Distant Jam

Log Jam

<>

water frozen

are logs jammed 

like iron fists

like parts of one

like time

<>

one spar digging

blunting steely hook on ice,

chipping away tiny sparks

flying large through the air;

landing to rejoin

only a few feet away

<>

we must move the logs

we must move them downstream

the mill blade is hungry

the sun longs to be set free

<>

two spars, now three;

the mean awakened from

thick jointed dreams;

steam plotted revenge,

now a thousand all chipping

clattering in the league air,

each salty bead of sweat

freezing into thicker traps

<>

one, free, now two,

no hope for the others, yet;

the clear rive water

lapping blood

into fresh gashes;

three free, now four,

No more. No more!

<>

one spar stuck

one boot-hold lost

one boot-filler lost,

slipped into the ice

as repayment;

face up-turned

tugged

tossed under the shell

<>

we must move the logs

we must move them downstream

the mill bade is hungry

the corpse longs to be set free

Jan 72

I wanted this piece to be stuck in the middle of the collection. It’s another one with a strong narrative line, easy to understand even without the subtext of being trapped under the ice of a life one didn’t expect to be frozen into. It’s also another piece of testosterone driven masculinity. The return of ‘the muscle-rippled holder of that chainsaw’ only now he’s dealing with the results of his labours.

No, I have never been a lumberjack – nor have I moved logs down stream. I didn’t do any research on log jams for this, nor did I study things trapped in the ice. So I’m not writing about what I know in an experiential sense. But no one has said ‘you got this all wrong.’ I was deliberately working with Canadiana forest tropes as a way of chasing loose the abstract content of the other pieces. 

I enjoy how the story unfolds with the hard work of ice-bound logs, how the number of men increases, the sound of chipping increases, the harness of the ice, the persistence of the loggers as they overcome the jam. The foreshadowing of water being like ‘blood/fresh gashes.’ Then the cost of industry when one of them falls under. There is no rescue attempt.

There is also the movement in the two repeated verses, almost like a song chorus, that changes from ‘sun’ to ‘corpse.’ It is a great piece to perform, as is ‘Woodsman’, & would usual pair them. 

I do have a limited number of the original Distant Music chapbook for sale for $25.00 each (includes surface mail postage). Send via paypal along with where to send it. paypal.me/TOpoet 

Sense of Faith

Week Twelve of The Artist’s Way talks about faith – a sense of spiritual connection that isn’t tied to any particular region or dogma.

‘spirit of the universe

guide me

infuse me

with your dynamic productive energy

as you create through me

works

writing

emotions

that helps open others to

spiritual hope

direction fulfillment

thank you for all’

I wrote the above as one of the Artist’s Way tasks – to write a prayer/affirmation as part of the process of making thought into an action. I recently had a conversation with a friend about prayer. He was concerned that as he held no organized religious beliefs, was his use of prayer hypocritical. Was he  agnostic atheist heretic blasphemer? I told him those terms were based in a Christian construct. As I said that I thought about what Toni Morrison said about the nature of the white gaze which dominates so much of our thinking without us realizing it.

The past few weeks I have been realizing how much of my spiritual ideology is still seen though a Christian gaze, even though I don’t consider myself Christian. The prayer about was written with that gaze over my shoulder, an invisible editor that bargains with the universe in this trade off – like the Biblical trade off in which if you’re good you go to Heaven – we have to be bribed. Why can’t one be good for the sake of being good.

Why can’t I have ‘dynamic productive energy’ without bargaining for it by being of good to others as a result? Can I develop a sense of faith that steps out of the Christian gaze? Even though I say ‘spirit of the universe’ I see that I am engaging with it so as not to appear selfish, or self-serving. That my creativity is only of value if it feeds into the needs of others. Not that I expect faith to exist in a vacuum isolated from culture but I’d like one that doesn’t depend on a culture to approve or validate it. I have faith that that faith is possible 🙂

