Saturday, November 19, 2016

2 poems for Leonard Cohen

flamingos homage after Leonard Cohen's “The Sweetest Little Song” from Book of Longing 

“You go your way
I’ll go your way too”

you go my way Leonard I have loved you
i will go yours like a mutt on a wire
you close windows Leonard I have loved you
i will close doors like marshmallows on fire

you sing nightly you have ruffled my feathers
to multitudes you have soiled Yeat’s coat
i lisp lightly you have made me Porphyria
in servitude you have scoffed at my moat

i will be the real thing this lady has loved you
you be the fake his gender has fallen
you be the baker she has traveled forever
let me be the cake in Shallot’s wet gown

i have tried on clenched smiles but fit into a frown

you called yourself counterfeit strapless and waning
I saw cold hard cash like cocks cut from balls
your songs were rich blossoms sequins in training
mine a sweet lilting rash for the light of long halls

Leonard I have loved you the slant of my rhyming
like a flamingo at high tide has bent toward you
you growled softly the monkeys you left me
I minced and I sighed preferred your sad zoo

I call you priceless the A’s and the B’s
in a bankrupt shop the Z’s and the S’s
Tiffany’s breakfast have met in your envelopes 
was one hell of flop enriching the trenches

letters carved freely on rotting park benches

your lore as a ladies man the alphabet moving
my life as blind date in the palm of your hand
your days as a troubadour I am a better woman
death is far worse than fate than I was as a man

i will sell myself short I dreamt of your shavings
you will rebuild your store alone in the sink
if you were  a pimp the dark of shorn stubble
i would gladly be your whore on white porcelain mink

i have heard men cannot suffer but you went your way
in the that way we do as mine went yours
but we have been at love’s odds I leapt from your windows
with the language of you then knocked on your doors

if you come back as your pimp I will come back as my whore
you go my way I will go yours


13 lines of fire

adding ‘o’ to flaming
creating pink birds
blanched by  the sunset 
breaking away from the herd

free from the telling
the audible din
the deafening replica
the original sin

the soft fucshia swamp line
drowning the trees
the pale lavender grey
of colors competing

for the sun in  a day…

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Poppy on the Dock

Munro ro ro your boat gently down the stream

Alice Alice Alice Alice
Life is but a dream*

“Men came and went; it was nothing.”
Madeleine Thien, Simple Recipes (73)

* in Chaddeleys and Flemings, from The Moons of Jupiter, Alice Munro inserts a verse from Row Row Row Your Boat at two points in the narrative

Not much was made, really, of Poppy’s sexual tendencies. People may have thought he didn’t have any. When they said he was queer, they just meant queer; odd, freakish, disturbing. His stammer and his rolling eyes and his fat bum and his house full of throwaways were all rolled up into that one word…

I never knew what my mother made of Poppy’s final disastrous luck, or what she knew about him…

Then she said, “Poor Poppy. There were always those that were out to get him. He was very smart, in his way. Some people can’t survive in a place like this. It’s not permitted. No.

To add his other problems he had both a lisp and a stammer. My mother could imitate him very well…

Poppy went to jail for making advances on a train…Certainly it was not realistic to make suggestions to a couple of baseball players on the Stratford train…
          Alice Munro - Chaddeleys and Flemings, 
          from The Moons of Jupiter, 1978


Uncle Dag from Yonkers. Mother said she reminded him of a character from an Alice Munro story but she could never remember his name. But Dag, he loved antiques. Or so he thought. His fondness for old furniture in fact ran more toward the kitsch line. Pole lamps with huge plastic globes -  dangling decorative planets lit up like big orange interstellar embolisms. Throw pillows the size of a large inner tube - like the ones from a small tractor abandoned on the country road on the way to the cottage. When Dag came to the lake for three days each summer he would bring a large pillow upholstered in waterproof fabric, usually a handsome stripe in plasticized earth tones, and he would place it on one of the various inner tubes in the boathouse and proceed to the dock. He would then  carefully set the tube in the water, adjust the big pillow on top, then sit himself in the middle, and set sail. He would return a few hours later, red as a lobster and drunk as a skunk. 

In a small paper bag that he put in his lap as he disembarked, paddling with his wide firm palms out into the bay, he would wave the bag and holler “it’s full of plums in case I get lost at sea.” If they were plums they were stewed - in liquor. 

