Water

Swim

 

it’s not that I can’t swim

I don’t trust the water

what lies underneath it

in the silt 

until my foot feels it

even in a swimming pool

I cringe at the thought 

of all those other bodies

of those pieces of broken glass

invisible in the reflected light

 

the water is safe

the lake is pure

the seaweed is harmless

the chlorine protects me

none of which adds to my comfort

the bathtub is deep enough for me

but people drown in tubs

 

I minimize my risks

yes I can swim

I don’t go the the beach

I don’t sit by the side of the pool

I won’t expose my skin

to the sun

for longer than necessary

and never for pleasure

I won’t even wade

with bottoms of my trousers rolled

 

it’s not that I can’t swim

I’m not in love

The key to this fun piece is “I minimize my risks.” I’ve buried that line in the middle so that what this starts out as – a sort of display of paranoia – becomes about well, actually, it is pretty much about paranoia. It’s also a list poem – running through variations of what the ‘dangers’ might be – some quite real, others on the silly side.

Some come from my own past – I hated silt in lakes, wouldn’t go in the ocean if there was too much sea weed. I did see someone cut their foot on broken glass on the beach. Lake Ontario water is often deemed unsanitary for swimming. Even if they say is is ‘safe’ today I wouldn’t risk it on any day.

This is also about the paranoias in general – I have a friend who won’t take the subway alone, just in case it stall between stations. Thanks to the corona virus I am being smothered on line by ads for face masks. Costco runs out of toilet paper & bottled water as people prepare for the end of time. I’m pricing disposable plastic gloves for wearing in transit.

‘my trousers rolled’ is a reference to T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ in which his narrator is walking along the beach, musing on the risks he has taken or avoided in his life. The nature of the risks we take today are often as banal as this. Skin cancer didn’t seem to excising when I was a boy frolicking in the sun – now I use a 110 sunscreen. 

The piece takes an even more sudden turn with that last line – drowning in a sea love.



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Razor Songs 1971

In going through a box of papers I came a cross a pile of old old poems written in late 60’s, early 70’s in Cape Breton. So having no shame I’m resurrecting them with minimal editing. Enjoy 🙂

Razor Songs 1971

1

dancing in the snow

our bones clacking fixedly

in time with the dripping wax

that means our time will soon be black

& we will have to dance blind

never to see each other again

only feeling the cold slicing of the snow

through the satisfied winter air

 

in some distant hour I’ll fall into bed

roam through thwarted sleep

finding quick comfort with idle hands

now I am sleeping in a way

drifting in & out

filling cups of tea

in hopes of not looking up

to find myself stir a feeling

that feeling when I see you

shuffling through pencilled pages

mindful but busy

mindful but disbelieving

for I have lied before

am I lying now

2

words are like rain

like tears

like you

all I need are my words

the rain

my tears & you

but to have you I must

overcome my fear

of falling

into the abyss wherein lies

a pool of rain & tears

out of which no words can pull me

 

fantasy favours the wind swept tarns

sheer cliffs

sea beaten

ship wrecked

golden moors & haunted sounds

creaking doors & dangling diamonds

reality favours the sighted

 

I can see you now

reading

in a big backed chair

or in a hurry for your next frustration

happy to hear my voice as words

now know how frustrated I feel

knowing we are not in harmony

in bravery or even in person

 

I saw you then

heartless

on the edge of the bed

or between the sheets

happy to feel hands on you

happy to hear sighs of passion

knowing that you weren’t in harmony

only searching in the wrong person

for the right bravery

3

there is room somewhere for laughter

the cage cannot contain its sound

only its maker

bit I feel at times my sound

escapes this cage

only to be trapped by yours

a pocketful of laughter

spent by the time you

feel like seeing me cry

 

I’m letting myself sink

deeper & deeper into dust

no caring

for dust

like opium

removes my caring

my anxiety

replacing them with sighs

that tired aching arms cannot lift

so I must go on forever

hoping this is anger

hoping this is anger

anger to fight for fists

to beat away the anguish

of being warm for too long

but never caring enough to freeze

 

I fancy myself trapped

with dungeon rats

mouldy walls

& stagnant cistern water

waiting in anguish for the priest

but it is mere fancy

for here in this dungeon

I’m far too comfortable

to enjoy such a luxurious escape

4

an hour or so of being near

rips my pattern to pieces

I can pull together in a day or so

destroying the power the hour releases

in the form of frantic fear

I try to hand some joke line

about wanting you

when I really do

or am I lying

 

is each word

each motion

another step  in my

futile attempt at sexual conquest

before I find my fantasies

more tantalizing than the sun

on her naked body

drifting on the water

walking over hot sand

demanding that I take

it all now or sometime later

when it won’t mean as much

to either of us

I was rather fond of numbered sections thanks to T.S. Eliot who wrote several poems with number sections. I never became as reference heavy as he did though. I was also fond of long pieces which were often shorter ones strung together & then edited with echoed references to create a sense of unity. I see my fascination with images, paradox & melodrama. Chalk the title up to melodrama.

