Letter to a Worried Citizen

Our long days shaped by wind and snow
ice encasing limbs of the tallest trees
dangerous sidewalks appear safe
each step measured before taken

We’re worried about rising seas
we must do more than write letters
officials obfuscate in the face of storms
uncertainties can’t stop us from planning

There’s no longer any time for debate
a birds fly inland from the coast
this poem’s not a metaphor
we can still build new dikes

The cities pave over fertile soil
farmland has been left to the wind
in Miami the ocean crosses the road
everywhere flowers drown in backyards

New Orleans rebuilds on their flood plain
and islands in the Pacific grow smaller
we can’t all live in the mountains
or survive on an ark like Noah

It’s not enough to save ourselves
we’re working for our grandchildren
forget the burgers, cars and cheap flights
remember we all live on the same turtle’s back

based on Tu Fu’s reply to a letter from his brother at Lin-Yi
lamenting rains and flooding on the Yellow River
(8th century CE)

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Ghosts of War

I hear them gearing up for battle –

old war-horses brought back

to drill us with intemperate speech.

Mothers and fathers, wives and children

urged on to crowd the roadsides and cheer.

We’re here again, but this time,

mourning.

.

Our cries break amid the traffic,

warn raw recruits to question their orders,

ask them to consider where they’re going.

:

‘We joined young when our numbers came up.

We man the frontier wherever that might be.

And now the old men are sending us out again.

You will soon be tying yellow ribbons on trees.

We’re either in their jails or at their wars

leaving everything to those at home.’

.

Imperial dreams are revived in secret

while weeds grow in the centre of the city

and basic needs of many remain unmet.

We ask for security in our own country

but the young are sent to foreign lands

where blood disappears in the sand.

.

Local reporters ask us gently

if we’ve recovered from the storm.

Have we repossessed our own houses?

Have our neighbours returned?

What do immigrant households face

when clerks are free to discriminate?

None of our friends evaded taxes;

but many are not allowed to vote.

.

Bodies drowned on desperate journeys

lie unclaimed along the shores of nearby seas.

Under grey skies we join the voices of hungry ghosts

.

based on Tu Fu’s Song of the War-Carts

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Self-revision

a fateful time to fully live

when ‘I’ is painful

and ‘we’ is rephrased

not by any mere revision

or the replaying of old dumb shows

we’ve had to peel a new layer of the onion

not convulsively turning against ourselves

our tender mortality thin enough to feel

those mythic gods were never fair

and now those gods are dead

so we’ll just have to

become just men

justicing

not bystanders

on standby rather

living by our nerves

secure in our insecurity

free spirits shaped by our captivity

not licking our wounds or festering with

contentious words and unscientific theories

not obscured by untrustworthy fright and fog or

decrepit analogues passing for public policy

we cannot fall asleep in the underground

when their bombs have begun to pound

noses in one another’s business

still believing in magic

no words for spells

no territory to light out to

no perfect test to signal the cure

no heroes   no supermen   no gods become men

no fleshy automatons to replace the ones we’ve lost

just the wind in the windows and no hurricane insurance

the wrong boots   not enough sandbags   no basement

only the improvised words of existential detectives

wholly present in everything they write

peripatetic   uncertain   partisan

reconnoitering the fault lines

the living features of the landscape

that Nobody   not perfect   not innocent

that wounded healer   our friend   our poet

we’ve enough air to breathe

but no place yet to land

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This Hymn’s No War Cry

this hymn is no war cry, just lyrical phrases

a humble song, performed without praises

may these words speak for justice

may these words seek what trust is

the breath of the earth tells us what truth is

may we savour the ocean like a rare wine

all that we love is still ripe on the vine

your army alters no one’s point of view

despite your power weapons will fail you

war heroes never escape death’s shadow

stated intentions catch in their undertow

you may command but who will follow you

we’ll thwart the plans of those who live by greed

share food with those who suffer from famine

we’ll remember the ones who are in need

we cannot serve both the poor and mammon

exiles in prison, we’ll give them release

rescue from death those our medicines cure

we’ll do what we can for justice and peace

our good works may be all that will endure

Nicholas Power

adapted from Psalm #33

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Cadence #10 A Review of ‘il virus’ by Lillian Necakov

il virus  by Lillian Necakov (published by Anvil Press)

The richness of Lillian Necakov’s imaginative imagery, grounded in the dailyness of pandemic life, is invigorating, despite the threat of il virus. Her skills as a poet and range of references – developed over ten books including 1989’s Sickbed of Dogs (Wolsak and Wynn), through 2011’s The Bone Broker (a Stuart Ross Book from Mansfield Press), to The Lake Contains an Emergency Room (from Apt.9 Press in 2015)  ̶  allow us to live in these poems beyond the parameters of stay-at-home orders.

