Post Script

Post Script.

You need to know that I want
Unabashedly sentimental songs.
Think Van Morrison
In his earlier, less angry days and
Dylan, in his later, gentler ones.
An instrumental of Annie Laurie is a must,
As too Mark Knopfler,
Who so magically supplied the soundtrack
For my days here.

You’ll need really good food for after.
Excellent, piping hot coffee and brewed Orange Pekoe in china pots,
Kentucky Fried Chicken,
Pizzas made to order,
And a Build Your Own ice cream sundae station
To add the requisite whimsy.

Display a very few pictures of me,
Not huge Bristol boards packed full of them,
So popular these days.
Black and white predominating, if you will,
My unwavering preference.

Flowers?
Yes, my nod to tradition,
Scads of calla lilies, but white only,
The yellow look fake somehow,
Oh, a few off white roses, would you,
Champagne they call them now.

And in the middle of everything
Position one commanding vase of
Fat white peonies,
Because their fragrance, their sheer deliciousness
Outdistances all the others combined.

Everyone there ought to tell
One story about me that stands out for them,
And not just of sweetness and light.
The dark, too.
You all know
I was more than one shade.

A piper would be wonderful at the close,
Just one, as there was for my father,
A whole band of them he felt excessive
And I must agree.

Then let me go.
Knowing that most days
I cherished this life of mine
And that while briefly here,
Laughed probably more than most,
Loved a few of you beyond measure,
And with providence in my corner
Was able to write a few poems
I would not change one word of
Even now.

 

 

 

series of curtains blowing in wind

Escape Hatches

Escape Hatches.

A writer has to get out of the way of a great poem.

It can barrel down your brain at three in the morning, announcing itself, demanding brashly that you wake up, pay attention.

It can arrive with less fanfare, creeping stealthily into a corner of your brain when least expected, while you’re on the expressway or in a fast food lineup, wholly intact, ready to deliver itself.

Some may be difficult to hold onto, like children running ahead of you in a playground. You can see them but they will not be corralled.

Others visit you fleetingly for but an instant, offering up a potent word, a loaded image, deftly uncovering a long forgotten moment.

They all ask the same, merely this: Take heed. Do it now. I  am already planning my escape.

 

vietnamese girl

If This Is Your Final Destination, Welcome Home

If This Is Your Final Destination, Welcome Home.

Always the smell of tiger balm
takes me back to Kuala Lumpur in 1980,
the sweltering airstrips,
the sea of expectant upturned faces
of the refugees waiting en masse
at the bottom of the airplane stairs,
on their way to Canada
and to second unimaginable lives.

Plane load after plane load,
week after week, three years running,
we ferried them across oceans.
After days and sometimes weeks
in crowded buses
they waited to be next in line,
these survivors of Pol Pot and
his merciless Khmer Rouge,
these witnesses of unimaginable horror.

We delivered them to Gander, to Montreal
and to Toronto,
away from all they had known,
everything they owned in small tidy bundles
at their feet.
We chose our words carefully
for the interpreter,
Trying to prepare them in some small way
for what lay ahead.

Where do you begin?
How do you tell someone how cold feels?
We played them music
we wanted them to hear,
hits of the day, Blondie, REO Speedwagon,
handed out sandwiches and Pampers
and wet naps.

They in turn watched our every move,
accepted anything given to them,
suspiciously at first,
then with vigorously nodding heads,
pouring forth their thanks,
holding up their solemn, silent babies proudly
for us to hold.

When we dimmed  the cabin lights,
hearing their guarded whispers
to one another,
sharing late night confessions in the dark
high above the ocean,
these people for whom
no sadness had gone unknown.

It was boarding them I remember most.
Even when I urged them
up the aircraft stairs, off the blistering tarmac,
beckoned them toward me,
they held back, tentative,
and only when I descended the stairs
took the first of them by the hand,
would they dare take the first step
toward this wild and inconceivable freedom.

I see their faces clearly now and I ask:
Who among us could possibly measure
the courage we asked of them.