 ‘I see you/shuffling’ is an actual moment of being with one of my male ‘crushes’ – who was an artist. I’m sure my sexual longing was apparent to him but it was never directly acted upon or communicated. A fear I never overcame, at the time. 

The ‘her’ at the end, as opposed to ‘him’ was out of the fear of discovery by someone reading the piece then. I left it as written. Scholars sift though the writing & pasts of great closeted poets like Langston Hughes looking for clues that they were in fact queer. There’ll be no need to sift through mine 🙂


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T.S. Eliot

Writing about ‘inspirations’ has me thinking about my high-school English literature courses where we had some Shakespeare, some Dickens – smattering of short stories (The Lady or the Tiger) and lots of verse, most of which I have no real recollection of, by the classics Tennyson, Shelly & the like. Ornate & fussy is all I recollect – though I have read them since as an adult & now merely find them lofty.

There was some Canadian poetry represented by E.J. Pratt, Robert Service – butch man’s writing. The only female I recall is the dainty Emily Dickinson. No actually modern poets except for T.S. Eliot. One it was his big hit: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. After the forced feeding of the sacred texts by Tennyson, Shelly – Eliot was a breath of fresh air.

Surreal imagery that used ordinary English but wasn’t a pop lyric. Did I understand him? Probably not, because trying to write an exam essay on this was a stuttering stumbling mess. The layers of meaning in his work was merely hinted at by our high-school English teacher. 

This was probably the same English teacher who told me I’d never be a writer because my spelling was ‘inventive’ and my grammar was hopeless. That teacher made me feel stupid. But I persisted.

I have Eliot’s collected poetry & plays in one book & his essays in another. Plus a biography. I’ve read them all. His essays are a bit too academic for me to say I enjoyed them. His poetry is more comic than one expects. reading it today I find him to be more sardonic than perceptive. Prufrock is much easier to ‘understand’ when seen as a humorous poem. The Waste Land has great comic moments as well. I re-read the poetry every three or four years.

What inspired me about him was his concise use of language to covey multifoliate meanings. His work isn’t melodramatic or high-flown the way the romantics became. He wasn’t confessional even while talking about himself. Narrative line was more stream of consciousness as opposed to story telling. He freed me find the shadows that fall between the words.

Calypso’s Cave

I want to return to Calypso’s cave

for more erotic instruction

the ways of love I had been taught

never seemed enough for this world 

 

like Lazarus I could not 

remain in the shelter forever

I cannot rely on Neptune

to fulfill all my body’s longings

 

released from his tender endless coil

onto this shore where

I am unsure of my welcome

unsure of my name

 

unsure of anything except

I need another seven years 

to prepare me for cities of silver glass

for the fumbling turmoil of men

 

who tumble excitedly 

grasping for quick satisfaction

not having the time

to indulge in the erotic lore

I have received and long to pass on

 

let me return to Calypso

for another seven time seven

this school of sorrow and longing

I have been cast into a world

that holds no secrets for me

or is this the next lesson 

 

pleasure isn’t the end 

only a beginning

sorrow isn’t the result 

only a symptom

 

as I wander these streets

I cannot feel the river’s flow

I see their mouths open 

but no water comes forth

 

I want to return with Neptune

after sailing seeking

from one golden fleece to the next

is there anyone awaiting me

 

or am I the one waiting

to bring new light the cave

where Lazarus wrote on its walls

Calypso’s joke

Neptune’s revenge

 

the lover of the world 

ready for love 

yet no river bed 

to lay my body on

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Bad, Black & Blind

More black days in the pop collection with a pair of mp3’s cd compilations of lps by Black Sabbath, Bad Company, Blind Faith with stuff by Alice Cooper, Mott the Hoople, John Phillips & just for the hell of it Joey Heatherton.

The Sabbath include the First, Paranoid, Masters of Reality, Vol4,Sabbath bloody Sabbath, Sabotage: Not that I’m a big fan, mind you, and my interest wanes after the first couple of lps. I remember the First with its opening of rain, but I never bought into their gloom. The guitar works often astonishing mind you but seemed to be wasted on the dreary lyrics & posturing. There was a time when all the demonic preGoth stuff was appealing to me but I guess i outgrew it while they didn’t.

blackwhite

I was a bigger fan of Bad Company – less gloomy for one thing – more an elevated bar band than prog rock. I did love Paul Rogers voice and some of tracks, Seagull – still hold me emotionally. They ran out steam after a couple of years though & never really cored any big hits. Mainly because what they offered wasn’t that distinct. In rock it isn’t enough to be good.

furniture

Blind Faith – that failed supergroup – what a sweet recoding this is & the extras are rewarding. Clapton isn’t quite God but close enough. As much as I dig Ginger Baker, man, his drum solos take up so much time & never added to the songs enough to make plodding through them worth it.

