Thursday, March 26, 2009

TINY LIONS for Robert Dziekanski


for Robert Dziekanski

A man flew across an ocean. He flapped hard. After one week, the man landed in our country. He landed in our country’s airport. He had a tin can and a string connecting it to his mother’s tin can, but with all the flapping, the string had broken. Now he was in our airport with an empty can and his words were strange, understood by no one. The airport was waiting to punch him. The airport was a bully. It didn’t like his tin can and his broken string. “Don’t carry too much liquid or gel,” the airport said. “Remember your tray table,” the airport said. “Take off your shoes,” the airport said. “Be one with us.”

Inside the airport, there was a door. The man put a chair in front of the door. Then the man put down another. He wanted to get out of the airport. It did not like him. It was a bully. He waited six months. Then he held up a small table. He was waiting for tiny lions. Surely a country as beautiful as this must have tiny lions, he thought.

The police were not tiny lions. “We are going to shout things,” they said. “And you will understand,” they said. The police began shouting but the man did not understand. “Now we will shout again,” the police said. “We will shout louder so you will for sure understand. We are ordering you to understand. And,” the police said, “Just to be safe, we will lock your hands together. Don’t thank us. Don’t applaud. It is our job.” The man did not thank them or applaud. One should only clap when things are over, he thought.

The police were not his friends. The airport didn’t like him. Then they plugged him into the ground. A fistful of storm turning his bones to flesh, his flesh to bone. He fell to the floor. A man made squid. Then he died. This is what happened. This is my evidence. There were no tiny lions. I did not applaud.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Handle a Platypus


for Gabriel Gudding

A woman is giving birth.
Handle a platypus.

A man jumps off a ridge.
Handle a platypus.

The world is waiting.
Handle a platypus.

Handle a platypus
only in an emergency

sad rocketship caged
by the ribs’ leafy warning.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009




A man wants to rob a convenience store. He charges in, armed with a knife. He orders the clerk to leave and wait outside. The clerk runs out of the store and calls the police. The police surround the store. They see through the window that the man is eating a chicken.


A man wants to rob his local convenience store. He walks in and chats with the clerk. They both know each other. At a certain point, the man pulls on a black balaclava and holds a gun to the clerk’s face. This is a robbery, the man says. I already knew that, the other replies.


A convenience store is unhappy. I could be so much more convenient, it thinks. Late at night it travels to the home of a man who has a balaclava, a gun, and a criminal record. This is a stick-up, the convenience store shouts into the mail slot. I want your insides.


A robber rushes up to the owner of a convenience store just as he’s locking up for the night. “Look,” he says and shows the owner the handle of a knife that he’s put up his sleeve. “One moment, please,” the owner says and goes inside to get something. “Look,” the owner says, pointing to the toes of a baby sticking out of his own sleeve.

The Great Speech Balloon Revolution

for Mike Cannell

My daughter, Rudi, is making a movie for her Middle School film festival entitled "Speech Balloon Revolution," which is a 'pataphysical documentary (an allegoricumentary?) about the great speech balloon revolt. Rudi and I talked a lot about speech balloons during our recent holiday and her idea evolved from an earlier film that she created where a character ("Stickman") is transported into another dimension. His speech balloon is transported first and so his words arrive before him. Or wait. Was it the other way around? His body arrives first, then his speech balloon enters the alternative universe? I'll have to check. Either way is really interesting. When I sent the above strip to Mike Cannell, he said something to the effect of "if the speech balloons have started a revolution, can punctuation be far behind?"

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cuba Cranium Cemetery Capers

My son Aaron, a gravedigger, and a skull taken from an ossuary in Cuba.

It was a family vacation. The gravedigger opened up the ossuary and gave my son a skull to hold. Later, he took flowers off a grave and presented one bloom each to my wife and daughter. Travelling in Cuba, we had stopped at a rundown cemetery outside the town of Cárdenas near the all-inclusive resort-crowded peninsula of Varadero. At the gate, two gravediggers stepped out to offer us a tour.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Star Wars Ghazal & Four Poets Eight Eyes Reading