from Aug 2013

Five Calls

<>

the phone rings

what is it this time

time after time the same

never enough to last a week

if only hanging up could break a jaw

<>

the phones rings

how soon

see you in an hour

the heart dances

faster that the clock ticks

<>

the phone rings

how did you get this number

I don’t want to talk to you

there’s nothing left to say

that’s the price you have to pay

<>

the phone rings

stirring me from dreams

into the charms arms hold

everything to anticipate

nothing to resist

<>

the phone rings

have you heard

didn’t expect to be the one

left here dial tone dangling

cold receiver of sobs

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M M M

Mano Solo: La Marmaille Nue (1993). This is a pleasant stand-alone cd that I picked up in Montreal back in 1994. The music is frisky – a perfect combination of Kurt Weill & Jacques Brel with a dash of the musical Cabaret – sort of what Rufus Wainwright was aiming for 🙂 Songs about love, beer & man’s indifference to man. A great introduction to French music.

Then there’s Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch: Music For The People (1991) a great introduction to music by guys who looked good in underwear. Was he decent rapper? Who knows. The album itself is brilliantly produced. The borrow of Good Vibrations featuring Loretta Holloway – works because the original is a dynamic & Marky rides that piano wave. The same for his re-imagining of Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side. What ever happened to the Funky Bunch? I guess they didn’t want movie careers.

More M with Gay Marvine: Secret Fixes Mixes; It’s Bath House Etiquette! A couple of very queer dance collections remixed by Marvine. He has an ear for old school disco & I love his tracks. These are part of a 7.3 hr mp3 cd collection that also includes – Boots: Aquaria – electro dance;  Disclosure: Caracal (Deluxe) – more fun electro dance; Ab Soto: Mr. Soto electro dance with a latino funky beat & great queer, sex-postive lyrics; Julio Bashmore: Knockin’ Boots – guess what: gas positive elctro dance music;  Manila Luzon: Eternal Queen – one of the many dance diva drag queen discovered by Drag Race. Higher energy & I love ‘Bitch I’m A Bottom’ 

Finally on this collection is the retro-classic Joe Bataan: Anthology – more of that high energy stuff with a real latino grounding & less electronic. Bataan reaches back to the early days of disco. Yet he fits in perfectly with the more recent work by Ab Soto.


“We thought he had just left us. Abandoned us for decadent western living. That’s what the authorities told us. That our Dad couldn’t cope with his responsibilities to the State. He didn’t love us enough to come home. They showed us letters from him that said that. Our mother didn’t recognize the handwriting. We sent Christmas cards but now I doubt if he ever got our letters or cards to him. Once he had defected that was it.”

“But he did care for you. I remember he was so proud to have sons, and was so sad that he couldn’t be there with you.”

“Then why did he leave us there. We never really understood then. Going though his papers here I find that he spent a lot of time trying to get them to let us join him here but they blocked him at every turn. Your government didn’t help. I doubt they even tried.

“Not my area, as they say. There’s a point were everything is classified, so who knows what the truth is. Could have been some bureaucrat didn’t trust him and that was that.”

Vasili nodded. “Yes we have learned how much was suppressed over the years. It helps a bit now but then we thought it was all his fault. Particularly when our mother died. We had no one. We expected him to show up at the funeral. I don’t know if he knew she had passed away.”

“Things have changed. I hope.”

“Not that it is much better here in the long run. Do you know anything about that time he was assaulted.”

“Not much, just that it happened.”

“He ultimately died from his injuries from that assault. In his papers there’s a letter from the country prosecutor stating that they don’t press charges because the men involved would claim he had sexually interfered with them.”

“What!”

‘It went on to say that even if this wasn’t true, such an allegation would be difficult to disprove and did he want to have this taint on his public reputation. He could be deported.”

My Dad’s remarks about Mr. Razov now made sense to me.

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Distant Shadow Dance

Distant Shadow

where is the mountain pass?

<>

I need you

but the mountain

is in my way

<>

if I cross

I can never return

for I am the mountain

while my need for you

is the mountain pass

Oct/70

I love the way this piece doubles in on itself – a spiral that rewrites what you have read by the time to get to the end. I had been reading books on Zen by this time. Partly to step out of the culture I felt trapped in & partly to seem more intellectual than I really was. I’m not sure how much I understood of them at the time but they sure looked good on my book shelf. 

