the self-estrangement you’re experiencing is normal

i assure you, the self-estrangement you’re experiencing is normal:
look around, your driveway is clean,
in your backyard there are squirrels and birds,
on the sidewalk people wave, say good morning,
the church on the corner is almost attended;
on the other side of the water,
barrel bombs fall, 50 or more a day,
blinded families, newly deaf, cry out,
bleeding children stumble in the street,
mothers breath chlorine gas,
ash and dust, mists of blood, never settle,
and you sing of mercy, write poetry,
to a sleeping god.


(The White Helmets  –  The Syrian Campaign)

Nibbled to death by ducks

A bit of truth, a bit of whimsy…

habitsOn the Inner Harbour walkway,
two men, dressed neatly, stand stately
beside their “literature” carts.
They glisten with pity as I approach.

Magazines they hold to their chests say:
Awake! (I have been caught dreaming),
Answers to Life’s Questions
(they have spotted me without any),
and, How to Harness your Habits
(they have discerned my unbridled many).

They are disciplined, vigilant, Awake!
to my sky-gazing subterfuge.
Weighed and found wanting, my blasé un-blessed,
I lift lukewarm eyes to their watchful towers,

follow their prescient glare across Government street,
see The Empress Hotel—even as it receives refurbishing—
in final decay. Everywhere they look they see ends, while I,
not-of-the-elect, wish for things to go blithely on, or get better.

Beside them a busker sings Ozark Mountain Daredevils’
“Standing on a Rock”; on the other side, a man
with a unicycle and trained ducks starts his show:
unblinking and baked for Paradise, they take no notice.

By dusk they will be nibbled to death by the ducks,
still they will stand, survey their end, and sinking,
bless the ducks—while I with reprobate soul,
will carry on, obliquely existing.

(This song has always made me happy. And the busker did a fine cover.)

Brilliance and sorrow and a church door


Mid-September and Sirius, the brightest star, the “Dog Star”, is in the south-eastern sky. From my little patio, I see it at 5 AM rising over a peaked roof across Clarence street.

I like the dark, don’t mind the days getting shorter, there is charity under this blanket. But I feel the impermanence it announces, feel it acutely in my attempts at creating something of enduring value.

The day arrives in brilliance and sorrow and worry. How do you stop that? There is no remedy for sorrow. It is inextricably sewn into the dawn. As is beauty. As is brilliance.

And but for beauty and brilliance there would be no sorrow. Just as the slightest taste of love dooms you—forever defenceless to suffering. Just as a moment of well being gives pain its penetrating sting.

There is a bird in the pear trees next door that begins to sing at six o’clock. I haven’t identified it, it remains a mystery but the song is full of divinity. I only know this because I’ve heard birds before; I’ve heard birds on different continents, heard magnificent songs; and now mornings without bird song seem a complete waste—can very well wreck a day.

Sunday I darkened the door of a church—it’s been a while. I happened to sit beside a lady with what I’m guessing is a mild form of Down Syndrome. She kept getting lost during the singing, paging through the few sheets of large-print songs provided for her. Each time I helped her by pointing out where we were. After the service, she leaned over and said. “Thank you. I love you very much.”

St. Augustine said that Christ is always stronger in the heart of another (I thank Christian Wiman for this reference). Which means, for me at least, that I will always depend on others for my faith. More than this, it means that the experience of love, better, the love of God, is simply, and profoundly, human love freely shared.

I will blame my introversion, my difficulty in social settings, but it still grieves me to think how often I’ve swerved away from some divine engagement.

Not so with these geese that group and fly past each morning just after dawn. Theirs is a wondrous, uncharted hope, under this still bright morning star.

Arnold Christopherson – Custom Harvester, Beat Generation Welder

This was recorded last winter during a reading series hosted by The Rasp and The Wine. On this particular evening, readers celebrated, honoured, or in some fashion referenced the Beat poets.

I post it here, on this Labour Day, in celebration of fall and harvest, and in honour of one particular man who would never have considered himself ascribing to anything related to the “Beat generation”—a term coined by Kerouac—but whose artisanship and south-of-the-border persona was to me telling of a kind of non-conformist swagger, a Zen commitment to an aspect of the agricultural trade and to the art and craftsmanship it necessitated. That is, Arnold was to welding, what Coltrane was to jazz and Ginsberg was to (Beat) poetry.