Small

Small

I am small in public

I try to take up as little space as possible

my stiff arms are held

as close to my body 

as my muscles can make them

I do not brush up against anyone

I don’t look them in the eye

I sit were I am out of the way

I make room for others

others whose right to the air I breath

is greater than mine

I am infringing

on the need of more valuable people

to take up all the space

they deserve

I shun attention

<>

I am large in private

I dance around the room

I sprawl on chairs

spread my legs wide

take up as much space as I can

I breath

I laugh out loud

I don’t watch where I’m going

my shoulders brush the wall

I can make contact with anything

in private I am free

in public I am caged

The endless rules for Buddhist monks cover in detail nearly every aspect of their lives & many merely refine the previous one. But we humans have our own set of unwritten rules of behaviour that are more cultural conditioning than anything else. 

All of these rule poems were written pre-covid & some of them seem prescient about social distancing, masking in public – cages to control behaviour, that even as restrictions are lifted, some people are happy to maintain. I, for one, often felt that restaurant tables were mashed in too tight – so tight I sometime knocked over drinks on one table while squeezing into the next one. In some situations one can’t make themselves small enough. Don’t stand next to me, or if you, don’t breathe.

It’s also about the ‘mask’ we often wear. Being nice to people who we can’t stand, demeaning bosses, manipulative romantic partners, attention & energy vampire who count on us maintaining some mask polite behaviour that becomes approval of their actions. To speak up becomes being ‘a wet-blanket’ ‘not sense of humour’ ‘don’t be so judgemental’ or ‘like or lump it.’

Social conventions are cages to protect us from each other, I suppose, & like clothing, they hide our private thoughts from the world.


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Malfunction

Malfunction

it was a costume malfunction

not that I was wearing a costume

but the phrase

has become a catch-all

for any apparel slip-up

a top with

too much cleavage

for the airline

shorts that allow 

the balls to dangle

when sitting down

a mini that prevents

the wearer from bending over

without revealing

more than panties

<>

the source of the phrase

costume malfunction

resulted in a corporate shaming

of a black female entertainer

she was shunned

her records her videos banned

who often revealed even more

than that malfunction made public

took the opportunity

to retire from the public light

she was sick tired bored

of no longer being a person

but a product

whose packaging

had replaced the contents

<>

not that my malfunction

revealed anything in public

it was reserved for private

to invite my carefully chosen view

to put his ‘fun’

into my malfunction

When I was younger, slimmer, more adventurous I had a oversized, mechanic’s one piece work coverall , that buttoned up the front. I would hit my favorite gay bar dance floor wearing that with just a jockstrap underneath. I found wearing it made me feel incredibly sexy. It was fashion look that didn’t catch on though – gay guys were more into little satin shorts & tank tops. 

There some who sported black leather, buttless chaps. But even in these somewhat private spots that naked ass was as bare as men would get. I never saw anyone wandering around with dick out for all to see. Even in my few visits to the baths – towels on outside of one’s room, or the showers, or the actual steam room, was enforced. Men could be on their beds in those little rooms, door propped open enough for passers-by to get a good look at what was offered. 

The showbiz manipulation of body image has a long history for exploiting the assets of its female ‘stars’ but when it came to males it was slightly different. Shirtless was fine but some male stars were discourage from bathing suit shots unless they wore loose trunks. Costume designers were tasked with making sure pants, shorts would never betray what lay beneath. Male actors were tucking their tackle long before drag made it mandatory. 

Body shame runs rampant though North American culture with celebs being praised for looking astonishingly good at 62 in their bathing suits or getting lavished with praise for losing weight & finally looking astonishingly good in their bathing suits. Lists of what not wear over a certain age, in public, unless you looking astonishingly good in a bathing suit.

One of my disappointments in Tarzan, or Beach Party movies was the lack of male bulge. Today’s male superheroes have dynamic abs but Ken doll groins.We can’t frighten teen-age fan boys & girls with such offensive sights. Her superhero bodysuit reveals camel toe while his reveals how well he can tuck.