It’s another poem to a non-existent ‘you.’ The shadow was perhaps the fear of coming out? There’s also a realization that we often stand in our own way & until we learn to get over ourselves there is no progress. Maybe getting older was the shadow because as we age we can only remember but never get back.

Persephone Danced

I hear carousel music

when I want a lullaby

a dreamy hand to cover

this melody I can’t control –

who will I kill today?

<>

Persephone danced for Gauguin;

Medusa carved for Rodin;

ears bled for Van Gogh;

children laughed for clowns;

who will we kill today?

<>

let’s hang the clown,

railroad the circus out of town;

leave him sway till he rots;

who will we kill today –

ha, let’s hang all the clowns

JN76

I am a fan of Gauguin. I had prints of his painting hanging on my walls. The adventure of his life, the escape to the Pacific, were ideal fantasy fodder for me. If I had gone to French Polynesia it certainly would have been the native men I would have fallen for. I read & reread a biography I had of him. I had the Time-Life art series ‘The World of …’ so I was familiar with the works of Rodin; Van Gogh. They were thwarted geniuses – just like I was 🙂

I’m not sure how this poem segues from verse to verse – dance music painting sculpture – all fine arts, I suppose, but the connecting tissue is lacking. I’m also not sure where this penchant for hanging, or for clowns came from either. Maybe the face painters present to the world is a painting hung on a wall – like clowns presenting their painted faces to the world?

I do have a limited number of the original Distant Music chapbook for sale for $25.00 each (includes surface mail postage). Send via the paypal above along with where to send it. paypal.me/TOpoet 

Mandrill Fudge

I put these two American progrock groups onto an mp3 cd filed under M for Mandrill (out of Brooklyn, NY.) They are paired with the much better known Vanilla Fudge out of Long Island, NY. NY is the only thing these bands have in common 🙂 

Vanilla Fudge’s slow extended heavy rock arrangements of contemporary hit songs established them as a progrock band. Baroque organ, pile driving drumming & often overwrought vocals laid the ground work for decades of heavy metal bands that followed. 

I have their first Vanilla Fudge; The Beat Goes On; Renaissance; Near The Beginning; Rock & Roll; their return in 2015: Spirit of ’67. The first is my high school soundtrack & I’ve had several copies of the lp. I loved polarized yellow & red cover & of course the ‘meaningful’ music. I hated ‘The Beat Goes On’ the followup, which is turns out they hated it too – a pretentious mishmash  they blame on their producer. I edited it down to just the music.Renaissance is perhaps my favourite & their most progrock lp despite it’s hideous cover art. Season of the Witch get’s worked over. By the live Near The Beginning – their sound had become sludge & predictable with now aimless drum/organ solos; with Rock & Roll – tempo picks up, more original songs appear but their moment had passed. They made a decent return in 2015 with Spirit of ’67 – an excellent collection of re-imagining of songs like The Letter.

There was a wide range of progrock that sprung from Vanilla Fudge: Deep Purple, ELP, Yes. But these were rock. Then there was Mandrill out of Brooklyn, NY. Their’s is an rootsy, soul, r’n’b, African mix that took prog in a different funkier direction. I have mixed in with Vanilla Fudge – Mandrill; Mandrill Is; Composite Truth; Just Outside of Town; Energize.

Their sound is a gritty version of Chicago – full horn section, percussion, rock guitar. Great vocals. Songs about love, ghetto life, racism & hope. Long extended jams, almost jazz explorations & of course a couple of pieces that cover one side of an lp. They never really had a hit single (that showed up on the Cape Breton charts anyway.) There are dozens of these lost bands & this is one worth searching out of you want your progrock on the soulful side. 

“So you were one of his new family?” Vasili pushed the beer bootle in the pool of sweat that had formed around it.

“Not for long. He coached the chess club for a few years. I was part of the team for the last few months before … he stopped.”

