Monday, April 27, 2009



Should you blow the hunting horn or invite the deer to dinner? I was worried and so I went into the bedroom to change something – my socks, my shirt, I can’t be sure – and instead found a deer looking blankly into the mirror. It’s ok, I’ve handled worse except this deer looked familiar. My accountant? My grandmother? Myself in a past life? It was my fridge.

“Speak frankly, fridge,” I said. “Tell me what the future holds. What shall the meals of the future put on the plates of my life? What of the safety and happiness of my children, my wife? Shall my body be eaten by cancer, will my mind hold out until the end? What will be the condiments of happiness all the days of my life?”

There’s something beautiful about appliances. About their muteness, their tawny pelts, their doe-eyed corners, their earnest shape.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Boy in a shiny room. Boy hungry. Boy not sleep. Boy bad. Boy want sleep. Shiny lights in boy’s eyes. Water in boy’s mouth. Boy not breathing. Boy did bad things. Boy not sleep. Boy want to sleep. Boy want Mommy and Daddy. Boy want to talk to Mommy and Daddy. Boy cry and cry. Boy cry and cry. Boy cry in shiny light. Boy cry for home. Boy cry for Mommy and Daddy. Shiny lights poke Boy’s eyes. Boy want to sleep. Boy not sleep. Shiny lights poke Boy’s eyes. Boy want to sleep. Boy cry and cry. Boy bad. Boy cry and cry. Boy want to sleep. Boy did bad things. Boy not sleep. Boy want Mommy and Daddy. Boy want to breathe. Boy cry and cry. Lights poke boy’s eyes. Boy cry and cry. Boy want to sleep. Boy want home. Boy cry and cry. Boy blowed up people and big places. Boy cry and cry. Boy not sleep. Boy cry and cry. Boy cry and cry.


for more see.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This is the moon


This is the moon, and this is the street, and this is the house, and this is the gasoline poured over the bed and its comforter, the worn carpet and down the stairs, through the kitchen, the family room and into the basement. This is the matchbook and these are the matches. This is the hand and this its handful of Percosets. This is the rum and this is the car, and this the unidentified accelerant poured over its seats. This is the road and this is the mountain and this the moon and this is the cliff and the roadside grass and the place where people, often lovers or photographers, stop to look at the city. This is the guardrail and this is the mouth trying to throw itself over, and this the hand that was burned, and this the cool glass of water, and this the story of what didn’t happen, though there were flames, and ash, and emergency vehicles, and ventriloquists throwing their voices out of close and painful places such as the moon, eleven o’clock, and a slow breeze.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Happiest Thing

A blue jay pair has begun building a nest on a tiny ledge outside the French doors which open to the outside beside our bed. One of the blue jays weaves, and squirms in its centre to form the nest, the other brings food. My wife says, getting dressed for court, where she will defend a woman accused of fatally stabbing her husband, "This is the happiest thing that could have happened." I wonder what would be my top ten happiest events for today? I'm happy that Steve Reich won the Pulitzer Prize, but that wouldn't make my list. I'm happy my hurt back is well enough that I can walk and I can go to work -- or I'm happy that it is well enough that I am able go to work. I enjoyed yesterday where I stayed home and 'off my feet' and wrote and read. I'm happy I finally read "The Double Hook" by Sheila Watson. I bought it over twenty years ago. I'm delighted to have read Mary Ruefle's "The Most of It," which would have knocked me off my feet, if I'd not already been off them. I was happy yesterday to play saxophone with my daughter in preparation for her school concert, happy to listen to "The Goldberg Variations" performed by Gould on the stereo my wife bought me for a --I think it was-- birthday (or else Hannukah) present this year. I'm happy to have the morning off today, time to write, have a bath, breakfast, and wake my Morpheus-clutched sons. And if I were to compile a list "nine things that are the happiest thing for today, wouldn't it seem as if I'm missing one, that there'd be a phantom happiness, a long-lost happiness, a secret happiness never mentioned and living in another province, perhaps under an assumed name or totally different emotion?