I remember, as a child, once hearing him say to my mother “The only difference between a gay man and a straight man is a bottle of bourbon.” I often wondered if that was why she eagerly fed my father so much booze whenever Dag was around. Did she want to test queer waters with her estranged spouse, or was she trying to matchmake dad and uncle Dag, liberating herself from a union that had gone sour early on. Who knows. It was a long time ago and they’re all gone and largely forgotten, except for the sayings and some of the songs,and the way they all seemed so uncommonly friendly when they were drinking.

Later in life I would frequently ask queer friends if they had ever heard the bourbon remark before, and many had, but no one seemed to be certain of its origin. Some attributed it to Truman Capote - but Capote has too often become the default mode for all things quaintly queer, faintly nostalgic, and largely undocumented. 

So much time passed between Dag’s visits. Or so it seemed. It was an annual visit for a full five years before, as Dag put it, “the rain set in and the lake became treacherous  and there was no more room for a fun-filled uncle to float among the waves” - biting into plums, singing the same song over and over again, lightly, to himself, and minding his own business. 

Dag singing.He had a keen falsetto and the drunker he got the louder it became. By the time he floated back to the dock I would be sitting on a friendly log anxiously delighting in the chorus as he cried it out it over and over again.

It's a long way to Tipperary,
It's a long way to go.
It's a long way to Tipperary
To the sweetest girl I know!

Goodbye, Piccadilly,
Farewell, Leicester Square!
It's a long long way to Tipperary,
But my heart's right there.

And then he would go into what I learned years later was an alternate ending, a bawdy version of the chorus popular among soldiers in the first world war.

That's the wrong way to tickle Harry,
That's the wrong way to kiss.
Don't you know that over here, lad
They like it best like this.

Hooray pour Les Français
Farewell Angleterre
We didn't know how to tickle Harry,
But we learnt how over there.

Dag had replaced Mary with Harry, making the lyric his own queer ditty. He had all the affectations of the stereotype our family welcomed every summer. Mother would say to my father, “He’s on vacation. Let him behave any way he wants. He needs a break.” And father would comply, and they would all drink together, but when they were sober dad kept his distance in a friendly unobtrusive way while Mother, Dag, and me puttered around the cottage, had tea and sandwiches on the dock, swam, and just before sunset we each contributed to the preparation of the evening meal. Mother cooked, I made salad, and Dag entertained us with his drunken late afternoon chatter, and a few more verses of that song I came to love.

I sing it still. When I’m alone on the balcony, and I think of how handsome Dag was, how he looked like a slightly more refined version of my father. They were brothers of course, but had different adopted parents. Dag and dad were separated as infants, never knowing their birth families - and only found each other once they had come back from the war. Like Shakespeare or that old Greek myth. It was so clear how much they loved each other. And to try to tell their whole story would be far too difficult. Silently they swore me to secrecy with their loving eyes - whenever the opportunity arose. And Dag, he is the only memory of someone who never made fun of my lazy tongue, not even once, as a child. Although loving and patient, even my parents tried to cure me of a lisp that I have never conquered. And I thank Dag for that.

Despite the sour grapes that prolonged matrimony gave rise to, we were, for the most part, a happy open family, accepting Dag and all that came with him with unconditional kindness. But it was always like he was at the edge of the scene, just beyond the dock, threatening to float further out to sea, and so terribly good natured about it all. If he had known how hard people were on my parents about the three days he spent in summer, lounging about the cottage lot, floating through the afternoon, well, he would never have come again. And he didn’t. 

It had been half a decade, from when I was nine until I was fourteen. Having forgotten so much, even the fine details of my perfectly lovely parents, it comes as a shock to me each time I find myself singing that alternate verse about tickling Harry. And only then does Dag come back to me in very fine detail, with all the missing scenes from my young life floating in and out of my consciousness as I reach into that bag and saturate myself with yet another silly drunken plum. And there he is, like Poppy, but on the dock, waiting precariously to find a place where he can float free of pre-conceived narrative and be just the way he wanted to be.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

by the gender neutral washroom i sat down and wept 

based on the following excerpts by Elizabeth Smart, from her long poem/novel

“Under the redwood tree my grave was laid, and I beguiled my true love to lie down. The stream of our kiss put a waterway around the world, where love like a refugee sailed in the last ship. My hair made a shroud, and kept the coyotes at bay while we wrote our cyphers with anatomy. The winds boomed triumph, our spines seemed overburdened, and our bones groaned like old trees, but a smile like a cobweb was fastened across the mouth of the cave of fate.

