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
finding themselves on the frontier
making a lean-to
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A Tao in a Time of Covid


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


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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out of the light of the moon

riddled with selves
no longer there
the I
is not
in the poem
and disappears
out of the light
of the moon
and eyes
to see
the I

what is permanent
is past
every ‘ever’
is an ever after
as the evening rain

there is no language
for absence
no word for

without the rough edge of another voice
I am a self made only of distant others

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Under the Underworld

Music’s dark window,
left open by another, long ago
slowly fills with light,
with magical thinking animals,
(beyond my wish to draw them close)
and a monk muttering nonsensical spells.

Some say settle for the winter,
let years go incomplete while you read Rilke
thousands of miles from problems.
Becoming gently cosmic,
my neighbours hear Africa for a few moments,
touch millions of years ago on screens.

What can you learn
by pushing a single button,
at the end of the process.

The factory workers fill with silicate,
the boss a single-cell suit,
catwalk diatoms making a white earth.

Totally pure, white-clad stores
buy workers at Ace Hardware
to combat a too-kind boss.

Smooth black humans
watch ceremonial robots put together
precise atomic components.

Troubled into tiny packets,
thoughts in me keep dry on the journey,
the tiny harmless ants that plague me.

I wish I were not the plague.
It’s the ultimate, white-person’s time
to go live in a cave and
ask the ancient philosopher.

Beautiful people make do in a darkened basement.

In the uncountable moments,
with sleepwalking followers’ words,
indifferent to indifference,
they scroll the screen
looking into their broken future.
Now all nows are about death

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for Patrick Lane

poems are/ what we die with…

your weathered body
smelling of earth
unwashed still
lips sealed
new lines
yet unwritten
salt on the tongue

not the knot known
but the not knowing
an I after the I
a wound that speaks
an ongoing guess
of what best to do
that next step
inside your own boots

you stood with the other
wrote no paeans of praise
only thanks for not yet dying
speech like bread on the table
bade us breath the same air
bones for punctuation
a cot in a cold house
your troubled oats
flesh no more free
than each syllable
or counted line

crows interrupt
wounds go unhealed
rays of light die

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Horatian Ode after the State of the Union Address (02/05/2019)

you dress the idea of your importance in perennial regalia
you situate yourself as the highest star in the cluster
neither leader nor equal but impotent in the usual paraphernalia
you’re under the control of the direst forgers of bluster

pontificating tacit equanimity you attempt to hold us with honey
were you wounded by your own unruly and unfaithful family?
you found your mentor by listening for the sound of money
restored to fragile wealth by the potent balm of popularity

as principled as a bird; no accommodation is your strategy
seduction in dress-up; your speech winds down in empty phrases
when not clapping your people fear it’s their own elegy
while sisters of suffrage shine more brightly than false praises

the arrow of time points at our planet’s own apogee
we can’t guide ourselves by the scandal of your superlatives
indifferent tides of unknowns are as inscrutable as a syzygy
infinity takes away the laurels; tragedy ensues in the derivatives


syzygy: an alignment of three celestial objects
after Ode iii. XXX by Horace and The Seven Sisters by Marshall Hryciuk

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wild apples

I want to burn your Ontario to the ground

the one built on fear
whether it’s coloured red or blue

I want exorcisms

I want them to stop aping the Republic

there are no proofs for what I say
except that your children are prisoners
walking home from school in despair

am I a child?
do I listen to the wind?

Is your heart like a small chestnut
stored by a squirrel in Queen’s Park?

je suis désolé

I see your leaders infected by the American disease

their lack of poetry assails me
my ears shattered
by blaming and avoidance and
their telltale speech errors

we live to sanctify the moment
accept that we’re part of
nature itself

simplify simplify

yet they want more
more security more procrastination

we need to resist to persevere

looking for wild apples in this grand orchard
under no one’s ownership

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