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Good Looks

Good Looks

I wasn’t looking at you

I wasn’t looking at anyone

no one is looking at anyone

<>

we don’t even look at ourselves

expect through a lens

of memory

of perception

of cultural filters

of digital accuracy

<>

I don’t want to see anyone

not directly

so as not to give rise

to inaccurate expectations

to misinterpretation of the glance

<>

we all just want

to find our place

without bumping into anyone

without having to look 

where we are sitting

<>

look up

is to make unwanted contact

visual acknowledgements

are not to be allowed

they lead to

well

no one knows what they lead to

it is better not to take that chance

<>

I’m not looking at anyone

at anything

no one looks at me

life is serene

Many years ago a discredited televangelist was accused of giving another man a ‘homosexual’ look in a spa locker room. Decades ago a man in Australia was found not-guilty of murderer because he experienced a ‘homosexual panic’ because of the way another man looked at him. The eyes have been weaponized.

Sexual harassments suits have cited the way other employees looked at the accuser – focused too long on legs, buttocks, chest. I’m not sure how long ‘too long’ is – the punch line ‘my eyes are up here’ underlines the need to direct our gaze anywhere but at the anatomy. Yet not looking someone in the eyes is seen as hiding something, of being shifty – looking them in the eye is being accusatory or invasive of their privacy. 

Hence the power of hand held devices to avoid those treacherous waters. Soon, like modern cars, they’ll have a proximity alert to let you know how close you are to bumping into someone, or something, because   they are in our blindspot. Maybe they’ll develop a way to give people who are too close a slight shock to alert them to ‘get back.’ 

As a kid I remember wishing I had Superman’s x-ray vision that allows him to look through things – though unlike x-rays he saw them as objects not outlines or ghosts. I always wanted to send away for x-ray glasses I saw in the back of comics that supposedly did the same thing so I could use them to see through clothing, or through walls to watch people undressing. Google tells me some were merely plastic glasses filled with cardboard that had a depiction of the things you could see if you had x-Ray vision 😦 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-ray_specs)

I’m sure if I was wearing them in public my eyes would be covered so no one would accuse of giving them a homosexual look. I’ll stick to my wrap around sunglasses.


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Gunn Mann

Soundtrack composers are easy to dismiss for the mass appeal of their work – populist & therefore shallow. Henry Mancini is one such composer. The range of his musical ability is staggering when one looks at the span of his career. Academy awards only testify to the popularity of his work not of its quality.

Also with time, even his timeless pieces have taken on a sort of nostalgic campy quality. A song like Moon River seems quaint. I have always loved his music for Peter Gunn & have the original TV soundtrack. When you get past the Arch of the Cue Balls you have a fine, state-of-the-jazz art album that can stand with anything by, say, Horace Silver.  Quincy Jones Plays Mancini is a great set of covers. I love Baby Elephant Walk.

I guess I am a Herbie Mann fan, at least of his work up to the mid-70’s. The first Herbie Mann I heard was Push Push way back in 1971. I loved it & the use of harp in jazz was a revelation. I had that lp & replaced it with the cd. I found the double lp Evolution of Mann remaindered at Zellers & it covered the earlier part of his career, eventually I did the conversion from lp to cd. Stone Flute, & Gagaka I also had as lps at one time & both are stunning sets.

As mp3 I have by Herbie Mann:  Flute Flight 1957, Flute Soufflé 1957, Do The Bossanova 1962, The Complete Latin Band Sessions w Chick Corea 1965, Impressions of the Middle East 1966, Gagaku & Beyond 1976, Two Amigos 1990 w Dave Valentine, Beyond Brooklyn 2004 w Phil Woods. Stand-alones: lp to cd transfer of Evolution of Mann: a sort of hits collection; Stone Flute 1969 meditative with strings includes stunning take on The Beatles ‘Flying’, Push Push 1971 w Duane Allman Gene Bianca on harp. 

Mann was a world music fan before it was on trend. He explored Latin, Japanese, Northern Africa music with musicians from those areas. He steeped himself  in the sound & sensibility & co-created memorable music. I love the Gagaku work. Where to start? I’d go with Push Push. Don’t let his hairy shoulders put you off.

