Thursday, January 26, 2023

Poem For Rupi Kaur

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This week I've been re-reading 

Leonard Cohen's poetry. 

Re-listening to interviews. 

In one, he says his first books   

were celebrated by reviewers, 

given awards, people came to his readings,

so he had the youthful audacity to think 

he could make a living out of writing.

Meagre sales soon dispelled that idea, 

so he ran down to Nashville

to try to make it writing country songs -

bourgeois Jewish boy from Montreal.


What is it with messianic poets

who think they can defy the laws of nature,

exist in this world as if gravity 

were just a state of mind?


Then I hear about Rupi Kaur.

Canadian poet like Cohen. 

Women seem to adore her too. Otherwise, 

she's not much like him.  

For one thing, she's sold way more poetry books 

by the age of 30 than he ever did

in his entire life. Millions and millions I hear.

They're NYTimes bestsellers.  

She makes good money on her poetry. 

Amassed a huge following through Instagram.

Her TV Special was on Amazon Prime Video.

It's like she's cracked some Peter Pan code 

that taught her how to fly,

the alchemy of turning sadness into cash -

it's a dream, she's said.


In his 70s, after his manager

stole all his money while he was living

the monastic life of a Buddhist, 

Leonard was asked about the way he suffers.

He said, with people dying and starving

all over the world every day, it's hard

to take one's own traumas too seriously.

I think that was his first mistake.

Everyone takes every smidgen of their suffering

so seriously nowadays. His second, 

was an inability to think cheerful thoughts. 


His short pithy rhymers I think

could've worked well on Instagram.

He might have been the Rupi Kaur

of his generation.

Saved From The Fire

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1. 

Saved From The Fire:

the title of the poetry collection

you might have written,

aka Everything That Isn't Embarrassing.


2.

Yetnikoff told you, 'We know you're great Leonard' -

when you went to see him in NY,

songs in hand like a pauper -

'but we're not sure if you're any good'.

Your North American record sales 

had long since dried up,

out of respect, he listened, 

said he didn't like the mix. 

You appreciated his cold-blooded honesty,

and found a new label.


3. 

It's January in Montreal,

the snow's piling up,

and I'm thinking of you Leonard.

It's the time of year

you'd have escaped 

our winter doldrums

to Hydra

the place you bought 

with an inheritance from your grandmother

for your restless spirit 

to blacken pages

in the mediterranean heat.


4. 

Later, head shaven,

you'd be with Roshi up in Baldy,

where your peripatetic soul

found temporary occupation,

walking the moutainside paths,

cooking, washing your master's feet,

and occasionally driving his car to town

for grocery shopping.


5.

I relate to your desire 

to keep moving, 

to follow one call or another,

but also to stay put,

snuggle into the robed silence 

of Quebec winter.

I have lived around the corner

from your upscale childhood home

for a while now, 

longer than you ever did.

There's a shovel 

on the porch

and a bag of rock salt

to keep the path 

from the street

to my door 

clean.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Words to a member of the FLDS*

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I have felt it too. The need to be part of something bigger than myself, a family, a community, an organization, a 'people' - to be chosen. To feel in my aching heart that there are others who care about me. Like you, I fear being abandoned and alone: Cast out into the wilderness, like a biblical Israelite. Slavery is a price I have also been willing to pay for a regular meal and some shelter. So I get it. There is strength in numbers, and satisfaction in wearing a uniform. My uniform is a ragged grey garment. There are times I envy your belief in being saved. But I possess no such confidence in Divine plans, no faith in commandments, in priests or prophets and their visions. No belief in saints or sinners, good and evil, the deeds of men. If I have any faith at all, it is in stories and songs about heartache. And in spirits we may conjure around an open fire that we build past the edge of town, where the streetlights end. An American town with a biblical name. On a cold starry desert night like this one, we can collect stones of various shapes and colour from the foot of the red cliffs, place them in a circle, gather dry sticks and set them aflame to warm our chilly bones. I have no explanation for the things that matter most. For why we are here, or for where we are going. The cry of the coyote contains all I have ever understood about love and suffering. What I have for you is a bit of time and attention. Today is a day for strangers from different tribes to meet to share a meal and drink, and to exchange words. You can tell me about your faith and I will tell you about mine. Together we may get somewhere. Call it a promised land.


