skewed façade
of palsied houses
failing software
at the headquarters of sheen
the mark of the anonymous
palpable uninviting concrete
announces what matters within
in the processed city of business affairs
view lower floors here
the building’s only public knowing
a national however

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there’s my father’s ancient, rusting ship
the one that I jumped from years ago
grounded on this isolated, rocky shore
where I wander beneath a sky full of light
ocean glistening to the limitless horizon

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Rehab in Squirreltown

We made him famous, with our busy mouths,
this man who is more servant than bruised leader,
petrified, tangled in his own lines,
leaving the reporters cooling their heels.
As for me, my lips have been sealed, as if in service
to his fear, or some ancient civic deference.
My mouth goes dry hearing his triumphalist clichés;
invited to laugh like a child at his stale put-downs.
He has replaced himself with an empire of followers:
the morose, the sunny, the shy, the stalled.
I become, without agreement, his private doctor
treating this naked man, stuffed full of doubt,
reduced to the remnants of a public self,
timid and free, fragile and powerful.
We have become the henchmen to his emotions,
swinging daily from impotent anger to gleeful gloating.

Then, he was in fame’s sweet mosh pit;
and now he languishes, not knowing where to turn.
Notoriety gives him the kiss of life and we cringe.
Then, the city was glued to his side and he gushed;
now, I close my eyes, cold to the warm glow of the TV.
When I open them again, it’s the same old show:
celebrity coat-tails, Jesus moments, power-brokers.
We know he made provision for murder.
His trembling confusion is the mannerism of a squirrel
who renders the air with his pitiful cry.
What will he learn, caught in his own circle of fire,
when only the winter wind can keep him from falling.

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The Dance of Masks

Here is your mask. Your mask is your mirror.
Come with me to the heart of this darkened town.

Set fire to the trees boxed in concrete
full of phosphorescent woodpeckers
Set fire to the display shelves of desiccated meat
obscured by low light and the constant shrill pitch of the sellers.

In this momentary era of low expectations
the spigot of joy is slowly being closed
by the oxidizing hand of the powerful
and the deafening silence of the comfortable.

During this time, when dead animals prowl again,
rendering to pieces any attempt at interpretation,
the cantos of penniless writers
and the sensual movements of dancers
conjure a brief spring beneath the colossus.

Without our cars, on our solitary marches,
we still dance in our abominable masks –
beat-box boy-people in an era of spectacle,
winged messengers awake amid the sleepers.

Here is your mask. Your mask is your mirror.
Look into the heart of the caveman’s city.

We file in, callous prisoners under a vast heaven,
faint somnambulist voices in this bottomless midden.

I flag a cab with my tattooed leaves of song
and fall into the flood without stopping for breath,
counterpointing the descant of file clerks,
their rabid footsteps levitating with hope.

The Chinese worker is now the emblem
without compare, though as naked as his wife;
and the director of the bank is now a commuter
who submits to the cruel silence of money,
still wearing the voodoo mask of Wall Street.

You cannot stand outside the dance:
you are the horse that carries the lost cowboy,
you are the hand that bales hay on the hillside,
the horizon line that gathers in the children.
This is our impetuous, primitive ballet with the unstoppable machine,
ignorant in its lunatic frenzy.

Why is the root of the olive tree now a formula?

Our slight songs are as terse as the mantras of cowboys.
Only if you are queen of the sheep will the hellions protect you.
The sky glows with tenderness
now that your gamble is lost to the wind.

We cannot stand outside the dance. We must dance it.
The masked ballerina enters the ranks of blood and numbers,
enters the hurricane of iron, loses her hat full of gems.
What strange dark nights, in this time without light,
on the continent of rummage sales,
at the delta of flotsam and jetsam, at the frontier,
holding on by our nerves.

Here is your mask. Your mask is your mirror.
What a dance of light lost over the city!

I find myself on the terrace, bathing in the light from the moon,
the acrid wind jams with the muscles of night.
My eyes drink in the sweet emptiness of the sky,
while large, roomy Buicks
gulp up the crystal sentiments of the streets.

The bloody goats drink up the light from abandoned astronauts
and the dead soldiers under Manhattan.
The natural air is impugned by priests,
trembling like timid molluscs, crouched in sin.

Fathers have no sons: more dead than the ballet’s toy soldiers.
The dead stand like drunkards, undone by their own hands.
The only sons outside the dance of masks think they have escaped:
those sons, those cowboys of the plains, those handsome men,
those that were crucified on their own muscles like enduring sheep,
that broke their backs in the wide open country of the mountains,
those that drank from the bank of dead children’s tears,
they are the ones who made these exquisite little pyramids of power.

