“Navigator: an Elegy for Gord Downie.”

On Tuesday night, Gordon Edgar Downie died. Gord was the lead singer of the Tragically Hip, Canada’s house band; he had had a severe form of brain cancer; he was fifty-three. The Hip’s lyrics and music changed my life, so I had to respond.

So, I won’t tell you “what the poets are doing, on the street in the epitome of Vague; I won’t tell you how the universe gets altered when you find out how he gets paid…”

Instead, I will tell you this: yesterday afternoon, I grieved for Gord Downie, who–more than any other music icon, Bono excepted–contributed to my formation as a person, by both helping me to deal with anger and sadness, and empowering me to embrace my true self.

I hope you like this.

Navigator: an Elegy for Gord Downie

I want to thank you for the things you said.
They saved my life each night for ten long years;
They spoke to me in valleys and on hills.
From you, I learned to tame the holy fire
Of anger, to turn it into reasoned righteousness.
I’m thirty-three, and I have kissed a woman,
And your words partly helped me take that step.
Moreover, Bono need not sing a broken elegy
To lay my lifeless body to rest on the East Coast,
Because you helped me to know and love myself.

You helped me hear the poetry of city streets,
To find my way in Riverdale, at busy Yonge and Bloor,
On Ward’s Island in the smiling sun of July.
You helped me hear the songs in seaborne silence, too;
In Charlottetown and blessed Summerside, your poems
Helped me to count the stones. You built my heart
Anew, so that the thin glass wall
Between me and the yearning of the world
Lay shattered, next to endless cups of tea.

You built a pigeon camera for our lives;
You carefully crafted the lens of Stanley Cups
And years of pent-up hockey songs
And quiet smells of coffee. You trained
Your careful lens on us throughout your life,
Empowering us to feel our grief and joy
Through endless rants and stark, dark dervish wails.
You broke down all the forests of Kadesh;
You clear-cut them with riffs of bright guitar.
You dragged them off to build a stately house for us,
So spacious it could harbour a whole nation
Amidst the storms of sorrow and of rage.

Thanks, man. And no, you never let us down.
The only disappointment lies with us,
Because we didn’t listen carefully enough.
Your baritone’s still necessary to guide our ship,
To sing us to a higher, joyous state
Where all those in our home on native land
Will live in equity, in heart and hand.

 

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“Walking Through the Door.”

This one too is for the Jeremiah Community. It’s a little more sedate; I wrote it this evening. Enjoy!


Walking Through the Door

I walk up to the gate, and touch its base;

I feel the jasper buried in the wood.

I touch the secret signs time can’t erase,

The ageless sigils of the true and good.

Each ancient letter is a memory,

And every verdant mark a holy sign.

The door proclaims its own integrity,

And, as I walk through it, it calls for mine.

I taste soft roti, and I smell the bread;

I hold my friends’ sweet hands, and taste the wine;

In song and teaching, sacred words are said,

And all our actions glow with light divine,

For we are lit by Justice’s sweet flame,

And give to gentle Love both form and name.

“Wild Raspberries.”

I wrote this one last night, as I was feeling sad about the changes in my church community. I hope you appreciate it.


Wild Raspberries

The blue sky’s empty, and the world contains no sound.

The beauty of the day courses through me like water,

And leaves me drifting on the river Memory.

I see the children playing in the park, years ago;

I see my friend in her bright bandana on the rock,

Sitting more silently than summer stars above the bay.

I shut my eyes against my silver tears,

Still feeling all the ecstasy of embrace cloaked in candlelight’s soft glow,

And the flame of righteousness still lit by wine and bread.

 

Some days, I can only sit in silence and cry,

Feeling the loss of gentle hands, the forgetfulness of eyes,

The death of every Parkdale roti shop.

My faithful friend who calls me every week,

My loved ones who will buy a pint of Wellington,

Can share, but cannot grasp, my agony.

I lapse into the stillness of a tree

Stripped bare of all its gold and scarlet leaves;

I know the silence born of mournful prayer.

