“Equilibrium.”

This morning and early this afternoon, I went for a walk by the Rideau Canal. There I saw some ducks, who seemed to me to complement my relative emotional stability. This is part of my response, both to the ducks and to my inexplicable feeling of calm.

I hope you like it! 🙂

– – –

Equilibrium

The ducks stoop down to feed, come up for air,

And bend their beaks to foraging again.

They represent my lightened load of care,

And symbolize the brief surcease of pain.

Today, I feel no anger, grief, or fear;

The blue sky and the breeze can hold me fast.

My spirit feels well-balanced, cool, and clear,

And no regrets have surfaced from my past.

This balance is a freedom I must share,

For freedom’s not just meant for solitude.

When carefree, I can bear another’s care,

And do my part to build the common good.

This equilibrium empowers me,

And counsels me to share my liberty.

“Wildfire: in Response to Pádraig Ă“ Tuama.”

I wrote this last Tuesday night, after reading a new-to-me book of poetry by an Irish poet, and simultaneously rereading Amos 4 with friends from church…

and this emerged in response. In light of the terrifying American political landscape, I thought this makes even more sense than it did last week.

– – –

Wildfire: in Response to Pádraig Ó Tuama

Emerging from the fragile shelter of each other,

Seeing shocks of red hair and fair skin

Only made brighter and fairer by fluorescent light,

I am overwhelmed. I darken and grow cold,

Like some ancient star a galaxy far away.

I hear the ancient Hebrew words in my own voice!

I drown beneath the torrents of the river Justice

And hear the clamours for the cleanness of teeth

Still echoing on Ottawa’s streets today.

You wouldn’t know it from the gentle street I live on,

But the wildfire’s coming to sweep us away too.

Old Amos had it right. The vinedresser

Will speak truer words than those in three-piece suits.

I’m swept away by forty years of pelting rain,

By deconstruction and deregulation

Of social safety nets:

Our nets can’t catch fish anymore; they’re too full of holes.

Holes: young men with First Nations ancestry

Sit outside the Coffee Time in Parkdale;

Holes: a wizened woman weaves her way between the cars

At Foster and Pulaski in Chicago;

Holes: above the Arctic Circle, near the poles,

Are holes and gaps where icebergs used to be.

Now water fills the gaps to quench its thirst…

What fresh apocalypse will rend our veils?

What Thunberg voice will tear away our blackout blinds

And help us seek the holy higher ground?

Our sanctuary’s in each other’s arms.

Our sustenance, our root, is reciprocity,

For only by our earnest giving back

Can we be given once more to ourselves.

“My Race is Royal: Reflections on Regal Stature.”

My family has Scottish ancestry. One branch of my family has a Scots Gaelic motto that reads as “’S Rioghal Mo Dhream,” which roughly translates to, “My race is royal.”

All right, then. My race is royal. Since I moved back to Canada this summer, and am much closer to my family, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to reflect on that motto, and on other similar sayings. What does it mean, in the midst of a devastating pandemic, and in a matrix of political volatility, that my ancestors carried themselves with some kind of regal stature?

Let me start with an experiential definition. How are kings and queens supposed to act? What do folks of royal stature do in the world?

When I was young, I loved the stories of King Arthur, the legendary king of Britain who ruled from Camelot amidst the collapsing Roman Empire and Saxon incursion. The tales of the Round Table indicate that, by and large, Arthur and his knights defended people who were weak and oppressed, and upheld great standards of equity during a period of social upheaval. For instance, the famous knight Sir Gawain empowered women, and befriended younger knights. So, kings and queens are supposed to help people with less privilege than they. This indicates, even indirectly, that Diana Frances Spencer, Princess Di, was truly a person of royal stature.

Based on my other reading and experience, it appears that royal persons are devoted to their families, and do their best to promote familial cohesion. In that light, this Vanity Fair article from August suggests that Breonna Taylor was a queen. I can think of other examples, too.

Kings and queens do not necessarily dramatize their suffering, or make a melodramatic show of their personal lives. In that respect, witness David Robert Jones, called Bowie by his many fans, who did not make his diagnosis with liver cancer public knowledge before he died. The last days of Gordon Edgar Downie, late singer of the Tragically Hip, also stand as a testament to that same regal attribute of emotional evenness. Gord cared for Canada’s Indigenous people so much that Perry Bellegarde honoured Downie with a Lakota name, Wicapi Omani, which means “man who walks among the stars.” That’s a highly-charged attribution of status.

