Birch Tree at Night

White birch screams against night, chalk mark
graffiti on Tom Thomson black pines, the Star
Spangled Banner of the Milky Way; super charged
lime radiance challenges the absence of light,
strives against the jet of shallow slate water,
the shadow, the fear that seeps from the forest —
you are a filament to inspire us, close as touch,
not like a star; the panicked forest, the mad mirror
blank stare of the lake, the sprawl of the universe,
you defy all, sing, a beacon in the dark.

grey squirrel

Asleep in our Northern cottage, deep
paced by the murmur of the wood,
wind on lake, I awake startled by
crackles and crashes from the kitchen.
Could Jarret be awake before
seven making breakfast? If I was
conscious I would laugh – number one
son awake? breakfast make? B 4 12?
Back to sleep — crackles, crashes
continue. I rise, bleary, barely alive,
just enough to witness the source—there
perched on the box of peaches, manic,
hurling itself against the plastic
container that holds, clearly, adamantly,
ripe, perfect peaches, is one grey squirrel.
We stare at each other for an instant,
and before I can react, it dives—body
sinuous in flight, flash of white belly
suspended magically mid-air—bounds
table to chair and dives through the open
louvres of the window and exits like a circus
acrobat through a hoop. I feel like I have
just witnessed the latest squirrel super-hero –
the James Bond of the white pine crew –
the bust your ass fearless Northern bro’ —
and I am honoured to witness your daring
escape. There will be another time, I am sure.
Until then, I remain your super-powered,
relentless foe — me and these innocent peaches.

Beach/ Event

Do not confuse the beach with the event
that occurs when prevailing winds, water currents
grind primordial rock down into tiny and tinier bits,
right down to the molecular bits trapped between the
H two O and all the other little bits grinding into
littler bits; which explains sand and cosmogony.

Fountain of sand erupts from the deep,
carpets the shore, wrinkles, ripples, writes,
in time and lock step with the waves that grind
it into itself until it is only itself and thus sand
is one of the most transparent of elements—
did we not discover how to make glass
by building a fire on a beach? Does not know itself,
cannot rejoice in itself, will not read the inscription
it makes upon itself, waits for us to read what is written:
“each moment on the beach history repeats itself.”

There is no beach that is only sand and surf
at the edge of a great body of water; that is
a silent event waiting for us to find it, to shout
aloud the words written by its roaring voice.
It must be performed upon by the actors of the world—
the lines wait there, patiently, for the players to read.
Scripted, conceived, in itself mute, the beach awaits us,
prompts us to sing, to read what is written at our feet.

Message In A Bottle (1)

I receive the surprise message
from the lake—I was the bottle
all the time. That can’t be hidden
on the beach—the woman beneath the striped
umbrella heard it—she said “Didn’t I
tell you it would feel good? Send them a letter.”
Writing starts by the edge of the water,
where anyone can find you by bottle, by mail,
with a banner rippling behind an airplane that reads,
”Doesn’t It Feel Good?”

The beach is flesh, its ubiquity,
its impersonality, its expression and
celebration. It is an epic of epidermis,
coloured and tattooed, roses, eagles
clutching thunderbolts, flags, maple leaves;
holding hands, strolling along the avenue,
melting into each other until all humanity
is just that moment when water meets
the shore. Everyone reads each other,
whether the message is obvious or hidden,
salvation is where you dig it, pulchritude
is how you look at it.

Waves shape the sand beneath the surf into
infinite progressive portraits of each wave’s
passage. Ripples ply upon ripples in a never ending
corrugated confabulation of crest and trough.
Swimmers learn to read the current by tracing
the sand with a blind foot in water, until the warp
and etch of the water writes upon them, water covers
them in ripples, etches upon their skin, the whorls of
their fingers now the identity of the place they swim in,
the name of their stroke written across them for everyone
to read. It’s hard to hide that sort of thing at the beach.

Beach makes lovers of us. Its caresses lead to hugs,
entwines us in the surf. Mothers carry their children
safe above the water, whole families leap into the wave—
each strives to laugh loudest. Lovers migrate here,
know their passion will only increase where everyone
pretends not to see them make love in the surf.
Look it is written right here on the beach, “Wait for me
here, I’ll be back in 5 minutes,” plain as day.

What is a bottle for? Messages, miniature lakes
contained to anticipate our thirsts? Instructions?
or just this, “I’m here, I hope you love me too.”