With each surreal juxtaposition our new shared strangeness is felt in its specificity and seeming interminability. The weather can’t be trusted either: in #59 there is a suspicious rendezvous / of mistral and malicious / cloud. We wonder in #58 what will get us through when there will be no moorage. We learn that the codex needs to be full of musicians and writers and characters: from Hieronymous Bosch to Hawkeye Pierce, from Etta James to The Pogues, from s y l v i a   b e a c h in the fictional Shakespeare and Company Lending Library to some damn poet/ pacifying the chaos. If you’re  intoxicated/ by this forged journey/ you choose/ you choose/ to remain/ braided in time. In these poems replete with memory, imagination and desire, we may be sheltering in place, but we have not lost connection with each other and what we love.

She creates a language for dealing with this strange time: there is voodoo/ in the air/ a volatile metaphor/ at the end of each / sentence/ something trapped/ behind the ribcage (#63). The vocabulary of her poems reference the Dewey Decimal System, German, Spanish, French, Gaelic, viral genome sequences, sunburst numbers, Oppenheimer’s pencil, antipoems, and a hotel filled with expired sonnets.

In a brief interview after her reading for Anvil Press, Lillian talked with Stuart Ross who brought the book into print. She said that this series, which gathers its own momentum over “the most terrifying seventy-eight days of (her) life” simply started out as one poem written on a quiet day at the beginning of the lockdown. Responses to her posts on Facebook encouraged the writing of more individual poems that became a natural progression toward longer poems as she felt less anxious.

If you don’t want to reflect on life during a pandemic, read Necakov to learn how to write poetry. She develops necessary lyric forms right in front of our eyes. Lillian Necakov is a very conscious surrealist since her days curating The Surrealist Poets Garden Association. Her dreamlike intimacy with the texts, images, people, and places in the poems brings the reader beyond the logic of prose narrative to a feeling that everything is happening right now. She constellates tender references to a familiar Toronto with Alan Ginsberg climbing up the drainpipe and Sean Penn coming over for dinner but on the lowdown.

Even though we  move through the jeopardous molecules of heavenless days…we fashion a hieroglyph to be hung in the window/ to remind us/ there will be a tomorrow and a tomorrow/ and again a tomorrow.

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No More Second-Hand Art


the advantage of being
numerous selves
a well-spoken chorale
simplicity themselves
carrying everything with them
resting only occasionally
pouring broken existences
into verse
juxtaposing silk curtains
and utensils
a tolerance for being lost
ontologically
finding themselves on the frontier
making a lean-to
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A Tao in a Time of Covid

SEVENTY

in my seventieth year

my obscurity is my strength

the poems come more easily

the forms less complex

though very few know my purpose

or understand what I say

I write from long practice

and dig for deeper sources

I wear ordinary clothes and

keep my notes close by

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excerpt from wild uncertainties

not yet spring        and a cold wind blows through him to the bones

words of elderly and dying residents of the hospice        stay with him

voices of broken men        living on the streets        echo in him

he listens to their fragmented sentences        trying to catch the cadence

entering their dementia and drunken conversations

the weight of their years in his body       

he breathes in the sickness        and on bleak nights        sinks into their grief

like a fellow traveller        he shuffles        heavy-footed

he knows there will be long years       finding his way back to himself

sleepless nights       and waking dreams that may not be his own

he has no immunity to their troubles       holds their charged speech

in memory       and then sifts through his notes

scripting words and actions for the stage

 

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ordinary clothes : a Tao in a Time of Covid

EIGHTY-ONE

truthful words aren’t always beautiful
and beautiful words can avoid the truth

I argue, say ugly words
think I’m after the truth

I swear I know
but I don’t

holding tight to my truth
I’m wrong

the Tao of Lao Tzu says

do good


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Our Agent

While we are watching Seinfeld reruns

He is staring into the blue radiation of the news

He’s the one who hears about a leak and gets the implications

He’s among the ones who count (and recount) every vote

Staying awake through a crisis while we’re all asleep

 

Buy him breakfast and let him brief you

he’s doing this for you and me

He’ll look into the mascaraed eyes of a newscaster

and come away with his own point of view

He imagines the world without her indifferent smile

while debris falls from an exploding rocket and

a solvent factory goes up in smoke

 

He searches for the missing and murdered women

brings evidence to the wrongly convicted

watches the IRA give up their weapons

He tries to warn the Boy Scout leaders

before their tent pole touches the powerline

Shouts to a couple unable to start their motor

‘your boat is drifting too close to the dam’

 

He hears the unibomber say something

that gives away his location

He understands why

a sleeper cell is activated

He knows a whole lot more

about people we will never meet

 

He notices the President’s right arm

hangs loosely from his side

like he’s ready to draw a gun

 

He has foresight our agent does

whereas the police in our somnolent country

have only 20/20 hindsight

 

 

for Stuart Ross

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