So, kings and queens care for vulnerable people, love their families, and control both their emotions and the way that they interact with the world. Moreover, kings and queens empower people, and offer them the dignity that they themselves experience by virtue of royal status and power. For instance, Chadwick Aaron Boseman – brilliant actor and all-around good person – made people laugh, lifted them up, and inspired them. You can find him immortalized in this moving clip from Fallon, which amply demonstrates his multifaceted talent.

Kings and queens lift up the people around them; they walk amongst the stars. What does that mean for us, and how should we act in that light? By we and us, I mean the human race. By virtue of these definitions, we – all human beings – are meant to act with dignity, empathy, and alacrity to right the wrongs that we see in the world. This means that the US justice system’s treatment of Breonna Taylor’s killers is not at all worthy of persons of regal stature. This means that Mr. Trump’s refusal to peacefully transfer power, should he lose the U.S. election, is not fitting of one with great status. It means that we – kings and queens, spiritual siblings all – should cry out against the systematic and brutal slaughter of civilians in both Yemen and Syria. These are just some examples; as necessary, I can think of numerous others.

And what does it mean for me? “My race is royal.” My stately ancestry means that I hold my head high, even in the middle of a pandemic with no clear end-point. It means that, although I do feel self-pity and shame and grief – quite often, these days! – I can hold back some tears, and save them for others. The regal status of my ancestors means that I sit here at my computer and write, every day, in the midst of a world wracked by climate crisis, reeling from violence and hatred, and plagued by both the looming threat of respiratory illness and entrenched economic uncertainty. It means that I depend on my family and friends for emotional and spiritual sustenance; it suggests that I spend time both praying for my loved ones, and finding ways to edify them. And it means that – even in the thick of these and other trials – sometimes, I can listen to the Hip, and Bowie, and Kendrick, and walk with them amongst the stars.

My race is royal. May I live as one worthy of such a great status.  

“Panther King (T’Challa).”

I write this one with fear and trembling…

I’m a highly-educated white guy, and am more and more aware of my white fragility. Thus, it seems best to me to let African-American, and -Canadian, and other folks, do most of the talking…but I could not stay silent.

Chadwick Boseman was a genuinely good, kind, humble person, and a great actor. This poem is therefore humbly dedicated to his memory.

Panther King (T’Challa): a Poetic Ode to Chadwick Boseman (1976 – 2020)

No heartfelt praise can name the power or grace

Of every staunch and regal syllable;

No shining movie camera can recall

The laughter and the loss of every line.

Behind every regal role, we see the grief:

T’Challa, falling down the waterfall,

Speaks to the burning streets of Portland, and

Of T-shirts blazoned with a hundred names,

Of Kenosha yearning to let loose its rage.

You traverse time and memory, like Augustine

Whose lyric lines still haunt philosophy.

Your liquid voice recalls old Langston Hughes,

Whose fire and form gave new substance to the blues.

As Marshall, you were clipped and loud and stoic,

Creating arguments from shredded silken scarves,

Expelling exhortations from another’s lips,

Exonerating servants from their shadowed shame.

Then, as Davis on the streets of New York City, you

Paired passion with purpose in your tireless pursuit

Of two ex-servicemen with bricks of coke.

Each righteous role retained your body’s prayer

To drink life to the lees amidst your pain,

To show us your submission to your craft.

I’m not like Kendrick, for not many are;

My words come ponderously, for I am slow of tongue.

Your talents blazed up, like some ancient star,

As you were lauding heroes yet unsung

By eggshell crowds in brittle northern climes.

You were a superhero for our times,

A laughing avatar for Truth and Right,

Still speaking to the planet’s long pandemic night.

You were the hero of this world’s deep need,

Because you held yourself with catlike grace,

O jungle-king who gave T’Challa life.

You wore the bone necklace Bravery through your silent suffering,

And held your head high through countless rounds of chemo.

No words can contain our sorrow at your passing;

No torch can bear to hold your living flame,

The fires of rage suppressed for centuries.

You brought your beauty to the burial-ground,

And lo! Each grave-site floods with freshest green.

