Fourteeners

 


You'd have me come and live in Windsor

And live out the course of my life there,

Your town our southernmost city,

One lodged in the shadow of the Jolly Green Giant

Or the U.S. of A., Detroit in a pinch.


And you'd take me sailing. Excellent.

Off we'd go to catch the Tigers play


In their new stadium. (While I'm sweating the small stuff,

or Uncle Sam's hospitality)-Can't say I wasn't tempted, but

We are each of us sons of different pasts:


I of a used-up old war that caused me to wander,

You of a grin and bear it Ontario cheer.

It's all yours: the slush piled high of a GM car lot.

I'll keep the pissed-upon snows of Montreal the fair

-for DW


Betrayal at the start brings on the pleasure.

The game gets rougher: you neither win nor lose,

Worn down by the weather in the territories of love.

The hurt of Attis in you, you're as old as all that,

As old as men unmanning themselves

So as to dance in crazed pain for a goddess's smile

That dazzles as brightly as a winter sun.

And you're young still, young enough not to know

That poetry explains nothing, indistinguishable

From time-out-of-mind-religions, some Absolute Voice

As worn as stone, as new as rainwater: a festering wound.

Cumulus moves with the sheen of pearls in the blue above

And boys on bikes scoot down the lane

As if love were velocity and the silent birds-

-for MS


We went for beers under a threatening sky,

McGravitas, Jesse, you and I.

Four high rollers took the terrasse

And predicted rain, as rain was forecast.

We crunched peanuts with our cushy molars.


At stake was the very essence of language itself.

In play was an exchange of views and bon mots -

All the highhandedness of highwaymen

As used to pillage the pilgrims of old.

More rain predicted, more poetry rudely praised.


But you Jaime, so quiet among us, got more silent still.

Caustic eyes published our likely bad end.

Twitchy man of verse, McGravitas, mugs Ezra Pound.

Any moment sirens. And a posse with lynching on the brain.

-for JB


Aeschylus was a poet, a dancer who wrote tragedies,

His day the heroic years, Athens getting on

For hegemony. He fought at Marathon, the more numerous Persians

Outfoxed and beaten on the plain. But who among us could keep

                                                                     time

With an old Greek's chorus line? Which dance-step best serves

The heavy maple shadows there, Cabot Park, the Indian girl -

Stoned out of her gourd - flashing her hind-end?


The poet, it's said, avoided the familiar, pitched his tone high

So as to keep the imprimatur of the gods intact

On the awful majesty of events. Just how intimate can a girl get

With a punk godhead, the realm jaded with instant replays?


Disbelief our waking life, one, even so, hears it in the trees

That host both lynching parties and wedding revelries:

Skeletons chattering in the wind.

-for MA

*

Mrs Orlow, 2013


The strong, imperial women,

The succession of the Caesars -

Oh, what am I on about, Mrs Orlow my excuse

To versify? Is there in a jeweler

Of advanced years, sweeping the sidewalk of a day,

Such memories of the palace,

Such a feel for toga and sandal

And some Roman's Ars Poetica?


The Fascists win in Italy,-a zeppelin flies to Lakehurst,

Seemingly the future out of Europe. She was born about that time

In the interlude between the wars,

Spawn of the revolution

And a cousin to the tsars.

And she's a child of the New World

And she's a party to the middle classes,

This old woman in a long, print dress,

Her toes bent and twisted,

Her feet all gnarled up

In socks of anarchist black.

She puts the leaves to rout, her neighbourhood a crucible

Of drug states, politicos on the make.

Well, who has a living wage?

Who has their iota of infinite security?

Not many, to be sure.

Fewer than before.



The darkness that engulfed the west,

The blooming sails that crossed the seas,

Venture capital, boom and bust - all of it says, above and beyond

The cut that history takes, that the years swoon by.

And they'll lose impetus. Those years will fall,

So many leaping dancers on a lawn.


The powdered wigs, the satin slippers,

The trenches, the bomb, the assaulted moon,

Lone loon with a rifle, consortium with secret aims

And cash to dispense

To assassins in a shadow play, John F Kennedy the cost benefit -

It's just that Mrs Orlow, in her 90s,

At this instant, looms large in my eyes

And momentarily brings to a halt

The excuses in my brain.