This is not a dance for fathers!
Now there is no dance for fathers!
There is no king,
no millionaires of holy azure, no ballerinas in the dry cathedrals,
no builders, no queens, no bosses, no lovers.
There is only this mask,
this mask of aging tradition,
there is only this mask!

What these slippery cobras want is the ultimate piss-up,
they want our esteemed leaders to sit on their patios,
having their drinks beside their musty pyramids;
they want us to sell off our shares in their old fossils
and quickly now, quickly, buy, buy, buy.
Ah, Wall Street!

Here is your mask. Your mask is your mirror.
Come on; let’s escape this boutique of venom
for the anguished imperfection of our city.

(a synesthetic translation of Danza de la Muerte
from Poeta en Nueva York (1930) by Federico Garcia Lorca)

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Crows above the Field

Black birds fly back to their distant mountain

Resume the ancient shape where they began

The lonely hand that bent them to their curve
cannot hold them to their signature form

See how others have bent their bows to fight
fitting to their strings arrows of sharp words
shooting the virtuous from the shadows

When things fall apart what must poets do?
Don’t forget the proverb one poet caught
casting his gaze on the wide horizon
‘They steal the saint while you’re making the shrine’
Buddhist saints echoing among his own

Great and mediocre will keep on writing
sturdy wheat growing up with rootless chaff
We all bend before the same scorching winds
finding shelter in words we come to love
We oppose the ones who choose brutality
making this open field their gated site
We’ll bend our backs to sow the seeds again
harvesting our thoughts amid circling crows

Adapted from Psalm 11

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Cadence #8

September 19, 2016

Need Machine by Andrew Faulkner is compulsive reading. “This is about what just happened. / This is about what’s next.” (from ‘Incidental’) These are poems you want to carry with you on the subway and read between stations. The uproar of city life is a good context for a poem like ‘Chorus’. Not ancient Greek tragedians speaking to the citizens of Toronto but Faulkner’s readily familiar voice taking us through “this little city from block to block, from hour to hour.” The Octavio Paz epigram that begins the poem opens up into a fevered hour, an hour made and unmade, a cadaverous hour, and is found again in Faulkner’s own words as ‘the hour’s mirrored eye’. He questions his own attempts to find Toronto by writing “As if by naming we could make a thing…”

His other acerbic and often funny poems hold the kind of tensions that keep a reader on the edge of their subway seat. Faulkner’s direct approach keeps you attentive even though you don’t always know what’s going on. The edgy language serves the humour and vice versa (“traffic limping like a waitress working a double in a cast”). He moves agilely through quick cuts and a range of references.

There are teasing echoes of conventional poetic structure, pace and specific allusions (“At our feet the evening gathers like litter”). These create an expectation of the inevitable explanation that doesn’t, and will not, come. “With apologies for those of you / waiting for a payoff, I guess this is it.” (from ‘Like Lions’) His distinct authorial voice is built on accumulation, not predictable closure. Anyone who ends their book with “Hello, caller, and welcome / to the show.” (from ‘Walk Home, Early Morning’) is not tuning in to yesterday’s radio. There is no table of contents so enjoy losing yourself in back alleys, Rorschachs, ‘a hot little mess,’ pinball and other need machines.

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Cadence #7

September 12, 2016

Julie Marie Wade has written one of those poems where the set-up, the tone and the language-play give the poet a unique poetic freedom.

Beginning with the title, ‘Psalm in the Spirit of Dragnet’ – a spiritual form and a classic TV show’s style – she signals that tonight she’s got a hold of some ‘celestial swag’. Midway through the poem the ghost of Jack Webb (Sergeant Joe Friday in Dragnet) asks for “Just the facts.” The ghost of Harry Morgan (his partner, Officer Bill Gannon) “is laughing his ethereal ass off.” The poet’s ‘Axiom’ here is: “No facts, ma’am, only interpretations.”

The poet admits to being “good / at Magic 8-ball but bad at bicycle-built-for-two.” She wants all dogs to “ride starboard, at least once, on a flaming-red fire engine.” Wade’s poetic truth is like Jackie Chan’s drunken fighting style: everything is a bit off kilter but not so much that you can’t hold onto the wry notion that the artist will connect.

The poem is wonderfully inclusive in what it connects: a yo-yo and the moon, Hungryman dinners and the heart, and thunder that sounds like an old Zamboni driving “across a starlit, skating rink floor.”

Julie Marie Wade associates freely through her poem with the greatest of ease. The full moon that likely precipitated these moves “is never going to nail that triple Salchow”; but the poet is going to stick the landing.

‘Psalm in the Spirit of Dragnet’ is archived at:

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