Portage

From the eleventh floor at my desk in Toronto,
I watch a band of Cormorants fill a landing place,
like a bracelet on the edge of a small lake.
It’s somewhere near Misabi, where the river,
like its twin, runs alongside the Nastawgan portage
that brings you to Obabika. I could hardly find it this summer
and on the video I’m watching, it’s nearly not there.
I’ve been thinking what somebody said recently,
Cormorants aren’t indigenous here,
so you can you blame them, they’re bloody,
and they’re so strangely beautiful.
I recall the trail again, from the window,
birds peeling away, as I do,
and below, the streets bare things the way fire bares
ruin and the skin of a heart, peeling away, too,
from every mark, like a blaze in a tree
whose writing is always about the path to water.

Perhaps

Perhaps if I start by telling you,
your face is another moon, a rock, bright,
defying all, gravity, most of all,
carving paths of a billion worlds
across the outskirts of this lake,
you would see how far darkness travels
to find light. Perhaps if I drew your hands on my back,
you would understand how birds,
touching down, make stillness out of tumult.
And, have you heard that words are stones,
chipped away from fault lines we cannot read,
but which whisper, write me? Can you understand
that when you lean into my arms
all that you are is a root, curled and naked,
climbing from the boulder split,
which cannot drink the rain it feels,
or see, in spite of sun that pours on it,
cannot understand, only witness, the scent of its silence,
the magnitude of its flower?

Yellow hair

This morning I heard from you.
I watched the window, wind possess
the bodies of trees,
comb the yellow hair of stripped cornfields.
I opened every window to let it come
and steal what it could,
rub out the things inside.
It’s evening now, and the cold the day’s left
sleeps in the chair beside me.
It breathes quietly as I write.
We never see ghosts, we only feel them.

Old Growth

I always felt it was in the looking,
though waiting seems better now
that time has narrowed, like the trail
I’ve been following that goes through
the old growth pine of Shish-Kong Lake.
I’ve been here a thousand times,
but the path keeps changing.
The lake below spins faster than ever.
The trees seem to root into blue above,
as if the water could be desperate for sun.
And the birds climb their branches,
leaping southward, though more and more
I notice the ones that stay
as though, for some reason,
the best way to save their lives
is by not returning.

This is How it Looks When it Looks Like This

From the window, the dogs are barking,
at nothing, really, not a woman crossing the road,
or an animal, a fox, say, that comes in from the fields
by the highway, that sometimes sleeps in the shed
(the mutts always smell it),
with the machinery.

I look a little too long, there’s less and less.
Except for the overgrowth sharpening into
spools of wire and foothold traps,
the cornstalks gutted on the plains,
the cellphone tower possessed by voices,
and the street lamps where each night
crowns of light are crucified, I regard only
their instructions for departures.

So, if I could bark with them, that is what
I would start to see, what I don’t,
runways where things go where they go.
And, I would hope, too,
I’d find a way to chase away the fox
that sneaks back nearly every night,
that’s there, camouflaged by
the invisibility of things that will not expect
to be found.

Where the River Takes You

I had hoped the scratches
on my back you left
would remain, like

a grassy floor
a deer leaves,
after a night. But

you showed me
a moth’s wings, instead,
the deer knowing, then,

to stay quiet, within,
to lay in the breeze.
See the wings greying

to mirror the burn
around us, you said. Yes,
though you do not

seem, yet, to sense
the creases of
the old river skin’s

hands, fingerless upon
the brown bear
swimming

towards this mothy shore of trees,
its claws that cannot root
into marks,

or tracks stretching
to the room a deer
wakes into.

Upper Hatchet Lake

Parts of my body suffer
in place of
my heart.
This may be because
the heart is not
a muscle,
but a bone that
is constantly broken
and reset.
But, what if we knew,
really, what
the heart was,
its endless echo,
its foreign language of
splitting wood
for a fire on a table
of rock cut in two
by the ice age?
If we knew how
many tries
it had left, the heart,
who would we be
then? Who would we
be if we learned
finally that
the sun, the centre of
the world, was also
96 million miles away from
this stone-hard bone?

My Country

My left shoulder shares its pain
with my elbow. Hand is clutched by
the seismic rumours. It draws the hill in
the maple forest we portaged
that continues, like a camel’s back,
to carry the thirst down
into these days. Like everything at 53,
even the thirst is heavier,
the creek in the valley, as I climb,
years on top of years,
stonier, deeper, nearly bright.

Firework

Say, I love you, in darkness,
and it will mean something different.
Wonder: is awe the spark of friction,
emptiness on flesh?
Ask, how true this is: the heart’s the sting
evaporating in
the atmosphere of the soul.
Then remember, fireflies float
like ash.

left

And later when I photographed you at the water,
when on the rocks the wind came for your blouse,
I pictured the idea of a soul hewed
in the pliocene bodies of cormorants alight
on the water image of those distant rocks —
too many shadows to know for certain
whether they were returning, or instead
vanishing into the skin of our memory, like a
pictograph sinking into the face of a stone, or
the fading bruises on your breasts my mouth left.

– ph