John Phillips never pulled it together after the Mamas & Papas but this solo recording is excellent, a bit uneven & the extras are great too. Sad what drug did to some talented people. His recording with Keith Richards surfaced a few years go & if you are a completest they’re worth tracking down.

redstick

Alice Cooper: Killer, Million Dollar Babies: hey if you can get Sunshine Superman Donovan singing about dead babies you’re doing something right. My fave Cooper songs are here as well: Under my Wheels, No More Mr. Nice Guy. These are fun solid lps by another great moody poseur. (more Alice here: http://wp.me/p1RtxU-Ej)

Mott: All The way to Memphis is a dynamic song, glam rock of the first order that transcends glam. With a bit mor personality than bad Company they never really had a big splash in North America. Joey Heatherton: who knew she recorded anything – sweet and nicely recorded too with some help by the Beach Boys – the perfect balance to Black Sabbath don’t you think.

sample

Memory  (written in 1999)

I remember I was fascinated with typewriters as a child. There was a commercial for cable Internet access that showed some kids looking aghast when shown that the parent of one them used to get the Intent via telephone. After a brief pitch for whatever cable server this ad is for the kids then go up stairs to see, as one of them says, “My Grandpa has a thing upstairs called a typewriter!”

My Dad worked in an office and I would love dropping by after school, or even on week-ends when he some business to clear up. It gave me chance to play with the manual adding machine, running up long columns of figures. But it was the typewriter that really held my attention.

I remember one Christmas getting my first typewriter. A child’s toy that I had to turn a wheel with letters on the edge and then type one letter at a time. Talk about frustrating when I was expecting one like his secretary used that clicked away quickly and endlessly when she used it. No stopping to set each letter. And it never spelled a word wrong either.

When I played with the one in his office I usually got the keys stuck together by trying to use too many at one time. Not that I was actually making sentences. Maybe I was. But I was addicted to the flow of those letters into words on to what ever paper I was allowed to use.

‘The quick brown fox…’ was an exercise my Dad gave me to work with but after two times of that I got bored with it. As I got older he allowed me to do more real things – addressing invoices, envelopes that sort of stuff.

My first real typewriter for home use was some ancient second hand Underwood, which I still have in my basement – could come in handy in case of a power black out. Big, black, heavy with large round keys that take a real pounding to get in action. I guess a good clean and oil would make it move smoother. Ribbons would be eaten to pieces quickly by my heavy handed slugging away with it. No chance carpal tunnel syndrome in those days.

What I really longed for was one of the sleek Royals he had in his office. Smaller, grey, lighter to type with and a red/black ribbon too.

I can remember typing out one of my first poems on the old Underwood. Something that included the image ‘insane unicorn of desire.’ A poem that had been inspired by some TV show in which one of the characters wrote poetry. One of those TV poems had a line like ‘sand pouring out of her empty eye sockets’ and for some reason I was hooked.

I was just entering Junior High. Writing was something only the brainy kids were encouraged to do. I wasn’t one of those and was frequently told to pay attention to those who could really use their imaginations. That is: those that could spell and wrote sweet little pieces of summers at grandma’s. I was scribbling things about dinosaurs fighting each other.

I turned to poetry thanks more to Paul Simon and Bob Dylan than to T.S. Eliot and William Wordsworth. I can remember one of my first and only run ins with a high school English teacher was over some poem about daffodils. Mr. Mould was his name. He said that the poem was about how beauty fades. I saw it as being about hope because flowers will grow again every year. I was told that I should leave the thinking to the brighter kids in the class.

So I was at school writing poetry like crazy in my notebooks and going home to type them out on my Underwood. Piles, stacks of them, some of which I still have somewhere. I still have some of my handwritten note books too.

Then came short stories, 2 novels by the time I was 21. Then came a bad year at university that produced lots of poetry mind you and then into the work force.

Typewriters were the anchor of my daily life. Typewriters and paper. Stacks of scrap paper. I came into piles of discarded order forms, stock sheets, daily cash reports in various colors that I would use for my rough drafts. Carbon paper, who remembers that? Using the same piece till it was like a lace curtain. Correcting proofs. White out.

What a chore that became. One change on a page and the whole page would have to be retyped, allowing the opportunity for yet more typos. I could never get things perfect, done thanks to typos.

I worked up to an electric IBM, rental, to put together material for a workshop I wanted to take. Speed, zoom and it was done but the same old correct-o-type bullshit always slowed me down.

Then a big move from the east coast to Toronto. The result: I stopped writing for several years. I tapped out a few short stories but didn’t feel the drive I once had now that I was experiencing this big city life. I asked for my typewriter to be sent up and I got the Underwood and not the Royal. Such a disappointment.

The the joy of my first Apple, dot matrix printer but hey, spell check that took ages but at least I didn’t have to re-type page after page to make changes. Cut-and-paste became my patron saint.

That got me back into poetry, short stories till a turn in the road took me into theatre. I got to use my Underwood as prop in one show I directed.

When I read the biographies of writers such as Proust, Dickens, Tolstoy I am appalled and awed with the knowledge that their drafts were hand written and mostly by themselves. War and Peace written by hand! My mind boggles. I find it hard enough now to write my signature.loywired

 

 

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