Nathaniel G. Moore was enquiring if some writers were interested in submitting work for an anthology of Canadian Star Wars poetry. (The new post-Atwoodian interstellar "Survival" theme?) Somehow, he says, there doesn't seem to be much interest. We were chatting about expanding the range to include poems about other things (as if there could be anything beyond Star Wars.) I said we could have an anthology about hairlines and/or movies. He came up with the perfect title: Industrial Hairlines and Magic. I worked up a poem for his initial call which I post here.


in love with spacetime because
Princess Leia was in it

which makes me look fatter: space or time?
the atoms of things are not themselves hot

history is supernova
hairstyles of the fossil glow

sings of what is between things or not there at all
a handful of universe outside the hand

much is borderless
Chewbacca’s hairline for instance

used light to fight
the speed of darkness

Skywalker when there is no sky
Death Star when all stars die


My son Ryan and I attended a fantastic reading last night organized by Stuart Ross. "Four Poets Eight Eyes" featured David W. McFadden, Lillian Necakov, Richard Huttel, and Nicholas Power. All (old) friends of Stuart's, of each other, and, actually, of mine.

It was a lovely event at the Magpie in Toronto, and lots of literary types (also friends of mine) showed up. Steve Venright, Leigh Nash, Andrew Faulkner, Victor Coleman, Maria Erskine, Paul Vermeersch, Denis De Klerck, Dave's daughter (& fellow Hamiltonian) Jenny McFadden, to mention just a few.

Lillian read some new work and work from her recent Bone Broker(Mansfield). Her work is funny, dark, psychologically rich, surreal and 'well observed.' Truly brilliant.

McFadden read from his recent sonnet collection Be Calm, Honey(Mansfield). He was clearly enjoying himself and gave a great reading. These sonnets are self-deprecating, amazed at themselves for just being poems, filled with McFaddenesque observation, drolleries, and wisdom which you're not sure is wise, dopey, trivial, deep or all four.

Richard Huttel read an assortment of work. He's a captivating performer. His work combines insight, humour, everyman amazement and depth, and language stumbling over its own consciousness.

Nick Power read an assortment of work, including some recent work published by his Gesture Press. It was wonderful to hear him read. He's a beguiling, charming performer and his work is filled with quiet, bemused observation, some lovely and striking images, and a rich understanding of literary tradition.

All this and some good stout and then some eel and rice. And later tonight, we're off to Cuba. (Note to burglars: Large Dog. Relatives with big teeth, numerous eyes, and cell phones with the number 9-1 predialed and their fingers hovering over the last 1. Snakes. A moat. Week old dirty dishes. Vigilant neighbours armed with poison darts. Tax collectors. Small Home Alone-like children. Fleas, bed bugs, bad music on a loop.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Barwin on Gilfillan on Lemon Hound

Sina Queyras was kind enough to post my discussion of a Merrill Gilfillan poem on her Lemon Hound blog. I'm really delighted to be able to participate in her "How Poems Work" series.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Two of the Chambers of my Heart are Macrame'd

(picture from It's Nature)


The street is filled with men. A powerful gust and the men’s toupees are winging their way over schools, convenience stores and parking spaces reserved for the management of the hydro plant. Twenty head-sized fields of stiff hairs are borne aloft in the arms of the wind, small sections cut from the jet black shag rug on the floor and walls of the groovy rec room in the basement of the men’s imaginations. They have taken flight, have risen high above bending rivers and 50% sold condominium developments. The men imagine that the coarse fibres of these flattened crows are wispy and believable, like angel feathers or the memory of their first kiss during the bunny hop at Annie Fineberg’s Bat Mitzah. They believe that these swart and wiry nests have the bittersweet softness of sparrows, sparrows that have flown from the immense sweet mouth of God as He whispers lullabies in Aramaic to the balding faithful, half asleep in the light of late night television, running hopeful fingers through their imaginary hairs as the pool filter gurgles.

And today in this strong wind, I am flying my dog. The leash is long and Henry is high above me. His barks, like the shriek of seagulls, fall down from the sky, scuff my shoes then rattle over the curb and into the sewer. Henry stops to sniff a sparrow, lifts a leg over a cloud. He who is a poodle and does not appear on radar.