Vasili pushed his hair back with one hand – the hairs on the back of his hand almost as black & thick as the hair on his head. We had chatted briefly at the viewing. Only a few people had come.

“He would write us long letters about new his life here in Canada. How hard it was for him not to have us with him. After he defected we were taken from our mother least she leave with us.”

“I didn’t realize he was that important.” 

“Oh yes. He was … someone the government was proud of, a hero to the people, like … a cosmonaut. I later found out we where held as a threat. They told him would be harmed if he didn’t come back. We weren’t, you know, harmed. At least not directly by them. We kids were never told what happened. One day we were living with our mother and when we came home from school militia put us in a car & drove us to the farm where we grew up. No explanation. We didn’t get his letters until years later. Many years later.”

I wanted to say ‘how sad’ but there seemed nothing I could say that didn’t sound weak.

“He showed us pictures of his family. He missed you and …. didn’t know how to do anything.” 

Pushing my memory back those twenty years wasn’t easy. I’ve had so many of my own issues to stumble over and forgot Mr. Razov after a year or so. “Teenagers can be so self-centred.”

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Distant Caught

Caught Hard

<>

1

<>

dull dark day

desperately dawns

clinging coldly

to night clouds;

little mists of mares

floating doggedly

over murky dreams

<>

I am fighting,

fighting so hard 

for an empty room –

a glass trophy

it can’t last,

it mustn’t last,

this fighting alone,

on the dew-wet grass

so close to home;

with the fleshly born

morning sunrise

<>

just by being here

to see the fight

you become the fight;

another shadow-boxing affair

reflected from bottles

reflecting across walls

fighting for each word you speak

<>

I am dying

that everyday death

we each die

<>

fighting in only

the best of surroundings,

soundings & singers,

all dying in fighting –

fighting off fits of laughter

I feel exploding

each inner pondering


like a sledge hammer

smashing each happy stone

<>

returning sensations

of pleasure

white in the night

feeling close while

coming to an end

<>

caught hard

up in the air

without a handful of  much

just loose strings of things

of other satisfied things

to keep me for giving in

to consuming everything

in one final bite

<>

2

<>

I’ve heard the hangman

many times today;

why do I feel so cold

a-sway in the summer sun?

swing peacefully

in the hangman’s hot breath?

he’s trying to melt me down

so I can be sold

in bits

and

pieces

<>

3

<>

many times,

screaming inside

he cannot bear

to have me sway

to any breath

but his:

up the stairs

up the stairs

no one cares

except for the hangman

filling his pockets

with meltings

<>

I am free

to fall

I am free

to get up

I am free yet feel so lost

<>

if I am not a fossil

why do I feel so old?

if I am not reincarnated

why do I feel so unborn?

tiny & afraid

summer sun waiting

for someone to touch

if I am not wisdom

why do I feel so foolish 

out of these words?

am I the end of time

drizzled with smiling sun

in your early morning suddenness?

<>

if I am not dynamite

why do I feel like fighting

every time I think of you?

<>

the sun cannot melt

through to the middle

yet I feel myself slipping

up the stairs

up the stairs

away from the sun

that needs me melted

so we can start winter

<>

4

<>

the hangman has seen me crying

the hangman has been free dying

to reach out & cut the rope

to end my all-day dangling

<>

if I am not a hanged man

why do my feet

never seem to touch the ground?

<>

if there is no rope

around my neck

what holds me in place

keeping me from falling?

Jan71/Jan73/July74/June76

Welcome to alliteration 🙂 All those d’s, c’s, m’s are perfect for waking you up in the morning. Looking back now I see how this piece reflects some of the anti-materialist hippie counterculture of the early 70’s. People fed up with working hard for nothing – employee of the month with no real sense of satisfaction. Hearing songs about that by pop stars who became millionaires.

I was/am not a particularly pugnacious guy so all this boxing/fighting imagery seems more like masculine bravado. There was some inner turmoil often both fuelled by & hidden by alcohol: “another shadow-boxing affair/ reflected from bottles.” The turmoil was creative: what can I write to make me rich; it was also sexual – the fight to express myself & not be judged. 

