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 

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 

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 

Distant October

October Night

nervous scuffling

waiting in the frost air

for a give-away flicker

from a curtained window

<>

suddenly

the signal

quick

flashing relief;

“okay men, move in,”

the Sheriff ordered, calmly;

he knew his stuff

<>

grinding out his butt

he led the seven

out of the lap of luxury 

where

Space died by Katmandu

so I put her in a jester box

now I don’t know what to do

<>

(some strangled arrangement

some fitful pondering

an empty cage isn’t always

the reflection of freedom)

<>

“so be on guard, men,”

the Sheriff warner, coolly,

“ ’tis dangerous stuff

dis searchin’ so late at night”

the door opened 

noiselessly at his touch,

“this way’

<>

shivering & afraid

in a bottled room;

hopefully hidden

trusting only one,

who suddenly signalled

with no time for revenge;

he could hear their feet

step carefully over the lawn

<>

shifting weight

one foot

to the

other,

floor creaking giant noise;

catching door open gently

a timid, almost heard squeak;

searching for a way out,

none

(no defence, no crime,

small & fragile

now wrapped in black

after a lingering ugly

mad dash for freedom)

<>

“I think I hear him,”

the Sheriff under-breathed,

motioning for a silent halt,

“in here!”

thrown open door

harsh light blinding

burst of bullets

blood-spattered wall,

spr

awl

ing grimacing corpse

<>

“not a pretty sight,”

the Sheriff chuckled,

avoiding the eyes;

turning quickly

stomach clutching

youngest posse member

staggers outside

in disgust

learning the easy way

about the hard way

<>

crisp moon shining

reflecting on car tops

as they dustily return

their satisfied duty done

return to the lap of luxury 

where

Space died by Katmandu

so I put her in a jester box

now I don’t know what to do

Oct/71

This piece has a clear narrative line – a western trope that has been filmed countless times. I wanted to use that template & turn it into poetry, to allow the reader to see the story in a different light. It is actually two stories at the same time. One is the ambush the other is ‘Space died.’

In the printed version I was able to separate the two stories with line enjambments which disappear in WordPress 😦 So I’ve been forced to do brackets for that visual shift. At points ‘out of the lap of luxury /where /Space died’ there was a nice drift of one story into the other. 

‘Space’ was one of my temple finches – small colourful birds that sang sweetly. Katmandu was a spider monkey my Dad brought home one day. Both were kept in separate cages. But cleaning the bird cage the finches flew around the room & one got too close to the monkey cage & was caught & killed. Hence the ‘empty cage’ line.

I like the way this reads like a screenplay with the clear images, the quickly defined characters: the Sheriff, the newbie. The seven is a reference to the Magnificent Seven. I wasn’t a cowboy movie fan by any means but this narrative line is assembled from many movies & tv shows like Gun Smoke, Bonanza & Have Gun Will Travel. Not Roy Rogers. Much like this piece, none of these had anything to do with the real west.

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 Winker

Winker

the hangman is a compulsive winker!

(or is that a twitch?)

I think he’s trying to con me;

he wants me to think the rope is silk,

that the drop is sweet & short,

the pain is faster that nightfall,

that the end is cleaner than rain

<>

knowing better, I wink back, coyly;

I’m trying to con him into thinking

that my only fears is that of heights,

that my knees aren’t shaking to fall into prayer,

that any fitful gesture could save me

<>

I’m letting him know I know

this final trick of his trade;

that slipknots are for fast get-a-ways

(I’m ready to be freed)

this criminal is a compulsive escaper

July/74

Some poet once said ‘All poetry is about death.’ So wether one wants to or not you end up writing about it. This is an ironic, sort of blackly humorous, look at death. It is also a list poem in which I go through the various aspects of the hanging – the rope, the knot, the drop to discount, in a way, the seriousness of each of them.

It is a romanticize take on a horrible fate – the gallant highway man laughing in the face of death, giggling on the gallows. A type of masculine bravery & bravado that I certainly lacked but admired. A bravado than only existed in movies anyway – which is where too many of us learned to be men.

I suspect that pop music played a role in this piece as well. Led Zeppelin’s Gallows Pole, Spooky Tooth’s Hangman Hang My Shell on A Tree; & of course the Incredible String Band’s The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter. Songs that in their way glorified the gristly. At one time homosexuality was a hanging offence. 