[*FLDS: Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, a sect of the Mormonism practicing plural marriage, based in northern Arizona and southern Utah.] 

Friday, January 13, 2023

The meaning of Pi

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In life's many circles 

the calendars and seasons

ashes to ashes 

cradle to cradle

(read: grave) the ends always meet

and it's plain to see every day

on every street

how the intolerant far right

meets the intolerant far left,

how being homeless

is not much different from having too many houses,

or the way information overload

generates ignorance - 


from the centre  

to the margins

the ratio never changes

so don't be fooled by bullseye

metaphors;

there are no extra points 

for good aim.


I leave my place 

head west

(or east take your pick) 

and keep going

until I arrive at my starting point


the ocean is clouds is rain is ocean 

is clouds is rain


in quieter moments 

I sit with myself

to return to myself 

by sending out a prayer

to someone else


and it goes: Lord, 

please forgive me 

for wasting time


the words

sink inward in depth 

and outward in sound waves 

like dropped stones

in a pond


or like an echo

between mountains

I can't hear


an undeniable part of me

refusing to accept 

that it all makes 

perfect sense.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Keeping track of slippers

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Shoe-like,

an indoor version

not suitable for rough pavement,

weather generally,

too soft for the outside world

they keep a low profile

like a pair of house-cats.


When I happen upon them

it never fails to surprise -

as if it wasn’t me

who’d left them

by the front door

at the foot of the bed

in the kitchen or den

crouched by the wall,


am I slipping? 

have I lost my mind?


or is it more a matter of heart

the habit of forgetting

become my go-to,

my comfort zone,

prefer to think 

the plushness

that warms my toes

and soothes my soles

has a life of its own;


when I come upon them 

unexpectedly

their previous wanderings

is their private business,

like sad strangers

sitting on a street corner

looking forlorn

the ovals of their beggar mouths  

empty and dark,


and I think I might offer 

some temporary relief

by the mere act

of stepping inside them,

I can lift their spirits

with human touch, a brief 

journey accompanied.


I pause

at the end of a workday 

and ask myself

whence my humanity

where has it gone

and where will it go?

Saturday, December 31, 2022

I need to go away sometimes

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I need to go away sometimes

not too far 

but just far enough


away


from you

and the others

the ones I love 

and the ones I don’t even like


sometimes you feel too close

so I need to go away


and where I am going

doesn't matter 

as long as it's not here

because here 

is a room

with a filing cabinet

where I put my papers

in drawers, my records,

the paid bills and receipts,

the certificates and policies,

proofs of purchase,


here my name is stamped


and sometimes what I don't want

is to see my name -

where I need to go

is somewhere

unmapped


where I can fold 

into the contoured landscape 

as formless colour

from a desert sun 

where I can heat  

radiant sand 


or melt snow


and isn't that what love is 

another word for returning home


like chlorophyll

making flowers flower

making ant food, snake food


eyelids opening like petals

seeing again

for the first time


longing no more 

for a place 

of your own


knowing 

you belong.


Light

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A few measly times

then shoved in a dark drawer

never again to see the light of day 

most poems

will hardly be read 

but we write them anyway:

It's a heartening thought

that we do what we do

not for acknowledgement

or even by choice

but because we are driven 

by some inner impulse

that sings through our bodies 

with the same heart-pumping force 

as has always existed 

from the very beginning of time

the force 

that set it all in motion

and dispersed throughout the universe

in the energy of stars  

the force we express

in uttered syllables

"Let there be light"

which was the first poem

and is the meaning

of every poem

ever written

since.