Message in a Bottle (2)

Strangers confirm it. They float up to me
and say, “Isn’t it perfect? I mean as long
as you like water … .” then drift away.
I can’t deny it; I like water. My sons and I
watch three teenagers, two girls, one boy,
argue whether the water is too cold, as we
float in front of them, supine in water as hot
as soup, not even laughing as the girls squeal
after dipping their toes in, “You go! we’ll stay here,”
after all the beach is not an imperative … .

Jarret is throwing a Frisbee and I motion to him
to stop, the elderly woman floats between us,
looks at me and says, “Isn’t it wonderful?”
“What?” I ask, “Frisbees, hand signals, or children?”
“The water,” she replies and laughs at me,
her husband bounces beside her, his grin
crinkles his white goatee, his baseball cap reads
“Bob.” Both drift slowly, silently away, borne
by the waves. A flying Frisbee interrupts
my meditation, knocks me supine, once again;
this time the water cold, but refreshing.

Message In A Bottle (3)

Jarret shows me swimming strokes.
He dog paddles, frog kicks, breast strokes,
then shouts, “Watch me, watch me.”
He paddles up to me and whispers,
“This is a special one I made up, no one else knows.”
He does a double arm pull under his body
as if vaulting through the water. “Did
you see it? Did you see … I call it ‘the kitty’.”
A prodigious-sized man floats by and
says to Jarret, “So you’re the one
causing all the waves.”

Mother and Child in the Water

Red head cherubim, pearlescent skin
glistens with relentless love, wrapped
around you as if love were nothing,
or everything and each cold sting,
each breaker that washes over your head
into your mouth and takes your breath away,
is only liquid laughter in the cove of warm arms,
breast and breath, lips, teeth, tummy, fingers,
hands and toes, water beads, water falls.
You walk face first into the surf, laugh and turn
to see a reassuring wave. She is your resplendent
island, patient refuge waiting to be discovered
in a spray of lapis lazuli and ivory. It’s OK, it’s
all OK — you have found the source of legend
and beauty — come and collect your prize, hero.

Rock n Roll Boy in the Surf
(for Emerson Maxwell)

it is a shimmer
the sound of waves colliding
preceding the proscenium
hands clap, noise roars
life surges and there alone stands

THE ROCK N ROLL BOY
(subtitled: “Heavy Metal in Deep Water”)

The Rock n Roll boy is underwater swimming/
singing, bubbling joy, little drowning boy
playing air guitar upside down, talking with the fishes
on the telephone—“hey, NEVER put me on HOLD!”

He hangs up noisily, oh joy, the splash of wave
met with fist of meaning—hey, that’s it for meaning!

He knows better, never wait, never fear, never surrender,
only the joy of the sound, he chants, “NaaNanaaNAA, NaaNanaaNAA.”
He is happy, fully clothed, laughing at our amusement—
“You all think before you leap—besides, I look even BETTER naked!”
His eyes shine as he finds his audience amidst the ripple and foam.
He sings to drown feedback, make harmony of white noise, chime into
the music of the spheres though he’s still uncertain what they think
of him, it is no matter, his shell necklace was a gift, “Oh yeah,
rock, rock, rock around the clock, LONG LIVE, LIVE LONG, LING LONG,
ROCK, ROCK, ROCK n ROLL!

Standing in the surf he mocks us, “C’mon, C’mon, One For the Money
two for the show, three to get ready, everyone start to Rock’n’Roll!
NOW GO CAT GO” and the crowd is roaring with him, singing:
“Surfing USA”, and “Rock a Billy Boogie”, digging his fishnet
tank top, tattoos, pierced Rastafarian dreadlocks, rings on his fingers,
bells on his toes (Uh Hunh) shaved eyebrows, pierced nipples AND MORE!!
He’s a little bit me, a little bit you, and there is nothing you can do,

but ROCK BACK at the Rock N Roll boy in the bay doing the wave,
“Yeah go cat go; WE knew the bride when she used to rock n roll:
WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS!”

Boom chika boom go the waves
and the umbrellas furl as the sun sets,
and still he rocks on, if he doesn’t come out
we’re going to have to drag him out,
as natural as the action on the beach;
just a little bit me, just a little bit you.

chromatic

dapple of ripples at sunset
water rainbow reflection
dip our sand pails in
carry away pots of gold

Father and Child in the Water

You have taken her further than Mom would,
now, her giggles are sneezes and tears.
I look up from my book and see you splash,
trying to scare the voracious horse fly
off of your little girl (and you.) You hold
her high, duck completely beneath the water,
come out and turn her like a fine piece of art,
one hundred and eighty degrees left, then right,
to make sure some damn fly isn’t feasting on her.

