An evening walk on unfamiliar ground—
the surprise of a gravel path, the riddle
of a blank wall that we follow to its answer
along a line of elms, rounding a corner into sun.
Here at a high wire fence the world
drops away before us. Concrete rumbles
beneath our shoes. Humped metallic roofs
of subway trains, done with rush hour
on the Bloor-Danforth line, slide out
from under us, navigate switches
and branching tracks in Greenwood Yard.
The far end’s a forever away. Broad-backed cars
loom large beneath us and recede, shrink
to shining toys, to silver pins, then molecules
flowing vein to vein toward farthest capillaries.
With hands clutching chain-links, we don’t find much
to say, only those rounded syllables
that always announce the new.
Not just our son, enchanted
by all things on rails, but we
stand awed by all this magnitude
and muchness, lustre of steel linked
and stretched to the vanishing point,
the infinitude of a line.
It was right there
I didn’t want to interrupt, so I didn’t mention
the red pickup driving by on the grass
carrying an old upright piano. You were talking
about your work, the things you had to finish
by tomorrow for sure. Or the children came home,
or went out, and it was where are you going, do you have bus fare.
The truck passed in front of our house, left to right.
You were on the phone, that was it. On the phone
with your dad. You talked a long time.
You had your back to the window. Or, no,
you and I were talking about the children.
I’ve been trying lately to concentrate better,
not get distracted by every little thing, and then
along comes a piano in a red pickup
and what am I supposed to do?
Things like this happen all the time:
before I can say look up in the tree
no that tree look straight above us I think
that’s a pileated woodpecker it’s gone.
That’s just life, I guess. Still,
I wish I’d told you about the truck.
Published in The Dalhousie Review, Autumn 2013
The ferry’s a hidden thing, only half believed in
until the road dives into the sudden valley.
Density of dogwood and chokecherry
to right and left, and a warning: Test Brakes.
We’ve left the upper world, gone down
to where the sky has borders.
A sheet-metal raft, four cars square.
An engine to propel, cable to guide
below the ceiling of canola fields.
The ferryman’s silent, hardly seen:
the gesture of a single chain,
a signal to bring us on.
From Crossings, © 2012.
Oh! be careful in this matter says the preacher.
He means: don’t forget the martyrs, their contentment
with pursuing the good and true.
He means: beauty is a trap; let it go.
O corroding and cankering luxury
to own two pairs of shoes,
to drink tea in restaurants,
to play the organ in church.
The wearing of clothes from foreign countries
is impossible to avoid these days.
Would he mourn us, their descendants, as lost?
How we eat and drink without the least necessity
(and yet, is necessity all?
There is no need for gardens, for paintings.
But there is.)
They ate bread to satisfy their hunger, and drank water to quench
their thirst; more they had not and more they could not ask
but I do, I ask for red late-summer tomatoes,
winter-blue shadows on white walls
and the choir singing Bach,
and I don’t want to turn with him
away from the tangible world, from
a body of clay, a heavy load of the soul.
O, he says, that we were free from it.
The preacher writes Of the greater danger there is at this time,
than in the bloody and distressing times of the Martyrs.
He means: beauty is a sinister attraction.
O, that Satan would show himself, as he really is.
[Lines in italics are from the Author’s Preface to the Martyrs Mirror.]
Published in Tongue Screws and Testimonies: poems, stories , and essays inspired by The martyrs mirror (Herald Press, 2010).