There’s also a loose plot with the exchange of winks, the slipknot – the escape was planned. What was the relationship between the criminal & the hangman? Winking has a sexual flirtation connotation – is this the way we flirt with death? Flirting to numb the fear & possibly lessen what pain there may be when that end comes. No one escapes.

But this is told from the pov of the to-be-hanged man. In Tarot the Hanged Man is the 12th card of the greater arcana. It is the card of sacrifice for a greater good – of animal nature to duty – a change of attitude toward life. So is the escaper saying no to change, saying no the change the hangman represents? Perhaps saying yes to escape is a change. The next card in the arcana is Death.

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 below along with where to send it.

paypal.me/TOpoet 

Distant Waltz

Waltz

lazy grey waltz

show me the steps

glide across the floor

a feather

in the fiddler’s sleeve

<>

shadow-creased vision 

hushed distance of recall

layered webs flickering

smokey images crumbling

wondering

how did I get this way,

so far, far away

from the hoedown moon?

<>

a sorrow tugs at my sleeve

timid but persistent,

when the river flows

it’s easy to wash it away;

the sun dries me so quick

here it is back again

a tear to keep me in check,

wondering

why did I turn around

when I heard night

sweep the webs away

again

against my will to know

that it was time

to strike up the band

<>

languid hazel waltz

watch my steps

as they skip over the lawn

a thorn in the fiddler’s shoe

<>

my life is the mist

hovering around the moon

cutting golden across the floor

through the opening windows

of the haystack ballrooms

where here comes that waltz

again

slow & close, almost in tears,

slightly futile, music echoes

you are far away & I dance alone

again

out into a moonless night

<>

smooth white waltz

follow my steps

carefree through harvest fields

a gleam

in the fiddler’s eye

July 14/75

This is another structured piece with the repetition of something colour waltz – fiddler’s something as a chorus through out. It proved to be ideal for performing & on the east coast I had a fiddler friend of mine improvise while I read it. It was quite magical.

Every word & image has been thoughtfully worked out to progress to the ending.  ‘show me’ to ‘watch me’ to ‘follow me’ – the move from learning to expressing to teaching. I am happy with the sense of melancholy that hangs like a mist around the piece – a sadness that doesn’t drift into depression or melodrama but becomes a Zen acceptance of the imperfection of life.

You might notice the influence of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon in the rustic images. I was/am no country boy so this is a very romanticized longing for haystacks & hoedowns. A longing for the innocence of farm life, farm life without work involved 🙂

All my images appear in this piece as well, the moon, mists, music & that intangible reach for something equally as intangible. Perhaps emotional connection? Physical connection – the waltz is a dance for two people in close intimate contact. Who is this fiddler? God? Life? Death? 

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 Dust

Dust

when I turn to diamonds

will you wear me in your hair?

will you wear me on your fingers

or in your tiny ears

like stars in your black night?

fondled forever by many eyes

wondering who your diamonds were

before they became jewels for you

<>

When I turn to night

will you bring me daybreak?

will you bring me stars

or the moonlight

with its every-greedy movement

across your endless sky?

wondering where this night was

before it became the dawn

<>

when I turn to dust

will you blow me away?

will you gather me in your hands

or in a crystal box?

with your smiles the seal

and its sides your tears?

as you wonder who I was

to turn to dust for you

<>

I ask, for you see,

I too shall become

dust fragile

night invisible

diamond transparent

and I have to know

before I turn

before I turn

before I turn to you

Oct/70

Beware the love-lorn fool who knows how to use language to over-state his case 🙂 This piece is entirely an exercise in language not one about an actual person or experience. I get a rather middle-eastern vibe from it now – maybe the influence of Kahlil Gilbran – who wrote about love in similar  lofty, selfless, intellectual language. It makes me think of young girls who want to kiss some idol without it going further than that.

Today I am struck by the lack of sexuality, of lust, of carnality in this piece. Why was I reluctant to be explicit? Partly out of a sense of shame. The purer the emotional the more ethical, the more spiritual it is. To admit physical longing was base & not spiritual at all.

I am amused by the ‘fragility’ of it after the rough ‘rrr’s of Woodsman :-). It has a very pop song structure with images leading to the wrap up in the final verse. I was/am fond of theme & variation when I write poetry. I also enjoy patterned structure that isn’t rhyme or meter but image construct & repeated words ‘when I turn to’ ‘will you’ ‘wonder/wondering’. A structure that ties the verses together.