Five will get you ten

She recalls Bloody Nicholas and his brood: the wife, the daughters. the

        domestics.

They were pitched in a hole en masse, shot and bayoneted,

Marked for justice by bullets of special purpose

Or just plain murdered. If her tears are so many shattered vessels,

Amphorae, as it were, once brimming

With import - happy, sad, angry import,

Mine are all wet, it seems: I'm just a kid despite my decades,

Too naïve for grown-up politics.

Time has passed through this woman

Like a meandering lightning bolt,

So much so, she's sixteen again,

And once more, terror bombing - in a big way -

Debuts-



Now and then in a long-lived life,

One is more than the sum of one's parts.

Sometimes the whole of a life is swept by delusion,

And one never knows, even when suspecting

One has helped to build the ruse. And it's a sad day in the park,

When one plows through the leaves

With seemingly casual applications of one's feet,

Kicking regrets around, bullying one's silly self.


She's out on the sidewalk with the bright verdure.

She's gently stooped, out front of her shop.

You may regard the window display: it's her art.

But now she grips a broom. Her hair is let down -

Those ancient tresses on view. Her grin bites deep

As she sways with her beau (or as some memory or other of infatuation

        obtrudes),

Her mischief modest, dance card full.


Ah, with determined strokes, she attacks those leaves

Yellow and orange and crinkled and curled.

Side-to-side whiskings of a stick and straw.

Time-pieces, trinkets, faded bits of glass,

And earrings and baubles and else and whatnot

Parade in the window, assembled company.

Here she is, a belle at the ball

If not a peasant in her hovel.



Oh, her husband used to beat, ill-use her

And think her mind thick between the ears.

Her live-in son, he addresses her thus:

"Old hag. Damn witch. The cunt",

He in his shrill impotence

Gone off his meds, perhaps.

Have I not featured this redoubtable lady

As tough as nails, preferring Puccini

To Herr Mister Bach, in my poems, my prose, too,

And with words that point to her as being

A cardinal point of the cosmos,

A hub to which the spokes run

As the seasons spin around?


And that she meets the rage of her son

With some inner-generated force of her own -

It doesn't mean she seconds a quarrel,-

Doesn't mean she spoils for a scene.

It only suggests that, for a moment, she's interrupted

But can't be bested. Indomitable. Infuriating.

Were she sculpted in stone and standing there

As a spirit to emulate, the wind would look

To gather her up in comradely arms-



The airship, the air station, new variants for

The field of war - new ways to get yourself a death.

To be sure, this woman's length of life

Compasses even more grisly developments.

I've seen her set in her window display

Her do-right mountie just so, he on his horse

With upraised pike, pennant, peaceable resolve.

Her china figures, love bracelets, watchbands, necklaces -

All choreographed by a master, romantic soul-

Stalin's Russia was her childhood, as well,

Canada the long arc of a bitter marriage.

Now her man-son, muttering paranoid,

Believes himself to be always under a scrutiny of sorts,

A patrol car, as ever, parked at the corner.

And the seas and the winds are rising.

So much out there going bad-



We have music, paintings, endless verses.

How good it is we have such things.

Neither I nor the Orlow girl

Would second-guess what the civilized prize

Or used to prize - in an amaretto-sweet salon.

But there, how alone she is with the broom,

Her dress faded, her hair let down

As if there were a man about with whom she might

Sashay after the quadrille is done.

But what's this? What's with that drooping eye?

Inflammation? Encroaching dread?

A shutting down of the dance without end?

Such a terrible conflict in her organs of sight.

Always that fight that is the fight for oneself.

Then that wish which one might sum up like so:

"Life is what it is. Nothing less. Nothing more. Let me die."



So then, I wave a good morning's greetings to her.

She likes a dapper gent with decent manners.

She stops a moment, squints and peers. And yes, she knows me.

Some wild thing of a grin breaks up her face,

As she bends her head and lifts the broom,-

As she counts the beat and leans to it and sweeps.