Still be our star, to light our errant way;

Still be that eldritch music beneath the misted trees

On that stern astral plane that claims us all.

Still come to us before the microphone

With hearty laugh and wrathful iron glare.

Remind us of the best that we can be,

And give to us the terrible oath of kingship,

To treat our subjects with your dignity.

The King is dead. Long live our Panther King.

“August Blue.”

Hi there! It’s been a little while.

I wrote the following yesterday, and edited it lightly just now. It reflects on our continued global experience of pandemic, and talks a bit about the impending U.S. election too. I hope you like it.

August Blue

I wake into the soothing haze of August blue,

Collecting all my thoughts with wooden beads

And telling useless jokes on glassy screens.

I get my tell-tale hand to stop its spastic writhe,

And drop and give my twenty to the sound

Of bright harmonic six-string, and brooding thunderous bass.

My frantic days are filled with binary black-and-white:

White edifices are drowned out by shouts of “Black Lives Matter”

(Oh, how they matter, for they mourn, mediate, migrate, and mean –

They speak their souls, and straighten the soft spine!),

And black words, in a glossy twelve-point font

On a stark white background, still pour forth

Their muddle and their metaphor through the haze.

Each word’s another glass of Rowan Creek,

Each page a pushing back from the abyss

Where we may fall forever, to the tune of Ted Nugent.

Although despair still yearns to hold us in its tiny fists,

There are a million ways to elude its childish grasp:

We wear our masks in public, and we wash

Our reddened hands each night when we come home.

(We wash the masks too – it’s a simple thing.)

The Ottawa River can’t redress all our sins

Or clothe us in the garments of integrity,

But Zoom becomes our catechumenate,

And children’s books become our liturgies.

What will our future hold? What scarlet thread

Will we tie around our wrists to trace our ways

Back through the labyrinths of capital?

Vast Huron beckons us with navy blue,

With wild blueberries on its rocky shore.

We reminisce with Facebook, and we solve

The endless jigsaw puzzles of our grief.

We wait, with bated breath, to doff our masks,

To stand within the world’s loud theatre

Where – holding hands – we’ll take another bow.

The curtain falls. What then, o souls, what then?

Is it the blackout curtain of our misery?

Or, nearer, the red-tasselled cloak for our stage,

This next stage in our evolution on this plane?

What songs will ring out in this brave new world?

What slogans ring more hollow with each year?

These questions circle in our spinning heads

Until we put the wine-glass upside down,

And place the dish detergent in the chute,

And (creeping up the steps) fall fast asleep.

“Mayflowers.”

This poem is based on true events…

On Saturday, April 18th, 2020, someone went on a killing spree in rural Nova Scotia, and killed 19 or more people…including a Mountie — a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (the elite corps of Canadian police). The regular cops still don’t know the motive. And the coronavirus makes it worse…so that became part of my processing.
These tragic events necessitated a response…and this sonnet is the beginning of that response. “Portapique” and “Enfield” are communities in Nova Scotia.

Mayflowers

I dig the sweet dark chocolate from the drain,

And feel the fires of fury in my bones.

How could someone inflict such senseless pain,

And leave so many families alone?

 

I sit at table, and I try to write,

But all my words turn back. I’m cold and void.

I know that many will lose sleep tonight

Because their fragile peace has been destroyed.

 

Their movements are constrained; they still must mourn.

Enfield and Portapique feel insecure.

Each day brings back to them the killer’s scorn,

And springtime brings them little that is sure…

 

Perhaps the spring will give their fears surcease,

And mayflowers offer them some gentle peace.

“Green World.”

I wrote this one last night, after I came in from a walk in the rain. I hope you like it!


Green World

The rain laughs softly at the things we build,

For rain will humble steel and lift up clay;

The April rain restores the plants we’ve killed.

The green world survives into another day.

The snare-drum rain recalls eternity

And that sweet love that waits beyond our death.

Staccato raindrops speak integrity

To the green world that lets us catch our breath.

The wind still whistles its cold lullaby

And lulls the earth to sleep beneath the moon –

Reminding us that, though green life must die,

Still, April pays its muddy debts in June.

The world is full of sordid grief and pain;

Our aching wounds are bound up by the rain.

“Lockdowns and Longboards.”