A structure that ends with that last verse. By which the reader doesn’t know of the object of affection even knows it is an object of affection. That unattainable object of desire that only exists in the mind of the poet. The ending is ambiguous – is the poet transforming into the object or finally ready to confront the object of desire. Or are both dust on the mirror that keeps the reader from seeing themselves 🙂

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.

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Distant Siren

Siren Song

alone is a far way to go

just to sit

by the sea

to hear a guitar’s

random chords on waves

salt numbing fingers

seagull swooping

from distant rock-face

echoing the broken string

out-of-tune with damp

humming content

up & down the reaches

of beach disappearing 

into the enclosing fog

with reason saying go

romance saying stay

till all you can see

are your feet on the trail

to the ocean’s edge

then back to the rock

claimed as temporary home

<>

seeming like hours

the fog drifts away,

you can only throw

a guitar so far

and the sound that it makes

as it hits water

as the bridge breaks on the rocks

seems more fitting

than the fingers found

with still no purpose

but some finality;

too dark now

even to watch the pieces

playing in the waves

the wind picking the trees

more moonlit howling,

it might be time now,

now that you’ve drowned

in the only gift

you felt you had to give

Nov 17/75

Another mythological reference with the title – sailors lured by the irresistible songs like the narrator here is lured by not only the music but the seduction of the romance of being alone by the waves. This is almost a movie moment of our sad hero pining away wrapped up in thoughts & emotions he is afraid to articulate. Perhaps the melodrama of the echo is all he really wants anyway.

There is some real in this piece – I have sat by the ocean, have watching my footprints in the sand washed by the waves, have felt contemplative as I was lulled by the in and out of the water. I have even wandered away from a group of friends just to sit & enjoy the image.

I had the image of sitting the rock, playing guitar & the first lines came to me. This echo of music echoes though many of the pieces in the collection as well. Thus the title Distant Music – things not quite heard, not quite seen in the fog. I still like the transition in the first line ‘alone is a far way to go’ – that takes the abstraction of ‘alone’ & turns it into a destination as opposed to an emotion.

The piece touches on the essential loneness of creativity. Often a choice has to be made between social life & creative life, a choice that isn’t always that comfortable or easy to maintain. One has to be a part of the life around them but at the same time solitude is where imagination finds outlet. I’ve written in groups, but it’s only a step to working things out alone. Unlike musicians there are no writing quartets 🙂 but musicians usually practice in solitude.

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.

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Distant Woodsman

Woodsman

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

<>

the savage ravaging chainsaw

eating through still morning air

swooping unseen down from somewhere

clawing its way from deep inside the forest

to me, here, listening intensely

to all its echoed misdirections;

I could never hope to find where it starts;

can’t hear the birds

can’t hear the dry Fall twigs snap beneath my feet

can hear that metal ripper in my chest

tearing its way out into the frost-charged air

<>

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR rrrr

<>

as I move carefully forward

betting against the sunset to find

the muscle-rippled holder of the chainsaw

it stops suddenly in mid-rrrring

starts again 

moving on to yet another splintering hope

<>

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

<>

woodsman!

listen hard

hear me coming

I’m ready to take your place

or at least be cut down

<>

Ap 73

After the set of abstract dances I wanted a piece with a clear narrative line. The Dances tell an interior story, I guess, but they deal with introspective pretensions & unresolved, unresolvable moping around. 

Woodsman on the other hand is, at least, the fragment of a story with poetic overtones 🙂 Even now I like sonics of this piece the way the RRR is underscored by the opening lines, ‘r’ resonates all through the first long verse. My use of language and sonics is deliberate: ‘metal ripper’ is nicely echoed by ‘muscle-rippled;’  ‘twigs snap’ bounced by ‘splintering hope.’

There was a real moment when I heard a chainsaw in the forest. Not an unusual sound on the east coast, mind you, but it is one of those noises that doesn’t mix well with its surroundings. Aggressive, insistent  & somehow very masculine. So what is being heard isn’t merely the saw but the the cultural push to be a manly man. 

A push that drowns out anything else – a noise that says this us how to be a man, a man can’t act certain ways – if he does ‘real’ manliness drowns out everything, even logic. A ‘real man uses women, it’s his right. A ‘real’ man doesn’t question where this push started, he just follows it. In the end I’m willing to follow but the woodsman is going to have to accept me on my terms.

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.

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