Fear will be a terrible fox at my vitals under my tunic of behaviour.

Oh, canary, sing out in the thunderstorm, prove your yellow pride. Give me a reason for courage or a way to be brave. But nothing tangible comes to rescue my besieged sanity, and I cannot decipher the code of the eucalyptus thumping on my roof.
I am unnerved by the opponents of God, and God is out of earshot. I must spin good ghosts out of my hope to oppose the hordes at my window. If those who look in see me condescend to barricade the door, they will know too much and crowd in to overcome me.”

The parchment philosopher has no traffic with the night, and no conception of the price of love. With smoky circles of thought he tries to combat the fog, and with anagrams to defeat anatomy. I posture in vain with his weapons, even though I am balmed with his nicotine herbs.

Moon, moon, rise in the sky to be a reminder of comfort and the hour when I was brave.”


"I have learned to smoke because I need something to hold onto."

                          Elizabeth Smart

I learned to have sex with strangers
I needed something to hold onto

among buttercups daisies snapping turtles sumach trillium 
lit by cancerous sun my tomb was laid 

beguiled by true love I reclined in poison ivy
by streams kisses as waterways wrapping my world

loves xenophobic warriors sailing in the last slave ships
intersective strokes through my blonde hair made a blue-eyed veil

keeping lightness at bay I wrote missives in my heart 
that blew like winds boorish triumph

my backbone bent by uncoiled limpet spines 
overburdening my bones groaning like young sap 

wrought from petrified 
yet willing limbs 

a ghosted smile locked against his mouth’s 
manly cave falling into heavens lips 

terrible foxy flesh licked at my vitals 
terrific beneath a tunic of behavioural prowess

Oh barren budgie - laugh, cry out, in the storm’s last hollow
be proud and flecked with yellow - blue with feathery shards of green

sing like birds in pursuit of nothing
gaining everything from flight

give me the why the how and when of courage
bravery resistance in the face of his tanned hips

no tangible resource rescued my slim adolescent sanity - 
I will not decipher codes that weeping willows thump upon 

my roof will be my ladder out of heaven 
into snake’s bold meadow unnerved by God’s lovers

God may favour  tone deaf throngs 
cannot hear the queer forest for the zany trees 

I will spin good ghosts out of hope 
opposing hordes at my window

If those who look in see his lust barricading my door 
they will know too little and damn me for my mis-confession  

crowding in to overcome me with their parchment sayings
i prefer the traffic of the night 

as dark as my conception 
of the price of love

smoky circles of thought combat the mist I weep 
in jets of intermittent spray anagrams to defeat 

the linguistic pleasure of anatomy - 
Lana, Anal, Ana, An, Alan, Al, Alana, Anala 

they hear her pronouns call 
in them in him

I pose with verbal weapons he divined me with
bombed by his nicotine herbs - moon, moon, rise

be a comforting reminder of those seconds 
when no one thought I was brave 

when I learned to smoke and fuck 
I would have nothing to hold on to

Saturday, May 21, 2016

when i thought i was a mango . . .

When I thought I was a Mango... 

“just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
in a most delightful way…”
                           Mary Poppins

“I ponder and I cannot ponder, yet I live and love.”

William Blake

On a warm sunny Wednesday in March, when the weather suited global warming to a tee, he took his small shopping buggy from the balcony and set out for the food bank. Only a few blocks  from his apartment, this particular food bank specialized in healthy items that came in containers ranging from plastic freezer airtight bags to small meat bearing styrofoam platters, cardboard boxes, foil wrappers, and glass jars. 

He always looked forward to eating the two or three miniature granola bars on his way home, after judiciously making his selection of mostly non-perishable goods. He  always marvelled at how something that appeared to be so nutritious - ‘Nature’s Choice’ - could come in such a shiny unnatural looking wrapper. If he saved enough of them he could turn them inside out and cover his bathroom wall with a glistening silver coating and then hang pictures of celebrities all over the wall, turning his latrine into a modest shrine for the silver screen.

In the waiting area at the food bank there was always a transparent, dome covered plastic tray filled with hot cross buns, danishes, brownies, cinnamon wedges, butter tarts, and assorted donuts of the delicious kind. They were all cut into bite-sized portions and had a crumbling nostalgic air about them that spoke of slightly better days. But they were delicious.There were metal prongs and napkins to keep the delicacies safe from germ warfare, and a large canister of hot coffee sat on a table nearby, with powdered milk and a box of sugar to help the medicine go down. 

