Distant Tartan

Tartan Africa

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1 – Africa

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Africa genesis

so far from the Louvre

Africa Baroque

in thick damp brown earth

Sahara sands

drums rain jungle

lion black man

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mother mother

I’ve wandered so far from home

this time & every time

the gate was left open

building destroying
enjoying

finding myself so far

from so many old home weeks

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I would make Africa my home

take her

lover her forever

in torrential river beds

waterfalls
endless grassy antelope zebra plains

waterholes

birthplaces

leopard spots tiger stripes

so far from snow

so close to my pillow

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2 – Never Never Land

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it would be too hot

it would rain too much

I’d never understand their customs

never ride a camel

never drink the water

never touch their women

never sleep in their huts;

I could never do much

except this sitting,

smiling, laughing, drinking

reaching to touch

with pocketed hands

never never never never

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even in the darkest sky

there is al least one star

I wonder where you are

I wonder who you are

Tribale twinkle

in the Paris night

by there tower;

could I reach out

could I touch you?

the Tower is too high

I am too weary

cheery

lilting

song birds in a thousand cages

on a dusty side street

in an Arab bazaar,

singing to be bought

but not set free;

never could survive

for being trapped so long

they have no instincts left

death would be their survival

if I bought them all

to set them free

so I won’t

besides I don’t have enough money

it would take too long

to open every cage

it would never work

never never never never

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3 – Tartan

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tartan country

Gaelic

coal mines

crying masladh

dieing dean bacach

sifting sandily

the rust dust air

struggle bosdail

while clinging to the seachad

the good old days

clans

Royalists

fortresses

Metrople la France

too bad it can’t be ended

too good to be believed

so much calmer than the mainland pace

creaking down hill it seems

if you read it in their papers

if you believe in their bad dreams

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time is slowly changing

in the land of endless hills

twisting Cabot Trails

sunset autumn trees

that even when you go

it has you coming back

for final peace

on its unpaved roads

shady Sugar Loaf’s

falling away now

to the unhaltable

eating up of everything

by prosperity 

with its more more more

high-rise hotels & all

but kill ‘er gently b’ys

‘cause ‘er kids are tough 

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4 – Africa Too

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Africa mother

I know you are so close

I sense your warmth

yet cannot touch you

the stars are hidden

by cotton candy-clouds

drifting too slowly

monkeys screaming

elephants trumpeting

rhinos charging

through the dusky morning mists

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none of its is really there now;

in Africa, I mean.

the wild is in parks;

houses is rows

schools

doctors

I Love Lucy

in the Heart of the Darkest Continent

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it would do no good

to shut the gate

I would only climb the fence

or push it down;

running scared, down the street,

away from revenge

crawling back at night for safety

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Ahhh Africa,

the oldness of Egypt

growing up 

into snotty street punks

makes me want to cry

to die to

keep the rich raw earth

feelings in my mouth

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5 – Tartan Fading

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when I try to speak

of this Smokey Island

I cannot find

the right combination

of tartan cobwebs

to spin into a picture

of coal-dust steel-plant flower beds,

growing the heather of tarns;

the ice winter of dreams

the laughter of the people

moving & flowing alive

in the salt smell of coal sea air

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Jan.Feb/Mar73

Over time I’ve come to see this as one of the ‘better’ pieces in the chapbook. It reveals more about growing up Cape Breton than any of the others. Even with the abstract moments it is a good snap shot of my sense of displacement as I search for a sense of safe haven.

It opens with any array of African clichés – a distant place I knew very little about & much of that thanks to Tarzan & similar safari movies populated with fully dressed white dudes & a panoply of half-naked black men. It is a dream retreat in this first section.

It is not so dreamy in the second part with my list of realistic drawbacks. I’m also caught by the distance of that Paris escape, another place far from me, from my artistic longings. Like birds caged so long the freedom of Africa would kill me? The closest I ever got to that wild was already in cages.

The third section drops us into Cape Breton with another list of cliches with a decent dash of Gaelic. The economy there was becoming unstable with long-time major industries struggling in the world market. Tourism was always strong there & was to become even more important so the twisting Cabot Trail was no longer for the locals 🙂 There was an exodus of generations who had family ties & nostalgic roots that kept pulling them back.

Four takes me back to Africa where like Cape Breton tourist dollars, exploiters needs were controlling the continent. The ancient history seemed to be confined to Egypt as seeing though colonist exploiter’s eyes. Even today I see documentaries where talking heads are astonished that such primitive tribe could produce such fine artifacts -ahem – maybe they weren’t so primitive.

I had seen on TV around that time, early 70’s, that I Love Lucy reruns were the most popular TV show in the world, that she was watched in every country. They showed glimpses of her being watch by natives in huts in Africa. I was watching Lucy in Cape Breton – she represented an American culture that was not mine or theirs. So where does our cultural sense of self come from, when what is under our feet gets co-opted by a materialistic monolith without us even being aware of it.

In the end I am left with a wistful nostalgia for Cape Breton – which isn’t where I was born, but Manitoba where I was born has no resonance. I was a man searching for more than a sense of heritage, more than the concept of home but for a sense of safe haven.

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