I wish I was a sparrow and had wings to fly. I’d fly right home to the place where the idea of wings, flight, wishes, or indeed sparrows was sustainable, he sang, and then put his guitar down. I’ve lived all my life in this cardboard box with a kind of resigned happiness, for the box is almost endless and it is all I know, he said. Somehow, I feel that my true home is a place with trees. Or a place above the trees. A place where I could walk for miles and miles, and the trees—but first the shrubs and bushes and the small summer flowers—would gradually appear as I walk further and further from the people whom I love and who sustain each other in the bitter cold and around the family fire. Would there be sparrows? Before I was born, there was a kind of sparrow-like feeling inside my mother. In my womb, I feel that the idea of wings and flight, wishes, or indeed sparrows is now sustainable, mother said to father one morning as she looked over the ice floes. And later that summer when I was born, my father sharpened his bone knife, the knife that he had made the previous summer from the fin of a large and intelligent sea creature, then decorated himself with the signs and sigils that indicated the place where our little family first came from beneath the moon and stars and between the cold mountains, my father sharpened this knife on a black stone and cut off, first from one side, and then the other, the delicate snow-white wings that grew from each of my shoulders, then severed the dark chain that connected me to my mother, that connected me to her feeling of flight.

Monday, April 20, 2009


A recreated image of Pacman's skull. Reposted from Next Nature
a fascinating site which explores the notion that "There may even come a
moment that our connection with an industrially
manufactured coke bottle may be
and more mythical than our relation
with a genetically analyzed and manipulated rabbit in the woods."


One of the things that I hoped to do with this blog is to post works as they evolve, to illustrate the development, mis-starts, epic wrecks, double-backs, wrong roads, and (hopefully) eventual successful conclusions of works-in-progress. I suppose it is a bad thing for my 'career', however, I guess I don't care. I'd rather engage in meaningful dialogue.

Yesterday, I posted a prose piece entitled "Why I Write." It was, itself, a development from a poem that I published in Vallum magazine a couple of years ago. (I've appended the poem at the bottom of this post.) Today, I've revised both of them and created the following text. Is it the final version? Each version loses something of the previous. Each version gains something. I'll have to wait and see.


My father rolled up our house and walked into the forest. When he arrived at the world’s edge, he turned, pulled up the road, cracked it once like a whip, and folded it into his suitcase. Then he turned and folded up the night.

”I’m going now,” he said, and left.

I pointed to where our house once was, to where the road once was. I pointed to where there once was night.

“We are inside a suitcase,” I said, “a vast suitcase surrounded by birds. The suitcase has neither up nor down, darkness nor night. The suitcase is neither going nor returning from a journey and so contains neither sweaters, undergarments, nor time. Golden clasp light shines from every direction and so our shadows are made of light only; they cast themselves upon every surface. There is flight but no birds, song but no voice, and here in the endless day, we fold ourselves until we are but a single dimensionless point, neither matter nor energy, time nor sorrow, though inside our spaceless chests, we contain a tiny forest, a house, a road. We have a tiny family. We place our serviettes on our miniscule laps, some of us first wiping the corners of our mouths, and the evening meal begins.

(original draft)


In the forest, we were not able to see the trees.
My teacher put them in his suitcase
and walked into the night.

When he got to the edge of the world
he turned and pulled up the road
cracking it once, like a sheet or whip.
He held it under his chin and folded it right.

I pointed. This is the way out of here
but there were no roads.
I pointed. This is our forest
but there was nothing.

The crickets said something that I will not repeat

Six jeweled piglets lapped at the droplets of my brow.
Seven azure swallows brushed their wings against my shadow.
T-shirts are silent, cotton, and easy to launder.

Alllen Ginsberg's Nagasaki Days and a Bicycle

My son Ryan Barwin's short film setting Allen Ginsberg's "Nagasaki Days"
amidst some abandoned industrial buildings in Hamilton, Ontario."


