And did you think that life (that begins like a fire and consumes
and did you think that life (it unites you with beasts, you hold it in common
that life (given to you freely, but in what dream would you have pursued it
has been a series of standard answers (you put on your shoes and walked
to expected questions (to the city where they said the oracle was
and did you think that life (there is only one, despite the lies of the elders
has haunted you like a lost child (I mean wolves, yes, but also insects and clams
and are you being dramatic (I know you would deny it but you are dancing
or are you (a space is opening up on the inside, that’s where the world is
parsing the words of the oracle (where the world goes, and yes you are dancing
and a space opens up on the inside of the world (yes that’s where you go
and you go (and a space opens up, and the oracle falls into silence
like a child (there is only one, you fall silent, you fall silent then you go
to the city (where the fire and the beasts are, and the city falls into silence
and did you think that life? (and did you think that, life?
(from Earthly Delights, 2021)
Poison, in proportion, is medicinal.
Medicine, ill-meted, can be terminal.
Brute noise, deftly repeated, becomes musical.
An exit viewed from elsewhere is an entrance.
The conjuror entrances a vast audience.
The hymn that’s resurrected from the hymnal
aspires, as we wish to, to the spiritual,
but is slow to disentangle from the sensual.
The evening light, refracted, terminates the day.
(A faction is a fraction of an integral.)
What would we say to the cardinal or jay,
given wings that could mimic their velocities?
How many wintery ferocities
are encompassed in their shrill inhuman canticles?
(from Syllabus of Errors, 2015)
Don’t be misled:
that sea-song you hear
when the shell’s at your ear?
It’s all in your head.
That primordial tide—
the slurp and salt-slosh
of the brain’s briny wash—
is on the inside.
Truth be told, the whole place,
everything that the eye
can take in, to the sky
and beyond into space,
lives inside of your skull.
When you set your sad head
down on Procrustes’ bed,
you lay down the whole
universe. You recline
on the pillow: the cosmos
grows dim. The soft ghost
in the squishy machine,
which the world is, retires.
Someday it will expire.
Then all will go silent
and dark. For the moment,
however, the black-
ness is just temporary.
The planet you carry
will shortly swing back
from the far nether regions.
And life will continue—
but only within you.
Which raises a question
that comes up again and again,
as to why
God would make ear and eye
to face outward, not in?
(from At Lake Scugog, 2011)
Where water meets water,
where rain hangs lead-heavy for days
before finally deciding to harden and fall,
where the nearest road is sixty miles away
and that a narrow track of gravel,
where the lake is as still as a photograph
and has never been photographed,
where the trout return in accordance with a schedule
that is not a human schedule,
following a water- ridden brain-map,
a hardwired river route, an instinct chart,
Tom Thomson sits in a canoe playing solitaire.
Each time he loses,
he throws his cards into the water.
Each time he wins
he catches a trout.
He likes this place
because the satellites cannot see it
and the water is pure.
He likes this place
because it is where the trout come,
where they stop.
He likes this place
because parsley and wild tomatoes
grow naturally on the banks.
He likes the way
his canoe fits the water.
He likes the way
the water fits the earth
Is Tom Thomson a figure of legend?
Tom Thomson is a living totem pole.
Is Tom Thomson larger than life?
Four men could stand in Tom Thomson's s
smoking cigars and talking about baseball.
One night four men came for him
carrying official papers and sawed-off shot
A week later their Chevy Suburban was found.
The motor was running. The left turn indicator blinking.
The glove box was filled with trout.
There is much joy to be found
in the imprecise usage of words.
Tom Thomson disagrees. He slams his bottle
down on the wooden table. The wood,
anticipating the bottle's arrival,
splinters in advance.
Who would call a trout a salmon?
But words are arbitrary.
Who would call a trout an iceberg?
Call it what you want, it will not come.
Tom Thomson's grunt clears the forest of birds.
His laughter frightens the gods.
The philosopher Pythagoras devised a method
of measuring Tom Thomson by taking the length
of his shadow at that moment when the shadow
of an ordinary man was as long
as the man was tall.
Tom Thomson snorts at philosophers.
He has never touched a tape measure.
He eyeballs every measurement,
and is astoundingly accurate.
He measures once, cuts once.
He speaks seven languages. He has perfect pitch.
A hesitant breeze brings mist from the north.
The location of the sun during the past
three days is a matter of some controversy.
The lake is stiffening with trout. They are pouring
in from all over. The sound of a paddle
entering and pushing the water aside
slowly corrupts the silence.
Tom Thomson stops, lets go the paddle,
reaches over the side and makes
a secret mark on a rock.
The mark indicates that this is a place
Tom Thomson has been, and will come to again.
Have you ever seen a man murdered?
Once. I saw it in a mirror.
And did he remind you of your father?
I can't answer that question. Nor any other.
Tom Thomson likes to pull a trout from the water
and fry it up with parsley and wild tomatoes.
The recipe is from his favorite restaurant
on Yonge Street in Toronto. Tom Thomson
eats there once a year. He does not need
a reservation. He has left a secret
mark upon the door.
What is Tom Thomson’s secret mark?
What does it look like?
I can't tell you.
Let me tell you something: the trout
that come to the place where water meets
are the same trout every year.
They are not born. They do not die.
All I can do is tell you.
What of the sign. Can you give me a hint?
I already have.
Tell me something.
Is that Tom Thomson playing the piano?
That is not Tom Thomson playing the piano.
Tom Thomson plays no instrument. He does not
sing. He knows no poetry.
He can't even read. Tom Thomson
spends each night alone, listening to the phonograph,
looking at old family photos. Or so they say.
(from Tom Tomson in Purgatory, 2006)