 

Some days, the world’s still bright and sharp and clear;

I whistle as I walk on sunlit streets,

And feel the eros of existence in the sun.

I’ll buy a cup of coffee, and I’ll smile,

And sing Steve Bell’s sweet Sanctus to myself

To bless a meal of pasta, cheese, and wine.

Some days, the aching world is not so hard.

 

How can I vacillate between these poles?

These memories are wild raspberries:

They taste so sweet upon the waiting tongue,

But soon dissolve in bitterness and woe.

The sorrow blends so sweetly into tenderness,

Into a longing for the meals we had,

The soon-abandoned games of Scrabble, and the raucous songs

We drilled into our group’s long memory.

The woe still turns to laughing, leaping joy

When all the mustard-seeds we planted here

Spring up like blessed rosebuds and vines.

We do not build, or work, or walk, alone,

But feel the acrid sweetness born again

Each time we eat out at the Skyline, or

Each time we sing our yearning Taize songs.

 

The seeds of Love will live forever now,

Though every street and alleyway should change and fall away,

Though all our sorrows drown in amber ale.

Our paths still meet in song, in soup, in silent prayer.

We go out weeping, but our constant memories

Still bring us harvests of the fruits of joy.

“October 1, 2017: Prayers for the Jeremiah Community.”

I wrote these prayers for the last Sunday afternoon service of the Jeremiah Community, for the time being anyway. We’re changing formats. Writing these made me feel sad. I hope that you appreciate them nonetheless.


Let’s pray! I’m going to offer some specific intercessions, and leave some space for you to pray aloud if you want to. When you hear me say, Lord, in your mercy, I invite your response, hear our prayer!

            Dear God,

God who draws water from the stone,

We pray to you.

We thank you for your faithfulness to us,

Especially through your son Jesus,

And we place our trust in him.

We thank you also for our other blessings:

For sun and steady growth,

For wind and rain,

For friendship and song, we give you thanks.

At this time, in our hearts or aloud,

We thank you for your other blessings.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer!

God who leads us with fire and cloud,

We pray that your love and justice

Would be a beacon in these confusing and troubled times.

We pray for refugees across the globe;

We cry out against fascism in all its forms;

And we pray steadfastly for all those whose lives are ravaged

By hurricanes and wildfires, and made worse by climate change.

At this moment, in silence or in speech, we pray for other global concerns.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer!

Good Lord who comes to us in humble flesh,

We pray for our country of Canada.

We ask for the grace to be kind to our environment;

We grieve the slowness of true equity for our First Nations siblings;

And we ask that you would help us to fix our broken immigration system.

At this time, in our hearts or aloud,

We pray for other issues here in Canada.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer!

God who calls us to faithful service,

We thank you that we do not walk alone.

We pray at this time for our communities and loved ones:

Be with us here in Jeremiah as we change, and bless us.

Bring your love also to the Dale, Epiphany and St. Mark,

And to other faithful communities in Toronto.

Be with those we love, in sorrow and in joy,

And help us to be with them too.

In silence or in speech, we now pray for our loved ones.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer!

Good Lord who is at work in us,

Be at work in us still.

We offer you all we have been this week,

All that we are in this moment,

And all that we shall be.

In our hearts or aloud, we pray now for ourselves.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer!

We pray all these things in your name, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

Amen!

“Dawning: an Expanded Sonnet.”

I wrote this sonnet, a revised version of “Silver Snare” from a couple years back, as part of my submission to this year’s Atlantis Award through the Poet’s Billow.

I found it challenging ro write, in a good way. I hope you like it! 🙂

—-

Dawning: an Expanded Sonnet

My mourning overhangs my every aching thought;

It is my ancient onyx shroud comprised of grief.

It is the silver snare of longing where I’m caught,

The widow’s piercing scream admitting no relief.

My sadness is my soul’s privation; I find that it is not,

And in its nothingness becomes a thief.