Somewhere in the world is the bicycle which I abandoned for a reason it did not understand then, and, leaning in the half-dark shed at the end of the garden, covered in cobwebs, it still cannot quite fathom. Its small plaintive handlebars, slightly stooped, shrug resignedly and with sorrow, turned toward the bent-nail wall. Small wrinkles show the years of sadness felt by the forehead-sized seat, now twisted somewhat off-centre as it remembers the cheeks of my little apple-round boy bottom, the touch of my pale white hands. One day, we were chased by Lindsay Neville after escaping from his tree house; another, distracted by a shout, we rode full force into a hedge-covered wall. Together we rode into the wind and out of the neighbourhood after my grandfather’s funeral. Many times, we combed the twisting paths of the subdivision noting each tonal shift of street and crescent, of painted garage door and window trim, of cedar hedge, rock garden, and lamppost. One day, I leaned the bicycle against the side of the house and walked away. One day I’d become taller, older, and my father had promised me another.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

White I Write / Whyest Boy Alive

image from Whitest Boy Alive's album "Rules"


My father rolled up our house and walked into the forest. When he arrived at the edge of the world, he turned, pulled up the road, cracked it once like a whip, and folded it into his suitcase. Then he turned and folded up the night.
”I’m going now,” he said, and left.

I pointed to where our house once was. I pointed to where the road once was. I pointed to where the night once was.

“We are inside a suitcase,” I said, “a vast suitcase surrounded by birds. One of these birds has the handle of the suitcase in its beak. It dare not sing else the suitcase fall.”

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Elvis, the Doppler Effect, Coffee, and Trees

A mixed metaphor: my backyard, a pool without liner, fallen tree, dog, Balinese horse sculpture

A few months ago, after thirty years of devotion, I gave up drinking coffee. I was becoming alternately too anxious and too fatigued. Even decaffeinated coffee made me feel like this. I assume that after years of association, my body responded to the stimulus of ‘coffee’ whether or not it contained caffeine. I remember being fifteen and drinking ten cups of coffee and ten glasses of Coke after every dinner time. The feeling of almost flying, of not quite touching the ground, of my mind and body being like a high performance racing car bringing immense forward motion to its negotiations with gravity was exhilarating. But, my middle-aged body, with its middle-aged life concerns isn’t (evidently) (at the moment) able to sustain such a negotiation. I imagine I have to conceive of my relations with the ground as being more tree-like. Roots and branches, intriguing whorls and gnarls, a developing world for birds, insects, and sap. A slower discussion with gravity, a less busy rising, a steady deepening. Stand beside me for a moment for ten years and apprehend the Doppler-modulated whoosh as I speed slowly upwards and downwards, as my roots and branches rush patiently outwards. But that sounds like wisdom. Perhaps instead I’m one of those gold-painted Elvis mimes on a street corner, the slow twist of my painfully kitsch body on a squat milk-carton pedestal attempting to signal to the world around me that once my hips were dangerous, now they attract only dimes.


a plastic coffee lid trucker style
so that the coffee doesn’t spill
even on a bumpy highway:
pull up the plastic tab

and instead of pressing it back
then clipping it to the raised part of the lid
meant for the purpose
push the tab down

fold it under into the cave
of the coffee, the waves of black
liquid lapping under the lid
a dark lapping against a pier

or a landing, the unknown
underbodies of docks or a thrust tongue

Thursday, April 16, 2009


A resonant image in a painting by Eric Claridge.


two roads diverged in a yellow wood
I took one
it doesn’t matter which

I’m not giving it back

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


A great online strip, Topsy the Electrocuted Elephant. Every strip has the same image of Topsy, an electrocuted elephant and some laconic metaphysical captions. One of my favourite cartoons.


without a book, the bookmark helps us know where we are
when we aren’t anywhere


image from the always fascinating Poesy Galore blog.


I knew
the longer I stayed away
the less laundry
there would be
to do
when I returned

I stayed away for
most of the 20th century


you know that feeling
you get when you
approach someone and
expect them to recognize you?