Now, in the shallows, you hold her
in your arms—she pushes you and you fall
so slowly, so surely, it as if you collapse
just for her, as she scrambles on top of you
to hug you.

Aphorisms

when I drift closer to shore
I find out more about the score

when I drift further away
what will happen will come what may

I warm in the sun on the sand
I know in the wind I am whipped

I watch the light and water play
I reflect, I am here but for a day

I watch the moon court with a cloud
by a driftwood fire I sing out loud

into the water, everyone skinny
it’s too dark to know who is or inny

birds soar, stride along the shore
carry me away from the workaday

in the hustle and traffic of the quotidian beach
I travel with the shadows as they beat the heat

the sun is at work and I am at play
it really doesn’t matter if you go or stay

the pebble rolls in the wave
as men do grind against each other

sand castles are built to fall
end of day we find them all

Intimations Of Poetry Swept Away

The diamond splay of sun upon the shuttle of waves
entices me, draws me, surrenders me, singer of songs, swimmer
of ponds, but you are more, Mother, enchantress, destroyer.

Surf pounds to the shore, seizes me with its incessant roar,
I cannot escape the thought of the endless drowned who sought
to conquer you, only to dream of escape, as you ate fathoms below.

I pause, draw breath, roll and rest upon your bosom content
with your nurturing; join to the swell and drift of a perfect
summer day; contemplate, the blue sky, white clouds drift by

perfect mimic of my eye, teardrop in a teardrop,
coddled within infinite sky, my mother protects me,
nurtures my finite sea, sustains me, contains me,

and so I begin; I soar to the horizon of sight,
to the point of refraction of light
collect all beneath me and sweep out to sea.

To the depths, through the shoals, to the secret springs of water,
where fish sing to drowned men and divers believe they hear
the song of the mermaids. Where dreams are born and the fantastic

becomes real, as surely as my words are written by hand.
Down to the impression the waves make on the sand,
each ripple reflecting a diamond of light by command.

Above to where the tempest is born;
where waves reach out to the sky with iron arms
and seize it, pull it beneath to taste the salt

of life (the briefest moment before drowned clears the mind
exceptionally); reminds me what matters most, though it be but play
of light and shadow, rock ground by wave into sand, tossed ashore,

to be anyone’s beach, anyone’s plaything. And here we are,
umbrellas firmly planted, risible flags proclaiming,
“This is ours, this patch of sand.” We spread out blankets,

eat jam sandwiches, toss around our beach ball, relax, drink, sing songs, until
that water looks so good, so cold and refreshing, ripples casting fantastic sprays
of light, we race to be first in, first to feel, the water’s caress, and we surrender,

dive in and up! With shock and delight, water written
on our skin, sky explodes into spray as we splash around
bring everyone into our play, seize the instant from the day … .

I resolve I must be the water; I must reach out past certain shores, I must
remember the seabed as I extol the sky; I must be cold, I must be warm;
if I am never shallow, I will never be deep; and it is surely one thing to float

in summer’s instant kiss,
another to struggle one moment more before drowning
in winter water’s lead.

I will remember to surrender the treasures I have swallowed.
I will call out to all passers-by to read my waves, pay attention to my depths.
Teach all to write upon the shore, the secret springs of poetry and song.

where every language is made
where man is forged as he is squeezed
between life, death and all that he does not command.

So I swim
to the point where there is no shore
ready to sing with the sea.

To become the rage, become the murmur
of waves lost ‘mongst pebbles,
the endless voice in each mouthful I sing;

to teem with life, find room for each creature,
accept the dead, ease their pain;
with song and prayer, fill the lowest, raise all ships

on my breast, in my heart, through song as clear as water;
toll from the depths that hide their springs ‘neath the crushing sea,
that is the life of us all; sing as you command me to sing, Mother.

This is the voice you have given me, let it not drown between
the waves and the shore; let it sing songs to you, I who am lost
on the waves that are your laughter; I will not surrender;

I am your loved one, listen to me sing!
I mimic your voice as your waves threaten
to fill my mouth before the end of my song.

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