Grief is the half-note rest, the empty spot

Upon my verdant, earthy, lily-clad canvas of belief:

My sorrow paints the searing scarlet flare

Of plasma in the coming of the dawn.

I feel the zephyr as it blows through me.

My sorrow helps my busy mind to measure out its care,

And gives me grace to forget, to move so slowly on.

My silent sadness sets my other feelings free.

“Connection.”

I share this one with fear and trepidation.

Last night, I felt terribly lonely. To alleviate my loneliness, I listened to a number of late-Nineties pop songs, and I cried…and I wrote this poem, which expresses deep longing for connection with another person. Particularly, I long for touch and intimacy. I owe this poem to the lovely Leigh Nash, and to John Rzeznik.

I hope you like it. 🙂


Connection

The loneliness still follows me each day,

And stalks into my visions every night.

It haunts me with a saxophone’s soft tones,

And lives on in a longing Nineties song;

I want to feel the living flame Desire

That courses through my veins like lightning currents

Turned to the laughing power-chords of Joy.

 

The ache I feel is never memory,

But only yearning for the thing I’ve never had:

I long for sweet connection, with tongue and eye and hand,

To trust that I love someone who will not depart from me.

I hear the yearning whisper in my blood,

And sing its gentle song to every starlit sky.

 

The gentle ebb-tide swell of bass guitar is not enough;

I need the stark climactic cymbal-crash of a kiss,

The whispered melody of day-long conversation,

The chance to see stars shining in my lover’s eyes.

I ache to dance with someone in my good dress shirt,

And split a bottle of wine, and then…I’m sure you know.

 

I have no patience for small, patronizing words;

Don’t soften blows with, “Someday,” or with, “Soon.”

If passion is the force that turns the earth,

Then I would feel this love both here and now,

Although it might still fall quicksilver from my hand.

“Sympathy and Steel.”

I wrote this one on August 28th; I can’t believe I left it for a week. As a man with cerebral palsy, I often feel conspicuous when people stare at me. This poem got to the heart of that paradox. I hope you like it. 🙂


Sympathy and Steel

The silence follows me, through dearth and ecstasy,

Awaiting all my vain attempts to kill it with my prayer;

No, I can never let it lie. It’s too hard to let that be,

Because I feel their prejudicial stares,

Because they choke the fragrant evening air.

 

I’ve lived twelve thousand days of loneliness,

Though I’ve not been alone for every one.

The depths of sheer bipedal agony

Have left their ancient, torrid scars on me.

I’ve felt the solitude of close proximity:

The alienation of my skewed integrity

Forever shapes my individuality.

The staring passersby still mark my loping gait—

Though I can put my heels down, and walk straight—

And I can feel the world bent, prismatically.

 

Slow, baleful eyes still follow me through the hall

No matter how I run upon my metal wheel;

The calculating gaze creates a cage,

A prison made of sympathy and steel;

Its limpid bars absorb my glowing rage

Until I long for nothing but to feel.

I yearn to leave the cage, and feel the friendly sun.

 

I feel like I’m measured with a deceitful rule,

Because the yardstick’s bent. I know that I’m not straight;

Sweet scoliosis takes time and space away.

I am an S-shape, sibylline and serpentine,

But I would be an I, a firm Ionic column of identity.

I’m made of flesh, but would be made of steel;

Tonight, I yearn for nothing but to feel.

 

Outside the subway’s squalid, brute intensity,

I feel the grace of hanging by my hands.

Away from stares, and rationality,

I feel my broken body returned to me.

The iron cage that mourns materiality

Then rusts away. It leaves me face to face

With seraphim that sing a soaring song;

The chin-up bar becomes a gentle Tree

That whispers of a god’s nativity.

Now I can face each fearful, wordless stare,

Because I know my limits, and don’t care.

 

I trust my body, although someday I may fall.

Stark steel and sympathy release their grace;

My spine’s a long-bow, but I still stand tall,

And walk on silently. I know my place.