I feel that every time
I walk up to
a new century

Sunday, April 12, 2009



sea changes
colour from
morning until

an eyelid over an eye
a bird
a bird
a sky

the volume of music: width x depth x height

the moon, the azimuth of crowds
the womb, the quickness of clouds

leaves eave
chasing the great white veil
you cannot take the bridal dress
out of province

king of half the world
but which half?

something just under
a ton of bricks

the body is the seasons

tied to a post
when spring comes

a tree

Saturday, April 11, 2009

canoe bikini: dream journal


driving to court
topless as a pink

what to do?
she drives to a canoe store
buys a canoe

the canoe is a bikini top
for a softball team
bases are loaded then court begins

you wear a canoe
I must ask for your paddle

then a geography teacher from grade 11:
you never submitted a vital assignment
now I strip you of high school

the sky a ladder without rings
interstellar clowns
breathe deet down the rudder dark

shtetl drums ruminate low
obsidian breeding
where a javelin bleeds

or rivers


adapted from a recurring dream of my wife's

Friday, April 10, 2009

Moons, Morons, Mormons, Monarchies, Memory, Mortality: Variations On Message

Grindstone Creek in Burlington, Ontario
while waiting for a doctor's appointment,
walking, taking photos with my phone.


a moon is a message to future moons

a moon understands the world by being a moon

the moon is really two moons—or many

it is useful to be a moon, if you are a moon

flight is one way of explaining things

living—and not dying—is another

future moons are the written language of moons

the new moon has the absence of teeth in the old moon’s mouth

shadow exists in the moon dictionary because it is useful

shadow is a moon when it moonlight underwater


a moron is a message to future morons

a moron understands the world by being a moron

the moron is really two morons—or many

it is useful to be a moron, if you are a moron

flight is one way of explaining things

living—and not dying—is another

future morons are the written language of morons

the new moron has the absence of teeth in the old moron’s mouth

shadow exists in the moron dictionary because it is useful

shadow is a moron when it moronic light underwater


a Mormon is a message to future Mormons

a Mormon understands the world by being a Mormon

the Mormon is really two Mormons—or many

it is useful to be a Mormon, if you are a Mormon

flight is one way of explaining things

living—and not dying—is another

future Mormons are the written language of Mormons

the new Mormon has the absence of teeth in the old Mormon’s mouth

shadow exists in the Mormon dictionary because it is useful

shadow is a Mormon when it Mormon light underwater


a Monarchy is a message to future Monarchies

a Monarchy understands the world by being a Monarchy

the Monarchy is really two Monarchies—or many

it is useful to be a Monarchy, if you are a Monarchy

flight is one way of explaining things

living—and not dying—is another

future Monarchies are the written language of Monarchies

the new Monarchy has the absence of teeth in the old Monarchy’s mouth

shadow exists in the Monarchy dictionary because it is useful

a shadow is a Monarchy when it a Monarchy underground


a memory is a message to future memories

a memory understands the world by being a memory

the memory is really two memorys—or many

it is useful to be a memory, if you are a memory

flight is one way of explaining things

living—and not dying—is another

future memories are the written language of memories

a new memory has the absence of teeth in the old memory’s mouth

shadow exists in the memory because it is useful

shadow is a memory when it memory underwater


mortality is a message to future mortals

mortality understands the world by being mortal

mortality is really two mortalities—or many

it is useful to be mortal, if you are mortal

mortality is one way of explaining things

living—and not dying—is another

future mortality is the written language of mortals

the new mortality has the absence of teeth in the old mortal’s mouth

shadow exists in the mortal dictionary because it is useful

shadow is mortal when it is mortal light underwater


a message is a message to future messages

a message understands the world by being a message

the message is really two messages—or many

it is useful to be a message, if you are a message

a message is one way of explaining things

living—and not dying—is another

future messages are the written language of messages

the new message has the absence of teeth in the old message’s mouth

shadow exists in the message dictionary because it is useful

shadow is a message when it a message underwater

Dead in Cuba

Dead in Cuba

It was a family vacation and 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.