This piece moves with a looping of repeated images that eave in & around each other, the hangman, the sun, melting, fighting in different combinations as it literally fights to find cohesion & meaning. I see it now as the struggle for identity – to find one in the world around me. 

‘your early morning suddenness’ seems to hint of a romantic involvement that didn’t exist at that time. Fear kept me emotionally frozen, this is what was to be melted so I could enter the world with the cold mask of creativity to protect me.

All these rhetorical questions spring from the hippie search for self – where you going Billy? How many roads must a man walk down? The hangman makes a return here but in a less playful way. Then in that last verse we get rhyme! Something that I generally avoided then (& now). 

The piece is stitched together from various pieces as the dates at the end indicate. I had them in note books & felt they resonated with each other. The ’74 take was when I pulled them together. ’76 was the final edit for the chapbook & I resequenced them for flow & to create the illusion of depth.

https://topoet.ca/2019/04/26/caught-hard-1971-76/

I do have a limited number of the original Distant Music chapbook for sale for $25.00 each (includes surface mail postage). Send via the paypal above along with where to send it.

paypal.me/TOpoet 

Distant House

Empty House

something strange is pining by candle-light

moves to touch me, as deadly day bright falls

away to church shadows gracing bare walls

with the open deepness of a cruel night

the harsh angles become soothed in my sight

while the flames make the corners softly warm

so I can begin to feel safe from harm

hidden, in this room, from thoughts of flight 

I lit candles to share my loneliness

remembering you said you liked the glow

the way it would fill my room, you know,

with such mystery as tender closeness

I hope both ends burning can fill me too

for I’ve been an empty house without you

The lines are longer than usual, for me. The images are carefully honed for uniformity & clarity. There is a more Catholic undertone to this that I realized at the time I wrote it. The lighting of candles is a very Catholic ritual. At this time I enjoyed candles, those scented ones where very popular. Even Zeller’s had a rack of them.

There’s also that trope of writing by candle light, which I did try a few times but it was far to dim & not pretentious enough without an audience. I sense some Dylan Thomas in the use of language here –  those church shadows – deepness of a cruel night. Or maybe that’s Procol Harum 🙂

Another piece about lost love, unrequited love & the longing that goes with it. More than a touch of self-pity – woe is me alone in the dark & being very romantic about it all. I sure enjoyed melodrama in those days. Maybe it tries too hard to be poetic as it verges on greeting card for that ending.

It also has a veneer of heterosexual love about it. Not that gender is specified. I was fumbling with my own coming out, claiming to be bi & so adopted this ambiguous sexuality in my writing. In fact there is no lust in this piece. I’m writing about the finer love that transcends the physical 🙂 There was no one in my life then anyway so I was not left to feel like an empty house. The piece is a pose not an experience.

I do have a limited number of the original Distant Music chapbook for sale for $25.00 each (includes surface mail postage). Send via the paypal above along with where to send it.

paypal.me/TOpoet 

Transcendence

The Toni Morrison bio-documentary/interview A Life In Pieces is amazing. One reviewer was quoted as saying something like ‘she has transcended race in this latest book’ – the implication being that this is a good thing that makes her an even better writer. You know I’ve never read a review of novel/books by authors such as Joyce Carol Oates or Stephen King that says that they transcended race, or gender.

One of the things that Morrison said was that she decided not to explain issues in her characters lives but to merely present them because she felt her black readers would already understand & she felt no need to tell them the why of what they already knew. This resonated with me as I often felt need to give my queer characters backstories that explained their coming out – something I still find in movies & novels about the queer experience – explaining things for the heterosexual gaze. There is more to my life than my coming-out experience.

As my poetry became less concerned with explanations or making emotions universal I did get some negative feed back for being too insular – very similar to critical response to some of Morrison’s work that was too race oriented to be ‘quality’ literature. That is until she transcended race. Which I don’t think she really did, or had to do, it’s just that the culture around her became more educated & caught up to her.