He put his buggy beside his chair and went over to the reception desk to check in. Stating his name and answering one simple question was always enough. They never asked for ID because he had registered several years ago and was in the computer system. They trusted him. But he always took ID with him just in case. One would not want to be caught with their pants down and no conceivable way of identifying one’s self in such a welcoming atmosphere. The pants down metaphor seemed appropriate because he, and perhaps some others, were only eligible for this particular food bank because they had, through no fault of their own, been caught with their trousers to the floor one too many times.

The simple question the receptionist always asked was; “Do you have any pets?” He would pause for a second, considering what he might do with the jars of cat food or doggy kibble. Perhaps he could sell them, or mix them with a rich salty stew that would conceal their true identity? And then he would think better of his thrifty capitalist ways and reply, “No. But thank you.”

Then he would take one or two selections from the pastry tray, fill a styrofoam cup with coffee, add some powdered milk and a touch of sugar, and sit back down to wait until his fruit or vegetable was called. it wasn't a long wait, and the variety of colourful laminated fruit and veggie bearing cards made it fun;


He would often arrive shortly after two. The bank was open from two until seven. By the time he arrived they would be as far along as Cantaloupes. He would receive a Fennels laminated card and wait until his group of three or four was called. Once, when he arrived earlier than usual, he was a Date, and knew that the usual gag would be played as soon as the Dates were called.

“Dates anyone? Any Dates?”

Inevitably someone would laugh and say something along the lines of, “I’d love to. Haven’t been on a date in ages.”

But on this particularly warm Wednesday in March he arrived well after two, missed the Dates, and thought he was a mango. He took his card, walked over to his chair, sat down and saw a familiar face in a wheelchair. Noticing that his close acquaintance also had a mango card he said, “I’ve never been a Mango before. I’m usually a Fennel.” His friend smiled but said nothing. Apart from the Dates, not much was made of the other fruits and vegetables in the area of small talk. So he just sat - sipping coffee and nibbling at the ragged corner of a hot cross bun - and waited for the Mangoes to to be herded down to the selection area.

Consumed by a commingling of good cheer and slight melancholy - a mixture of emotion that invariably held him somewhere between a subtle smile and a face that was holding back tears - he noticed that the attendant who was passing out the laminated cards looked quite agitated. He could overhear him explaining to an assistant that the fruit and vegetable cards were all mixed up, and that he was sending down all wrong groups in all the wrong order. 

How hard could it be to have noticed that, he thought, and just sort them properly, in alphabetical order. But it wasn’t his place to make any sort of suggestion as to how organizing principles might be applied in such a setting. So he sat patiently, watching the names of each fruit or vegetable come and go on the pixel board above the reception desk -  in the wrong order - wondering anxiously if his Mango would ever come up.

After several minutes had passed he went up to the desk and politely asked if his fruit had risen. The confused receptionist asked what fruit he was and when he said Mango, he told him to go ahead  - the Mangoes had already been called. So he left the reception area and walked briskly toward the stairwell to the bank. On his way he saw the assistant who had been taking the groups down the stairs to the area where the shelves of dry goods, and freezers filled with assorted frozen meats were kept. He looked at him, smiled, and said - “I think the fruits and vegetables got a little mixed up today. I was told to go ahead.” The assistant looked at his card and said, politely but somewhat abruptly - “No. I’ll call you when it’s time.” 

A little bewildered, he walked back to the waiting area - and waited. As he sat, for about five minutes, he kept looking at the pixel board and could not make head nor tail of how things were being re-organized. The mangoes had already gone and the order seemed to have been re-established on the pixel board. And then, after several seconds of low level anxiety marked by his signature tendency to fluctuate between a faint smile and suppressed tears, he looked at his laminated card, and much to his surprise, and embarrassment, he was not a Mango at all. He was a Pumpkin. Of course Cinderella immediately popped into his mind with the change from M to P. Suppressing images of little white mice sewing spectacular gowns and singing bibbidy bobbidy boo, he made a quick decision not to dwell upon the cliched fairy tale proportions of the mixup. Instead he sat and waited patiently until the Pumpkins were called, during which time he pondered, til he could not ponder, how this could have happened. He was certain he had been a Mango. And then, at the height of his low level anxiety, he looked at the camera option on his cell phone, remembering that he had taken a photo of his card soon after arriving, so he could write  a little story about this particular food bank one day - about the delightful and efficient alphabetical  manner in which they organized their patrons  into groups of fruits and vegetables.