One gravedigger was short, built thick and low to the ground like a bulldozer, and had a head of thick, curly grey hair under his backwards ball cap. The other had a lanky, loping aspect to him, and had dark black skin and an easy smile. A laconic commentator on the other’s tour. Both were in their late middle age.

We spoke with them through our barely existent Spanish, through words that we could recognize from English, French, Latin, or some kind of Indo-European stew. We communicated through handsigns, gestures, and some intuitive understanding that comes from addressing fundamental experiences like life, death, sex, family, tragedy, pride, and humour. My family did a lot of reconstructing what we thought was being said while nodding and smiling profusely. We knew they were gravediggers because they pointed down and said “la tierra” (the earth) and made digging motions. Also, they hopped in and out of tombs as we walked around, and demonstrated an obvious pride in their knowledge of the place.

The first man took his hat off when he passed his family’s tomb and the grave of his mother. He mimed the large pregnant belly she must have had sixty years before and held up two fingers. He introduced us to his brother, also a gravedigger. The other finger. He showed us that the brother, his twin perhaps, had a bigger belly. Both of them were thick with muscle from years of digging, carrying, and climbing in and out of tombs.

Then he in fact did jump into a tomb in order explain something in Spanish about earth, poverty, families, and the washing of bones. As far as we could reconstruct, he was saying that poor people are buried in the ground and then disinterred two years later, their bones washed, and then kept in stone ossuary boxes. Families with money are never buried in the earth, but their bones are kept in a large stone box, some kind of sarcophagus. My daughter remembered, here in this communist country, the Animal Farm line about “some are more equal than others.” We all return to the earth, except for those who don’t.

Many families had small mausoleums above their tombs. A doctor had a room the size of a music practice room. Through its glass door, we could see an entire room set up like the doctor’s office. His white coat and stethoscope, medical texts, plaster walls with waiting room photographs, framed qualifications. Another grave had a room memorializing the teenager killed in a motorcycle accident. His painfully fresh-faced portrait was displayed above a small motorcycle protruding out of the wall. A sad message of love and devotion from his parents framed on a mantelpiece. An urn contained his remains. What ‘remains’? This one room in a whole house of memories, loss, and love of family.

“Here,” one of the gravediggers said, taking some leaves from a large graveside plant. “This is good for virility. It is a natural Viagra.” He took off his hat to show his hair. My wife thought he meant that since he and I both had grey hair, we could use the plant. I thought he meant that it would keep us from going bald. When we got home, my son used the coffee grinder to make a potion with the plant. As of this morning, my son isn’t bald.

They directed us to a corner of the graveyard. We thought they were showing us a section for Afro-Cubans and practitioners of Santeria, but it turned out to be a wall of tombs for Cuban soldiers who had fought in Africa, labeled a “Panteon de los Caidos por la Defense” (Pantheon of the Fallen Defenders). The wall looked quite impressive with stone drawers of dead soldiers stacked five high. “The tombs have no names?” I asked. The gravediggers showed us that on the opposite side, there were small signs casually leaning against the bottom of the wall, like pictures waiting to be hung. It seemed like these soldiers—or their names—had only a temporary place here. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I was reminded of the families lovingly tracing the outlines of the names of the soldiers at the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington.

Years ago at a restaurant in Dominican, I ordered some milk for my then two year-old son. My father was concerned that the milk might not be properly pasteurized and so he asked if it was processed and from a can or if it was obtained directly from a local farmer. The waitress spoke no English and my father spoke no Spanish. After a few mutually unintelligible exchanges, my father, in an effort to make himself understood, flapped his arms vigorously like wings and said “Was it flown in, or…” (now, madly simulating milking a cow) “did it come from a cow?” “Flown in? Or from a cow?” he repeated, flapping and milking even more insistently, trying to be understood. The waitress watched all of this impassively, regarding without expression the antics of this earnest but manic tourist. She nodded once, as if understanding, left, and then soon returned to neatly lay a teaspoon down beside my father’s plate. What she understood my father’s actions to mean, how flying and milking could represent a teaspoon, we’ll never know. But I like to tell this story to illustrate how beautifully ridiculous, how touchingly comic communication can be.