I have a few of her novel on my shelf that I may reread. I did download her book of essays ‘The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations’ & have bumped it up to the front of the read next on my Kindle. I’m in the middle of two other books on it now & can’t start yet another one until one of them is finished. Emile Zola’s “La joie de vivre” & Koji Suzuki’s Edge – both amazing & highly recommended.

(from July 2007)

Racking Up Bonus Miles

more never leads to enough 

satisfaction is a sigh of defeat

too much stuff is a nice beginning

the constant scratch seeking struggle 

doesn’t matter if it fulfills a need

or even a want

it’s just stuff

lots and lots of stuff

fill every nook & cranny

empty is a sign of defeat

bare space isn’t spare simplicity

it is need poverty

only the rich can afford empty space

which they fill with their satisfaction

satisfaction is defeat

more is better than equality

<>

life is a pointless staring glazed at TVs

that aren’t big enough

too much empty space

between the neutrons 

making up picture 

it’s too easy to fall between the cracks

in the waiting glazed fumble

give me stuff or give me breath mints

<>

bursting at the seams is a start

time to look for bigger seams

to get more stuff in

stuff the up the cracks

stuff up your ass

stuff stuff stuff

<>

how good it feels

to bring home bags of unopened books

the smell of the paper

the space between letters

waiting to be filled

new cds flash in the sunset

as I peel plastic skin off them

new shoes not laced yet

new helicopters new tanks

to keep our boys safe in war

war that never gets enough

there is no such thing as enough death

no quenching that hunger

<>

that smokey smell

is life burning away the past 

to make space for the future

why learn lessons

there are new mistakes to be made

mistakes like forgetting 

that more never leads to enough

satisfaction is a sigh of defeat

too much is surrender

will that be cash or visa

you get more bonus miles with visa

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Stratford July Day Trip

sky over 401 as we set out
tarts galore at The Shakespeare Pie Shop
sky over The Shakespeare Pie Shop
dining a la fresco at Features
new Tom Patterson
other side of the new Tom Patterson
another view of the new Tom Patterson
paddleboats on the Avon

for more about the trip & more photos see Stratford Protocol  https://topoet.ca/2020/07/24/stratford-protocol/ 

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Stratford Protocol

Earlier this week we took a day trip to Stratford. This is the first summer in decades I haven’t seen show there, & the first time since the 50’s my partner hasn’t seen a show there. Neither have never been there when they wasn’t a show running. Unlike out usual visits there we didn’t have to pack as much in the way of snacks & fluids 🙂

With most of the province inching into phase 3 I was curious to see just what that meant outside of the golden horseshoe. We left later than usual, no rush to get there for 2 pm curtain. The weather was perfect. The traffic was the usual with slowdowns outside of Kitchener. Our first stop was the Tim’s at the edge of Cambridge. 

Masks on & in we went. No seating but washrooms were open, on request, one person at a time. Follow the arrows to the exit please. Staff masked & gloved. Coffee up to their standards. From there we took the New Dundee Road though New Dundee, Haysville & on to Shakespeare, This was the only major slowdown for highway work being done on the intersection there. 30 mins while road-plows plowed the road. It seems university guys aren’t doing construction this year to pay their tuition 😦

It was worth the wait for our next stop: the Pie Shop. There we bought chicken pot pies, lemon tarts & other nutritious snacks. On to Stratford for lunch at Features.

Yes Features was open for ‘take-out’ only. But they had patio tables set up & brought your order to your table. The town had more people than expected wandering in & out of the fudge stores. But the Festival theatres were all shut down even the gift shops. With so little tourist traffic the town opted not to do any gardening along sidewalks etc.

We did drive around to see the new Theatre. The rush for opening has allowed them to take their time with landscaping. The lots was fenced off so I didn’t get any real close up photos. People in paddle boats on the Avon was out matinee performance 🙂

Drive home was good. Road workers on lunch break as we passed through Shakespeare. One last stop at the Pork Shop for their excellent pulled pork. Home by 4:30. exhausted by all that sitting, taking photos & enjoying the scenery? Maybe we’ll hit Niagara-on-the-Lake for an August day trip. A big maybe because there isn’t even a favorite restaurant we miss there.