Hi there! It’s been a little while. Part of that, of course, is due to COVID-19, our current pandemic of a communicable respiratory illness…

In light of which, after a couple weeks of relative panic and confusion, I wrote this. I hope you like it. 🙂


Lockdowns and Longboards

The geese will not become carnivorous,

Although the wind should wail and gnash its teeth.

We can still reach towards the silver stars,

Encouraging each other with emails,

And managing anxiety with memes.

Someday, I know, we’ll walk in groups again,

And linger on our longboards in the parks.

 

We’re less bewildered by the vampire plague,

And stock our cupboards with our fragile hope –

As perishable as produce, as green as Excel graphs –

To wait until our streets are safe again.

We wash our reddened hands, and mark our days

With gourmet cups of coffee, or with kale,

That best and sturdiest of vegetables.

 

We sing our plaintive songs to rouse the dawn,

Still blazing, fiery red, beyond our reach.

Our silent cities are a testament

To industry’s strict clockwork winding down,

That everyone might catch their ragged breath

And hear the whispered songs of seraphim

Reverberating in the power-lines.

 

This wretched lockdown isn’t over yet,

But green and growing truth will set us free:

If we can take the time to gather stones,

And sing songs as we scatter them again,

We may relearn the patience of the tide,

Absorbing sand by inches every year

And making strides in ages, not in days.

We will yet know the peace of summer nights.

“All the Silent Hours: for SĂ©amus Egan and His Band.”

Last night, I went to Lincoln Square, and saw SĂ©amus Egan, with his band, at the Old Town School of Folk Music. It was a fantastic experience! The highlights made it into this poem, which follows… I hope you like it. 🙂


All the Silent Hours: for SĂ©amus Egan and His Band

We won’t be very quiet anymore;

Our hearts pound and resound throughout the hall.

The bleak and blinding snow doesn’t block our way,

And hope still rises through the shaking floorboards.

 

We travel from our seats in wintry Lincoln Square

To many far-off places, far from snow:

We’re in the shadowed mines of Irish Butte,

And spinning through the dervish whirlwinds of English storm-clouds —

A cloud, a cloud, by any other blessed name —

Into the sacred space where silence meets sound,

And where the rhythm is our only sense of time.

 

With humour and harmonium, all our heartaches fade away.

We hear all the silent hours in a cabin in Vermont,

And all the rowdy years meandering up and down County Mayo

With only a mandolin for company.

Of course, we know that every song sounds better with banjo,

And that no one writes to the colonel in his choler.

 

It’s surprising what can happen in an hour.

We can whisk the banjo player out of Tomah,

Reputedly the coldest place on Earth,

And prod him gently to the Windy City,

Where he will play a symphony with string and steel guitar,

And flourish with his long tin flute,

And vanish with a wink at close of day,

To duck back into the faded hallway with the hippie banners.

 

We exit into the frozen February night,

And stumble into the warmest doorways we can find,

Our ears still ringing with the music of the heart,

Our hearts still buoyant with the sunlight sown by silence.

We cannot take much with us when we go,

But we can say we heard a banjo played

With warm abandon and with gentleness.

We can recall the halting, partial peace

Descending on our souls from all around,

And decking all our faltering steps with joy.

“Intuition.”

I wrote this last night, after a couple days of sleep deprivation. I thought you folks might want to read it.

– – –

Intuition

I slump awake from vales of sleeplessness

And cast my weary eye about my room.

My heart bears wounds no sunlight can address.

The early-winter sun accents the gloom;

It causes me to moan, and to confess

My arrogance into the waiting air.

In my frenetic hustle for success,

I give my inner life so little care…

 

Who am I when the students go away,

Or when our well-wrought words fail to inspire?

What grounds me on a grey and snowy day

And gives my mission all its motive fire?

What fiery rainbows penetrate the grey,

And light my spirit with their fierce desire?

Which stellar beings lend a kindly ray

To guide me through the January mire?

 

One guide is intuition; feelings blaze

Up from their whirling well, and bid me choose.

The poet’s star still lights my inner haze,

Though poetry now burns with darker hues.

Kaleidoscopic affect fills my gaze:

Deep scarlets bear away my sullen blues.

Sweet symphonies fill out my frantic days

As I put on my coat and lace my shoes.

 

My heart still gives me nascent form and name,

And ancient intuition lights my flame.