“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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“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.

“Fierce Desire.”

I wrote this one last night under the influence of a can of  Boneshaker. It concerns my decompression from my thesis. I hope you like it! 🙂


Fierce Desire

I feel a quietness suffuse my soul,

A calm that rolls through me like seaward tide.

I feel the gentle loss of stern control

That comes on me when I let go of pride.

It doesn’t matter what the page will say;

It matters little where the footnotes fall.

I wrote a cogent text, in my own way,

Because I felt its urgent, whispered call:

I can live out the joy, the vibrant grace

That is my birthright from the holy flames;

I must discern a loving, welcome space

Where all my friends can hear Love speak their names.

My text is holy, full of living fire,

Because it joins true love to fierce desire.

“Shadow-song.”

I wrote this l ast night; I’ve been thinking about it for six days…

And I hope I don’t have to explain it more than that. 🙂


Shadow-song: a Sonnet for Chris Cornell

Your liquid melodies are tidal waves,

Embracing us and drowning all our pain,

But there’s no lifeline; there’s no hand that saves.

Your beauty crashes into us again.

Your voice still melts away anxiety,

Both scarred by cigarettes and smooth as skin.

Its angel notes caress infinity;

We stand in awe; with you, we cannot sin.

You call to us from fear and helplessness;

You sing of shadow through your aching heart.

You offer honesty and sweet redress,

Though loneliness and loss obscure your art.

Your longing tones still echo through the sky.

Your music feeds us still, and does not die.

“You Came to Me.”

I started this poem on Thanksgiving Sunday, the 11th, and finished it just now.

I hope you enjoy it. 🙂

You Came to Me

I hear your voice, this moment, in my mind,

The ardour of our actuality.

Although I did not seek to know this place—

Its searing light, its scent of cinnamon,

Its echoes of my tears on dusty floor—

I made it, and I’m happy that I’m here.

I never asked to feel the firm embrace

Of calloused hands, or smooth, within these walls,

And yet…I did, because you came to me.

You broke down all my paltry wooden gates;

You mined beneath my gloomy granite wall,

And sailed across my vast autumnal moat,

The sea of sadness keeping me from life.

You did not sue for peace; you made no terms,

But summoned me, and at your call I came.

You bade my anger flower, and it grew

Into a rose-bush full of scent for you;

Your smile upon my soul came like the rain,

And filled my silos with your richest grain.

You filled my empty walls with tapestries

Depicting laughter, love, and gracious song…

And soon, my life was full of hue and cry—

The loving touch of friends, the taste of wine,

The ache and ardour of the joyous dance.

You bade me come to you, to know your touch,

And I surrendered to your sweet embrace:

I felt, and feel, delight each time I see

The orchards of the ripened thankfulness

That you have trusted me to till and sow.

You follow me on cold and lonely walks

Down sorrow’s streets, down avenues of angst;

You break my fall on asphalt, and on grass;

And you will always help me raise my voice,

To sing your praise in joyful company,

To mark the time that flies too swift away

With songs that veer from white to scarlet-red.

You lift my spirits from my chilly blues

To red, like sunsets on a mountain peak.

I owe you all I am, and so I sing;

I sing, and hope to please your open ear.

“Embers.”

Tonight, after I read a portion of the Hunger Games--a novel about revolution–I took another look at the anger that I often feel.

Here’s the slightly more controlled version. 🙂

Embers

My anger sears my bones, like dancing flame

That bursts around the kindling where it grows.

Its embers have no texture, and no name.

I feel the fickle east wind as it blows,

And yet I know the mercy of the sky:

The stars’ eyes open, and they never close.

The heavens hear my weeping as I cry

And sing the words of David every day.

They give my heart a seraph’s wings to fly

Into the gardens where the angels play,

Where there is never sorrow, never shame,

Where grace is still unfolding on its way.

My love returns to whence it, lisping, came;

My grief will turn to joy that none can tame.

“I cannot stay in sorrow…”

A friend ointed me to the live stream of Florence + the Machine’s set at Coachella 2015 from last month.

This is part of the result. 🙂

I cannot stay in sorrow…

I hear your voice, and see the flaming lights,

And I am not afraid. I cannot fear,

Because the ebbing fury of the sound

Arrests my skittish nerves, corrals them all,

And drives them to the dungeon where they’ll sleep.

The strobing lights can’t break the silences,

But wrestle to the front of consciousness.

They tell me that they’re here with strident shouts

That follow me from rainy Halifax

To Western mountains sending back the codes

Of long-forgotten echoes to the winds.

The floodlights will recall me to my life:

“I AM ALIVE! My legs still burn

With scarlet rough adrenaline, with rage,

With coolest azure joy each time I wake.

My smiles still bear the weight of childish fear,

And hide the effort of this mask of joy.

I live; I love. These statements are the same.”

I see your fiery dancing on the stage,

And hear the liquid strumming of the harp:

It calls me back to where it all began,

To life’s deep thorns where all my questions bleed,

To where my answers melt, like moulded steel,

In furnaces on gaseous foreign moons.

Glissando notes fall through the ebon sky

And handclaps follow me to kindest sleep.

I cannot take resentment through the dark,

Or let my sorrow dog my every move:

The doldrum days where leaden Sadness rules,

With iron sceptre writ with lily runes,

Are part of desert days. That time is past.

My sorrow will not leave me in a blink,

And yet I recognize its transience.

I cannot stay in sorrow, or I die.

And so I kiss the dancing firelight,

And breathe into the Colorado air

With those who dance to save their sweating souls.

I blend into the hazy air of spring,

With no regrets, with not a shred of fear.

The music brings me back my flaming joys—

The lust for life that sings with killer whales,

The meditative burst of happiness

That sees a rainbow on an off-white wall,

And plunges—full immersion—into song.