Yes, Indeed. Cameras seldom lie. He had always been a Pumpkin, and when he chatted with the close acquaintance in the wheelchair, and noticed that his card said Mango, he must have simply assumed he was one too because the colours of the cards depicting the very different fruits were so similar. 

It all made perfect sense, because he knew, in his heart, he had always been a blighted princess. So it seemed fitting, after all this time - some sixty odd years - that he would one day find himself, at the PWA food bank (strictly serving a community of people living with HIV and AIDS) abruptly  turning back into a Pumpkin.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

father’s day                       I have your body / hide & seek

I have your body
Masculinity is hidden there – in mine
In yours it’s sought it sweeps it curves with
Predicated beauty
Gracing and disgracing some men’s organs and the
Arms of certain privilege

But I still have your body
The gentle swagger in yours
A droll mince in mine
Your height is there, in moderation –
I struggle with your lows
But they amuse me – their imbibing nature                         make me love harder stronger fast
Keeps me guarded from
The speech of those detractors
Roaming streets in search of bidden gender to defile

But I have your body - to protect my gait
From  the wrath of deconstruction
It was built for you through generations of
Manly presence – by the time I received that gift
Shaded in the bough of your lover’s leafy frame              on father’s day we’ll think of her

Because I have her body too
But some see it wander mimic play -
Mince and swagger high and low
The gentle - droll foundations
Set upon the ways in which we have our bodies –

I have yours – inscribed

On mine

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

queer play                           Cawthra Park

thrashing, scurrying among rose bushes
missing thorns, oblivious to my guiding calls
suddenly sprinkler  jets jut out into the path
I shout for him to run
to be careful in this stream of prickly stems and unadulterated water spouts
austere columns invite a toddlers  twisting in and out of unintended jungle gyms
memorials flanking one side of the children’s water park and the community centre
he runs his smile wider than parental breadth
grins and thanks me for saving him from the deluge
like wild remembered smiles from those columns – the ghosted names of friends who went too soon
playgrounds bookended by a dearth of generational sway stolen from girls becoming women boys
becoming men, becoming women, becoming men - making way
for the hard won play of new queer youth and all they have to say


an effeminate old man walks by the site
where they laughed at large cysts
on the side of a bald mourners head
burying faces in Nana’s seal coat
tears mistaken for bereavement
when shame from childish laughter
at the unassuming comic matrix of skull and tumor-like ball
covered in breeze swept wisps of graying hair
causes them to cry away their wild childish smiles

the soft sleek touch of a dead animal’s fur on their cheeks
as they flank their grandmother’s comforting arms as she mourns a dead sister
mistaking her grandsons’ masked glee for sadness
later they would lie, side by side in broken twin bunks toppled by the raucous
love for the sinew of their nine year old flesh and bone battling against each other
in soft little fist fights and tight wrestling arms

he taught you how to fold toilet paper in squares saving wasted tissue
for other movements  –  gave you courage in the face of his own masculinity
as it outgrew the lifelong femininity of your fey measured gait - sweet lisp of
strolling in and out of family portraits meant for gendered posterity

both boys among strong women managing men among post war tears
and the hegemonic daze of re-established prowess in a different coat
tiny rebels with unclipped claws  – unaware of the clichés that bound them
to the signifying praxis – the lazy laughter of family plots  where dead relatives lay in waiting
to tell the stories - too  afraid to share tales of other traps and snares
mingling among puzzled thoughts that mix with joy and sorrow
circling cavities containing liquid secretions – growth, blister, vesicle, bleb
pelts collated - conger eel, cuttlefish, coral - pups

in raging juvenilia - hormones leaping - they stood by graves to chuckle, weep, then lie
together aptly plying into adolescence – now he cries for unknown pasts -
there beside that dugout respite
from the playgrounds, rolls of tissue, you still long for shadows
of his stylish manhood – him for your minced swagger - one went out of fashion – flushed
through centuries of bodies laughed at through skin and bone
the sobbing  lyric limbs – limp and wan they warned them not to play with verse
but there they went – hopping skipping jumping into manhood - graveside
having left themselves behind . . .