Once while we were walking by the airport, he entered the flightpath of an incoming jet. It was a British Airways DC-9 on its way from Heathrow and he would not let go. The flight attendants shouted through the oval windows, gestured with tiny rectangular ham sandwiches, advised the pilot to drop fuel. But Henry had tasted wingtips and the luggage of diplomats, and he would not relent. I called “Here Henry. Good dog Henry. Come to Daddy, Henry,” but Henry was eating cartons of duty-free cigarettes and the wrappers of complimentary in-flight peanuts, he was drinking ice-filled tumblers of tomato-juice and packages of wet-wipes. He was watching “Lethal Weapon II” while listening to the Popular Hits of Today channel on a headset chewed from its plastic bag. Finally Henry ate the entire plane, leaving only the bitter rubbery wheels, the black box, and the passengers and crew who he spat through the stage door of a failing Andrew Lloyd Webber production. Both passengers and crew skidded onto centre stage, a huddling and exuberant spitball. Emergency vehicles were called. Passengers and crew broke into song. Next day, the reviews were favourable, and I was asked to produce a revival of “Phantom,” which I did using lyrics transcribed from the black box. “A Flying Dog has Bitten our Fuselage” was the hit of the show and I was happy, felt as if I were flying in the empyrean blue like Henry.

And so I have spoken of happiness. Soon I will speak of sorrow, a dry, irritating sorrow like an oyster stuck in grains of sand. It wasn’t that my parking space at the hydro plant had been ceded to management. It wasn’t that my heart had been sold at a garage sale for much less than it was worth, indeed for less than those salad servers that were a gift from my mother. Ok, so my heart wasn’t in perfect condition, and perhaps it was out of style for it had a couple chambers that’d been macrame’d decades ago by my mom. The doctors had told her that I needed a new heart but Mrs. Kline, they said, we’ve none to give him. My mom sat down in right there in the doctor’s office and began her macrame magic. She didn’t stop though the sun sank and the night creatures crawled from bed, had a quick coffee and got to work: pawing stacks of newspapers waiting for delivery, trying on toupees overturned and blown far away from the heads that were their home.

No, it is not my own sorrow of which I speak, nor the sorrow of my dog Henry. Indeed what creature, whether man, woman, or beast could feel sorrow floating high above the ground, its doggy flesh feeling like clouds gathered around its pulsing heart, its cloud-white bones.

Henry and I were walking down Serious Street, had just got to the corner of Annubis, when we encountered sorrow. Sorrow in a wide brim hat. Sorrow spouting off again about gerontology through its gap-toothed smile.

What made me sad was that I felt like I had left the building of my body, my soul flying high above me the way my dog flies high above the tarmac.

* * *

What does one do with old work that, though promising, is from a different time and place than you're at now? Does it deserve to be realized and sent out into the world? Stored in your own box of old work archives? The above story beginning is one of many pieces that I began but never finished. I could finish it, however, it feels like I've got many more pressing new ideas to work on. I wonder if I've got to be a better writer since then? Have my initial concepts more depth, or complexity, or subtlety to them? Do old pieces have a kind of youthful energy to them that my newer pieces don't? Do I have to connect with the pieces in the same way? Could I just finish them from some distance? Hmm...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Phases of the Harpsichord Moon

This is a poster of a poem from my first chapbook entitled "Phases of the Harpsichord Moon" (serif of nottingham editions, 1985). The poster is from the same year. (Perhaps you can tell that I've been cleaning out my study.) In a second year creative writing class at York University, our professor, the brilliantly laconic and insightful Frank Davey, told us about this event downtown called "Meet the Presses", a gathering of small presses devised by Stuart Ross and Nicholas Power. He encouraged us to create books and get a table. I did and ended up attending both Meet the Presses and the Toronto Small Press Book Fair for nearly twenty years. Stuart, Nick, plus some others of us, re-formed Meet the Presses last year and put on an event so wildly fun, successful, and attended by thousands, it hurt my saddlestitching.

Surplus Ballyhoo: a collaboration with Stuart Ross

In April 1991, Stuart Ross and I travelled to Cleveland, Ohio to perform our collaborative sound poetry. The result was the cassette THESE ARE THE CLAMS I'M BREATHING (Burning Press, 1992.) For the occasion, we published the following leaflet as a co-publication between Stu's Proper Tales Press and my serif of nottingham editions. At some point, I'll convert the video recording of our performance and post some of that too. We look painfully young and neither of us were gray. Ah, but we weren't as wise, we weren't as slathered in the wisdom and sagacity, the shampoo and conditioner of age, as we are now.