Rounding out the Mann mp3 cd compilations are: Wes Montgomery: Fingerpickin’, Moving’ Along. Early work by Wes with his trademark fluid jazz guitar. Stanley Jordan: Magic Touch – modelled after Wes, another deft guitarist. Art Pepper: The Trip – excellent sax with more of a hard bop edge. Some mid 50’s sleaze adventures, where you feel the tassels twirling around your nose as you listen: Strip Tease 50’s Classics: by the likes of Dave Rose, Sonny Lester – songs like Strip Poker, The Stripper; Buddy Bregman: Swinging Kicks. Burlesque A Go-Go: various rock-a-billy for peelers.

Perhaps the ultimate Bond soundtrack by John Barry: Goldfinger. Shirley Bassey delivers the best Bond title song of all time. Finally as a break from all that:  Don Slepian: Electronic Music From The Rainbow Isle – a moog, computer music pioneer; Szatvari Csaba: Galilei’s Nightmare – new ageish sound textures.

Take The Plunge

the room was full

maple leaves sumac oak

aspen poplar beech

more leaves than the eye could see

could gave names to

rose lilac no flowers just leaves

stacked

each one tagged 

ready to be discarded

<>

leaves fluttering chafing rustling

at each breath I took

whispering to each other

that I was there

shuddering 

at the sight of my rake

they feared the rake

<>

the brown big bag behind my back

wasn’t going to hold them all

I’d need more bags

more rakes

<>

the leaves trembled in anticipation

to be stuffed crammed

longing to be taken outdoors

to become compost

for future leaves

<>

I didn’t know where to begin

were there stairs

the house was crammed

floor to ceiling

nothing could be seen

leaves crumbling 

stumbling 

over one another

more arrived every minute

squeezing though cracks in the wall

down the chimney

<> 

it was an endless task

I began raking 

pulling them from under chairs

bag after bag

line the curb

yet the house never emptied

all around me 

the swirl of leaves

green red black pointed waxy

I couldn’t get down the stairs

my rake was useless

they no longer had fear

no bags left and there were more

<>

catalpa palm smoke tree

I climbed out to the porch roof

the street was an ocean

the bags I had tenderly packed

had all broken open

children where running and playing

diving through the leaves

never touching the ground

unaware of the dangers

beneath the glorious tempest of leaves

<>

I took the plunge

(2008)

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Just A Sip

Just A Sip

how kind

a cup of blood for me

fresh 

warm to the touch

I can’t thank you enough

has it been checked

I mean I don’t want to sound

ungrateful

but even the starving

have to show some caution

these days

<>

I once

broke out in hives

from contaminated blood

things like that happen

when you are starving

you lose all sense of caution

of self-preservation

in my younger days

I could smell the blood

& tell how pure it was

<>

now all it smells of is

drink me

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The Late Charlie C Petch

I suppose I should start with the disclaimer – I’ve known Charlie over 20 years. We met when I immersed myself in the Toronto spoken word scene in 1999 at the Renaissance Cafe (now a butcher shop) when Valentino Assenza’s Cryptic Chatter was in flower. At that time Charlie hadn’t embarked on the arc of a life that took him from female cultural gender drag to his present trans masculine reality. An arc that can be on going.

The pieces in ‘Why I Was Late’ follow some of that arc. I’ve heard several them many times over years & appreciate Charlie’s ability to rewrite what you’ve just read with a closing line. This is writer who knows the power of the right ending – as opposed to the obvious ending. Charlie never takes the easy way out, never underestimates the intelligence of a reader to understand.

Directly or indirectly the pieces deal with growing up while living in a rigidly gendered culture – one in which even colours are not allowed to be neutral – i.e. pink for girls – serious writers wear blacks, greys & purples. But colour coding & print fabric condemnations are another post. 

Charlie’s piece about being a lighting rigger shows how females in traditional male occupations have to struggle with the cultural acceptance that it is the females fault if men find them attractive. They become as adept at fending off uncalled for male attention as they do at doing their job. I suspect many females avoid those professions, not because they can’t do them but to avoid dealing with men’s rampaging testosterone.

Simple, direct language makes these pieces accessible to everyone. This a book of lived-in experience not of abstract musings on the silence of snow or the lambent light on prairie wheat but of people enjoying, struggling with the demanding emotions of self-realization, of stepping out of the culturally dictated colour codes & into the power to be.

Now in its second-printing this Brick Book publication is available from Brick Books as well as at most major & independent bookstores. Get it.

Bloody Footprints

the movie opens

on a busy sidewalk

someone with a knife

stabs a stranger

keeps on going

while the victim collapses

remember the knife

the flash of it

the thrust

blood blood blood

<>

people stepping in it

as they step over the body

on their important way

bloody foot prints

quickly splotching the sidewalk

as the camera

pulls up up

the police arrive

the credits roll

over the expanding trail

of bloody foot prints

<>

steps lead to smart shops

to offices

into elevators

down marble corridors

over carpets in hotel hallways

cafe floors

washroom stalls

<>

blood gets on hands

trying to clean shoes

the fingerprints on mirrors

coffee cups

documents

dried flakes fall between 

keyboard keys

smear smart phones

traces tracked undetected through 

airport screening machines

splotches on luggage

the blood travels around the world

<>

the sidewalk

with the outline of the body

is a pool of blood

after crime scene photos have been taken

after cellphone photos have hit the net

city works come to clean it up

<>

the camera looks for the stabber

pushing through crowds

roving over heads shoulders

no faces

hands washing

blood pooling in sinks

almost dripping down the walls

of apartments

seeping out of TV screens

<>

bloody footprints

lead up to a door

the bell rings

you reach to open the door

the closing credits roll

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Remains

Remains

months later

the body hasn’t been found

snow 

flies 

dances around a backyard

ground frozen hard

shock dissipated somewhat

we know all the details

we’ve been allowed to know

how they met, why,

the history of both men

the deceased and the accused

made manifest

all that’s missing is the corpse

<>

bleached bare bones 

found years from now

when everything is forgotten

his name

the innocent till proven guilty

my name

I’m not naming names

don’t want anyone remembered

for how they died

his life is more than that

<>

his life has to be more

than a cold case years from now

more than a denial from the accused

more than just another queer

who go what he deserved

<>

years later

and the body hasn’t been found

the estate can’t be settled

some people still can’t sleep

don’t feel completion

whatever the fuck that is

I don’t want completion

revenge or justice

I want this 

to never have happened

<>

I want to forget

where the remains

can be found

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Danforth Potholes

In Toronto we’re at the edge of post-covid19 life as the retail world returns to life, within safety protocols, that is. Stores have signs that say maximum capacity 121, while others say no more than 4 at time. Some say ‘for rent’ not having survived the prolonged lockdown. I suspect some took the lockdown as a sign to close up a business that was merely breaking even. 

Some that did close were fairly popular coffeeshops that subsisted on their takeout business anyway. Maybe the per sq. foot costs weren’t being covered by the sale of elevated cupcakes? Some places that survived have cut back their hours – no longer opening a 9 a.m. but at 11 a.m., or in some cases not until 2 p.m. Others are ‘by appointment only.’ I suppose the $ saved in operating costs helps their bottom lines.

Several have been replaced by similar business, chains like A&W or Burger King. The most invasive had been, what I call potholes. Marijuana dispensaries – that have taken over video, buy-your-gold, stores. Some have obvious names – High Time, Natural High, Neighbourhood Joint – others aim for a different ‘class’ – Canvas, Tokyo Rose (?). At least one has gone ‘native’ naming itself after one of the original land-owners. Cultural appropriation or perhaps the owners are natives? I don’t care to find out because even if they are, it is still a marketing ploy.

Last summer I did several photoblogs of ghosts – stores that had shut down due the pandemic – without cash flow they didn’t survive. I stopped taking those pictures as it become increasing depressing to see that covid19 wasn’t merely killing people but also opportunity. I’d say killing ‘the economy’ but lets face it big pharma is raking in the bucks. 

As for the potholes that have shown up all over Toronto – I guess they are better than abandoned storefronts.

Kharis 

<>

is this the last wrap

or the first

the first wrap was a tissue

of lies

‘oh i’m fine’

I used that wrap

over & over

until the tissue

was a layer

layer after layer of

‘oh i’m fine’

‘i don’t mind’

‘how can i make you happy’

walking away

rather than add another layer

hoping nothing had caught

no thread was snagged

on a expectation

an exception

on resurrecting love

<>

I was protected

entombed by safety

by the fact

that all anyone wanted to hear

was ‘oh i’m fine’

‘this bandage solution will do’

‘you deserve to be fixed first’

<>

bound tight

peering at life though the slits

surrendering to the weight of history

pushed along by an unquestioned past

by ritual expectations

controlled by the clasp of gauze

layer upon layer after layer

some turned to dust

some turned to scar

some turned to face the sun

reaching for release

<>

decayed tissue 

dust motes settling in the moonlight

‘how can i make you happy?’

‘how can i unravel the book of life’

can i survive

without another layer

of this tissue

this scar tissue of lies

‘oh i’m fine’

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Sign of the Beast

Sign of the Beast

I wondered

is it a neon sign

something hand-painted

sprayed on a subway car

does it swing on a board 

over the door of a pub

or at a street corner

like a stop sign

<>

will I see it

at the bottom of a contract

does it come between

aries & scorpio

a wave of the hand

to say

here I am

I’ve saved a seat for you

is it an early warning for cancer 

<>

I don’t think I’ve seen it yet

they say you’ll know it

when you see it

there’ll be no question in your mind

you can’t ignore it

when you see it

it’s too late

to do anything about it

<>

no matter what you do

to avoid it

you will see it

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Orange Sprinkles

Before heading to Stratford on September 30 I checked to make sure certain stores would be open as many across the province & Canada were closed for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. They weren’t but if they were I was ready with alternative plans. There were many people with orange t-shirts’s when we got to Stratford, even in the audience. Both acts of the show opened with a land acknowledgement – something the Festival has been doing for a couple of years now. https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/national-day-truth-reconciliation.html

In June I blogged ‘Membertou First Nation’

https://topoet.ca/2021/06/06/membertou-first-nation/. Since then there have been increased protests – toppled a statue of the founder of Ryerson College here in Toronto – as the anti-native actions of historical figures are revealed. Streets are being renamed for the same reason. Some of this reminds of 1984 int which the past is constantly rewritten so make the people of the present comfortable. I saw a documentary on the Russian Bolshevik revolution in which figures were removed from photos when they were no longer considered good party members.

A National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is an important step – though why September 30 isn’t clear? Why not co-opt the already existing Victoria Day?  A chance for the colonized to dethrone the colonizers. My fear is that like Remembrance Day it will become one of ceremony as opposed to a call to action to end war.  Will we get people selling lapel dreamcatchers to raise funds? Will wearing that be enough to assuage our personal guilts.

I see that Tim Horton’s is selling a time-limited orange sprinkle donut with proceeds going to native organizations: http://news.timhortons.ca/orange-sprinkle-donut-supporting-the-indian-residential-school-survivors-society/ . I’ve tried them – they are sweet, flavourless & without real substance – a # donut.

Psycho Zombies in the Rain

it was raining ballerinas

you know

rain so heavy

each drop created a splash tutu

as it landed

on its one toe

to join the corps du puddle

a literal rain dance

<>

wet ragged gene mutated zombie

staggering down the street

skin stinking in the rain

crumbling for the lure of brains

grabs a light pole

flings aimless decaying arm

drops into the gutter

eyes washed but not cleaned

lightening strikes

the unlucky char

washed down the sewer drain

<>

the rain not a sheet but a curtain

a shower curtain

lightening cuts through it

an electrified knife

stab stab after stab

screams drowned out by the rain

rain so heavy

we can’t see across the street

can’t see 

through the car window

wiper blades not cutting it

smearing rain like blood

on a steamy bathroom tile

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